Grades 3-5 Summit Learning

Equality and Civil Rights

This inquiry leads students through an investigation that explores the struggle for equality through social justice movements. Specifically, students explore the tension between the assumption that “all [people] are created equal,” a guiding principle from the Declaration of Independence, and the reality of legal and social structures that do not treat all people equally. By investigating the compelling question—What makes “equality” equal?—students problematize the concept of equality to consider a more nuanced definition that considers both legal equality (de jure equality) and social reality (de facto equality).

By exploring equality through the LGBTQ+ rights movement, students consider the various factors needed for equality to exist, including the reciprocal relationship between attitudes/behavior and the law. Historically marginalized groups, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, engage in various civic actions to build social awareness and support to change laws. It is also true that marginalized groups have worked to change laws even when there was little public support, which helped to change public opinion. Students consider how understanding of equality is ever evolving—both laws (or rules) and social reality (majority group sentiment) can influence our shared definition of equality.


Compelling Question:

What Makes “Equality” Equal?

Staging the Question:

Using a school or classroom mission statement, teachers facilitate a conversation about the values and ideas behind rules.

Supporting Question What is the difference between legal equality and social reality?

Formative Task Create an infographic defining and distinguishing the terms legal equality and social reality.

Sources Source A: Informational slides on legal equality and social reality
Source B: “Thomas Jefferson’s Vision of Equality…” Time Magazine
Source C: Pew Research Center, “A Survey of LGBT Americans”


Supporting Question How do laws change attitudes and behavior?

Formative Task Write a paragraph with examples describing how laws that support equality can change attitudes and behaviors.

Sources Source A: Obergefell v. Hodges case summary
Source B: “When Laws Change Minds,” Psychology Today
Source C: “Can New Rules Shape Public Opinion?” Psychology Today


Supporting Question How do attitudes and behavior change laws?

Formative Task Working collaboratively in small groups, construct an evidence-based claim about how attitudes and behaviors change laws about equality.

Sources Source A: Description of Colorado’s Amendment 2, Gay & Lesbian History for Kids
Source B: “America is Ready for Gay Marriage,” The Atlantic
Source C: “Americans Views Flipped on Gay Rights,” Washington Post

Summative Performance Task

Argument: What makes “equality” equal? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that answers the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from historical and contemporary sources while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Create a poster that demonstrates different components of equality and students’ argument.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Review the class or school rules (e.g., the school/district handbook's policy on discrimination, harassment, or bullying).
Assess: Evaluate whether the rules promote equality for all students, considering how the rules impact students with different identities (e.g., gender, cultural identity/practices).
Act: Draft a new or revised rule to propose. Or, if the rule is adequate, create a school-wide campaign to help other students better understand and follow the policy.