New book helps teachers build lesson plans


Ohio Wesleyan University’s Sarah Kaka, Ph.D., is the editor of a new book designed to help middle and high school teachers provide standards-based lessons that address issues of historical inequity and inequality.

The book – “Hollywood or History? An Inquiry-Based Strategy for Using Film to Teach About Inequality and Inequity Throughout History” – includes 30 lessons that cover “issues surrounding gender inequity, slavery as the root of racial inequality, racial inequity, LGBTQ+ rights, American Indian rights, economic inequality, educational inequity, and even intersectionalities (overlapping identities),” said Kaka, an Ohio Wesleyan assistant professor of Education and director of the university’s Middle Childhood, Adolescence to Young Adult, and Multi-Age Licensure Programs.

Teaching from multiple perspectives

“Every lesson in this book has the potential to be perceived as ‘controversial’ or ‘uncomfortable’ history,” said Kaka, who joined the OWU faculty in 2017. “But teachers need to be better equipped to teach this content within the constraints of anti-CRT (Critical Race Theory) legislation. … The lessons give teachers the tools to help students examine issues from multiple perspectives, which is what the legislation requires.

“This book could literally not be any more timely,” she said. “As of right now, 14 states have passed legislation that bans teaching ‘divisive’ issues in schools – issues such as racism, sexism, white privilege, and sexuality. Twenty-two other states have similar legislation in process, including Ohio’s House Bill 327.”

Evaluating claims, detecting bias, and measuring evidence

Created by current classroom teachers and teacher-educators, the lessons use the “Hollywood or History?” method of inquiry to push students to think critically, Kaka said. The method challenges students and teachers “to evaluate competing claims, detect bias, and measure evidence from multiple sources with the goal of developing reasoned perspectives regarding the relative accuracy of commercially produced motion pictures.”

A sample lesson, she said, is “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” In it, the authors use the films “Purl” (2018) and “The Associate” (1996) to highlight the intertwined issues of gender, race, and economic inequities.

“Students watch film clips and analyze a variety of sources to deepen their understanding of gender and racial discrimination in conjunction with the wage gap,” Kaka said.

Additional ‘Hollywood or History?’ collaborations

In addition to editing this latest book, Kaka wrote two chapters for the previous volume of the “Hollywood or History?” series, published in 2021. Those chapters, including one co-authored with 2018 Ohio Wesleyan graduate Christopher Dobeck, explore using film to teach world history.

A former high school social studies teacher, Kaka also has a chapter in press for a forthcoming “Hollywood or History?” book that explores using cartoons to teach social studies topics in elementary and secondary schools.

Instructional Autonomy and Gatekeeping

Related to diversity, equity, and inclusion work, Kaka also is collaborating on a study with researchers at four different institutions “to determine the impact of the anti-CRT bills on teachers’ instructional autonomy. We’re hoping to have a paper out for review in the next month.”

In addition, she has a co-authored article in press that “examines high school social studies teachers as instructional gatekeepers for issues of race and justice.” Finally, she and Ohio Wesleyan Education colleagues Michele Nobel, Ph.D., and Jennifer Garrette Lisy, Ph.D., have an article under review for publication that outlines the changes the OWU Department of Education has made “to better prepare our students to be antiracist teachers.”

Learn more about Kaka and Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of Education at


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