The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Pursuing Happiness: Whose American Revolution?

Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the words that established an independent United States. It is these values that many continue to point to as essential to the nature of the country—the promise of existence as human, the assurance of freedom from tyranny, the right to pursue wellness. They are supreme ideals, a foundation of justice and equality upon which to build a society. But, the idea that these rights should extend to all humans is relatively new to U.S. history—the founding fathers did not intend for the full extension of the Declaration of Independence to colonial women, native peoples, or enslaved or free people of African descent.

In fact, in July 1852, Frederick Douglass, an African American abolitionist and orator, called attention to the fact that people of African descent continued to be denied the rights inscribed in the Declaration of Independence. By continuing slavery, the U.S. government did not merely fail to deliver the basic rights to enslaved people, it actively prevented these people from being able to obtain life, liberty, or wellness.  “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us,” said Douglass. “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”

[A transcription of the speech can be found here.]

Truly, independence did not belong to all people. It certainly did not belong to all people in the former colonies in 1783. The peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War and acknowledged the autonomy of the colonists also ignored land rights of native peoples (allowing them to be seen as “foreign nations” by the new U.S. government) and characterized black people as property. The new nation did not affirm the liberty of women of any race or ethnicity.

In fact, the Revolution itself, which we often view as an inevitable and logical response to the tyranny of British government, did not belong to all people in North America either. The common focus on the words of Jefferson and Paine, the idealistic commitment in action of Paul Revere and George Washington, and the engagement of crowds to fight British taxation often belies that “pursuit of happiness” in the colonies did not always take the form of allegiance to the patriots.

Some notable members of the "Sons of Liberty," a name given to some groups of colonial patriots leading the fight for independence.

Notable members of the “Sons of Liberty,” a name given to some groups of colonial patriots leading the fight for independence. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).

For many white colonists, objection to taxation without representation did not necessitate a desire for independence. Many, attached to their British identity and the safety of being part of a larger British empire in the face of competition from the French for land, fought as loyalists. Even some of those who fought with the patriots in Quebec, Bunker Hill, Lexington, and Concord did so hoping to gain better representation in Parliament or autonomy over colonial finance rather than a complete break from Britain.

For enslaved people, forms of government or taxation were largely irrelevant. Freedom from tyranny meant freedom from the bonds of slavery. Enslaved people selected their alliances based on who they believed would deliver this liberty. Some fought for the patriots, hoping that this would earn them the loyalty of a new government if independence were to occur. Others fought for the British, expecting that their service would be exchanged for freedom by a British government whose politics seemed to be drifting towards the prospect of abolition.

For native peoples, alliance-building was also a gamble. For native nations that aligned themselves with the patriots, promises of fuller autonomy after independence were key. For those aligned with the British, there was a reliance on a stronger hand from the metropole, which had typically restricted colonists’ expansion and the movement of the frontier.

Thinking beyond the patriotic language of the Sons of Liberty, we are forced to ask many more questions about American Independence. Whose Revolution was this? What was rebellion really about? What did “liberty” mean to different people in the colonies? How do we explain those who were “patriotic” to something other than the ideals of the patriots? How does this diversity of identity, political opinion, and economic interest help us understand the United States today?

These questions have profound importance for understanding the past and the future of the United States. Acknowledging that independence in the eighteenth century was incomplete helps show the reality of the United States being a continued work in progress. Freeing the country from the illusion that the pinnacle of justice and liberty was situated hundreds of years ago empowers learners to consider what the national goal should be, which of the principles of independence and revolution still need to be attained, and what we can learn from both the successes and limitations of the past. Examining how people in the revolutionary era made choices helps learners grapple with the options they face today.

 

Keep a look out for the new Choices curriculum unit, The American Revolution: Experiences of Rebellion, coming in 2016!
The unit considers how the varied populations of seventeenth and eighteenth century North America experienced and viewed colonization and revolution, encouraging students to step into the shoes of people in 1776 to debate the future of the thirteen colonies.
Watch our home page for the release of this unit.

More on Frederick Douglass’s speech.
More on black loyalists.

Refugee Stories—Mapping a Crisis

“I was just a mother taking care of her children and living in Homs…. I enjoyed life. One day I’d spend an evening with my friends, another day I’d go to a birthday party. That was our life…. Now it’s all gone.”
—Umm Ala’a, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

What does a ten-year-old boy, working alongside his father in a busy restaurant kitchen, think of the friends he left behind in Syria? How does a young man, who took up arms against the Assad regime at age seventeen, adjust to life with his injuries? How does a medical resident, facing repeated arrests for protesting, finally decide to flee? How does a mother and widow, caring for her children, volunteer to help others in her new community in Lebanon?

Choices’ free online lesson, Refugee Stories—Mapping a Crisis, gives students the opportunity to explore the human face of the global refugee crisis. Why do refugees leave their homes? What do they leave behind? What obstacles do they confront on their journey abroad? What is it like to build a life in a new country?

“I can’t describe what I felt. No one can…. We are people, not numbers. These 5,000 people waiting at the border wanting to cross, they didn’t come of their own free will. No one chooses to leave their home. Everyone has a reason.”
—Haifa, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

There are more displaced people today than at any time since World War II. As of 2014, nearly sixty million people had been forcibly displaced from their homes, about twenty million of them refugees. To introduce students to this topic, the lesson begins with foundational information—defining key terms and exploring data on the global crisis.

RefugeeDatasheet

Excerpt from the lesson handout, “Refugee and IDP Data Sheet.” See lesson for full data sheet.

The main activity allows students to read or watch individuals’ stories and creatively map their experiences. We’ve recently updated the lesson and incorporated a collection of video interviews by Al Jazeera—Life on Hold—featuring Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Syrians now make up a quarter of the population in Lebanon. These interviews are a powerful way to introduce students to the human dimension of the refugee crisis. We hope the lesson plan will help you address this topic in your classroom and help prepare your students to participate in the global discussion about responses to the crisis.

“I want my children to get an education…. I imagine Mashael and Mariam will achieve great things. Of course I have dreams. If you don’t have hope then life isn’t worth living.”
—Umm Ala’a, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

A sample of the student mapping activity.

A sample of the student mapping activity.

Join us at #NCSS15

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We are excited to be traveling down to New Orleans for the National Council for the Social Studies 95th Annual Conference this week. Come visit us in the exhibit hall. We will be at the head of International Alley in Booth 1000. We will also be presenting five workshops.  See our workshop descriptions below. Can’t wait to see you in NOLA!

Freedom Now: Exploring Multiple Voices of the Civil Rights Movement

Friday at 3:20pm
Convention Center R03
This hands-on session introduces participants to multiple, everyday voices of the civil rights movement through Brown University’s Choices Program’s unit Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. Curriculum provided.
Presenters: Nicole Means, West Felicina High School, St. Francisville, LA

Colonization and Independence in Africa

Friday at 3:20pm
Convention Center 232
Case studies from Ghana, Algeria, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo explore the contested nature of colonization and decolonization. Participants examine how cultural perspective can impact historical inquiry. Choices Program C3-aligned curriculum is provided.
Presenters: Mimi Stephens, The Choices Program, Brown University, Providence, RI

Climate Change and Questions of Justice

Saturday at 8am
Convention Center 225
Experience Choices’ C3-aligned curriculum (provided) that explores multiple perspectives on the causes, consequences and responsibilities of climate change, and ultimately asks students to develop policy on this global dilemma.
Presenters: Mimi Stephens, Choices Program, Brown University, Providence, RI

Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for U.S. Foreign Policy

Saturday at 2:40pm
Convention Center 225
What should U.S policy be regarding human rights? Let students decide by analyzing primary sources, evaluating multiple perspectives, and reviewing cases to develop their own view. A C3 Framework-aligned Choices curriculum is provided.
Presenters: Mimi Stephens, Choices Program, Brown University, Providence, RI

The U.S. In Vietnam: Lessons Learned?

Sunday at 8am
Convention Center 216

The Vietnam War remains a central reference point for U.S. decision makers. Explore ten C3-aligned lessons in the Choices’ Vietnam curriculum (provided), while also evaluating and analyzing lessons learned.
Presenters: Mimi Stephens, The Choices Program, Brown University, Providence, RI

Outsports.com: News Engagement Series #4

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Tor Bakhopper (CC by 2.0)

October 6 is National News Engagement Day, a day when “everyone is encouraged to read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”

News and the media is a vital part of social studies education today, which is why The Choices Program does our best to get current affairs content available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Our Current Issues Series deals with some of the most important challenges facing the world today, encouraging students to consider the decisions made by policy makers and citizens in facing a changing future. We also produce Teaching With The News lessons to address situations as we see them come into the focus of the media.

For the week of National News Engagement Day, some of the Choices staff will be sharing the news-related resources they use to inform and inspire their work.

 

Lindsay Turchan, International Education Intern, Choices Writing Team

My recommendation for a news-related resource:

Outsports.com

What it is:

Outsports is an online news and opinion site that reports on LGBT issues in sports. It features articles, podcasts, photographs, editorials, blog posts, videos, and more. With great content for anyone interested in sports and LGBT issues, teachers might be particularly intrigued by the many pieces that consider the relationship between sports and history, human rights, and politics.

Why I like it and think you might find it interesting:

  1. Few media outlets address LGBT experiences in sports. The very existence of Outsports alerts readers to this glaring historical silence and calls attention to the structures that make this so. In this way, Outsports helps cultivate in its readers some of the skills necessary for critical media consumption.
  2. If you love sports news but you are also a “thinker,” then Outsports is for you. It’s more than just the score of Sunday’s game. Instead, the site’s stories connect sports to broader issues with political, economic, and social importance. In a highly readable way, Outsports articles could serve as a springboard for stimulating classroom conversations rooted in history or current events about the complex relationship between sports and society.
  3. Outsports regularly features works from readers, demonstrating that engaging with the news need not be left to the professionals. The dynamic “Fanpost” section features reader-written (and editor-approved) pieces. It can read as anything from an advice column (an NCAA basketball player solicits advice on coming out in this article) to a forum for debate (this history-based piece discusses opera in order to challenge understandings of what makes something a sport). There are weekly columns, such as openly gay high school student and football aficionado Jeremy Brener’s NFL reports, that also serve as reminders that everyone has valuable perspectives to offer when it comes to engaging with the news.

 

Note: Outsports uses satire in some opinion pieces. If students are unfamiliar with satire, it may be helpful to discuss this concept. Also, be sure to preview articles before sharing them with students as some discuss sensitive issues and/or use language that may not be appropriate for all classrooms.

Bonus:

For a taste of how Outsports discusses human rights and LGBT experiences in sports, you may be interested in the following articles:  

Coaches Sue University Over Homophobia, Discrimination

Principal Bans Gay Football Player Artwork From Exhibit  

Gay Slurs at the Gold Cup Match?  

 

Choices Program resources:

Outsports may interest teachers using Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for U.S. Policy, especially those who wish to engage students in conversations about freedom of speech and expression as well as LGBT rights.

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The resources on Outsports might also be of interest to teachers looking to build upon discussions of the historical roots and importance of sports raised in History, Revolution and Reform: New Directions for Cuba and Brazil: From Colony to Democracy (revised edition upcoming). 
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Seed Magazine: News Engagement Series #3

October 6 is National News Engagement Day, a day when “everyone is encouraged to read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”

News and the media is a vital part of social studies education today, which is why the Choices Program does our best to make current affairs content available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Our Current Issues Series deals with some of the most important challenges facing the world today, encouraging students to consider the decisions made by policy makers and citizens in facing a changing future. We also produce Teaching with the News lessons to address situations as we see them come into the focus of the media.

For the week of National News Engagement Day, some of the Choices staff shares the news-related resources they use to inform and inspire their work.

This post follows #1 and #2 in the National News Engagement series.


 

MacKenzie Abernethy, Program Associate, Choices Writing Team

 

My recommendation for a news-related resource: Seed Magazine

What it is:   Seed is an online science magazine published by Seed Media Group that connects science, culture, and current events. Search the expansive archives by categories including globally impacting issues on the World page (or under subtopics such as Politics, Development, and the Environment.) Readers may also explore specific topics on the hashtag sidebar, like Education.

 

Why I like it and think you might find it interesting:

  1. Seed promotes a cross-disciplinary approach to current challenges. CEO of Seed Scientific and creator of Seed, Adam Bly (Canadian) considers science a “creative human enterprise.” His leadership drives Seed to connect readers across disciplines of the arts, politics, etc., by spotlighting contributions of other fields and showing the widespread applications of science.

“It’s about applying neuroscience to economics, math to global health, virology to manufacturing, and genetics to law… It’s about experimenting all the way to understanding. It’s about changing your mind with new evidence – and getting as close to truth as humanly possible. Getting 7 billion people to think scientifically has never been a small mission. And it has never been more important.” – Seed Media Group

  1. Seed offers free tools for the classroom. Alongside thought provoking, discussion generating articles, the magazine offers downloadable “cribsheets” that help teachers explain scientific topics such as climate change and solar power.
  1. Seed empowers readers. The magazine often encourages action and provides the tools to contribute to the conversation on environmental policy. For example, this article asks readers to email government and business officials about biodiversity, climate change and water access. Seed Media Group says that it takes scientific thinking to parliaments, courtrooms, hospitals, construction sites, boardrooms around the world – to catalyze scientific thinking at scale.

 

Choices Program resource:cover225x225

Climate Change and Questions of Justice

First Edition. January 2015

 

 

Recommended with the National Science Teachers Association’s “highest praise. . . This latest curriculum offering from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies is one of the best introductions to teaching about climate change that is currently available on the market.


Bonus:  Share Neil Degrasse Tyson’s lifelong love for astrophysics with students via this interactive tour of his personal space.

Russia: News Engagement Series #2

October 6 is National News Engagement Day, a day when “everyone is encouraged to read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”

News and the media is a vital part of social studies education today, which is why The Choices Program does our best to get current affairs content available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Our Current Issues Series deals with some of the most important challenges facing the world today, encouraging students to consider the decisions made by policy makers and citizens in facing a changing future. We also produce Teaching With The News lessons to address situations as we see them come into the focus of the media.

For the week of National News Engagement Day, some of the Choices staff are sharing the news-related resources they use to inform and inspire their work.


 

Andy Blackadar, Director of Curriculum Development

My recommendation for a news-related resource:

Johnson’s Russia List

What it is:

Johnson’s Russia List or JRL is a daily email of English language news sources on Russia. The website provides a table of contents of the daily email and selected articles, but the email provides the full text of between 10 and 50 articles daily on all aspects of Russia: including foreign and domestic policy, daily life, politics, public opinion, and culture. (Information about obtaining an email subscription is available from David Johnson <David Johnson through davidjohnson[AT]starpower.net>.

Johnson has been putting the list together since 1996 and is based  at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University. During the recent crisis in Ukraine, the list has attracted criticism for including Russian news sources as well as others sympathetic to the Russian point of view. Johnson includes those sources (as he has since starting this service) to provide a voice to opinions often not found in the U.S. news media. I think that the scope of the list would be very daunting for the great majority of high school students and requires the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. On the other hand, teachers could find great content there and choose a small selection to present to students.

Why I like it and think you might find it interesting:

  1. If you follow Russia, it would take hours to discover all of the resources the David Johnson puts in his emails. The daily email comes with a table of contents or forty or so articles. It’s easy to scan and decide what you are interested in reading.
  2. In addition to many different takes on the hottest political issues of the day, there are frequently interesting articles on Russian culture, history, and society. There’s a handy dropdown menu that allows you to search the massive archives by category.
  3. Russian sources often have a very different take on events in Ukraine or Syria, for example. These disparate viewpoints are extremely interesting and important to consider when thinking about some these pressing foreign policy problems.

RussiaCoverChoices Program Resource

Russia’s Transformation: Challenges for U.S. Policy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Africa: News Engagement Series #1

October 6 is National News Engagement Day, a day when “everyone is encouraged to read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”

News and the media is a vital part of social studies education today, which is why The Choices Program does our best to get current affairs content available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Our Current Issues Series deals with some of the most important challenges facing the world today, encouraging students to consider the decisions made by policy makers and citizens in facing a changing future. We also produce Teaching With The News lessons to address situations as we see them come into the focus of the media.

For the week of National News Engagement Day, some of the Choices staff will be sharing the news-related resources they use to inform and inspire their work.

Danielle Johnstone, Program Associate, Writing Team

My recommendation for a news-related resource:
The Mail & Guardian Online


What it is:
The Mail & Guardian is a South African newspaper. The website reports on National (South African), African and World news. M&G also runs various blogs and a center for investigative journalism.


Why I like it and think you might find it interesting:

  1. M&G should definitely be bookmarked if you are teaching about South Africa. The journalists reporting on national issues often make strong historical connections, particularly to the apartheid era and the challenges it has caused for contemporary South Africa.
  2. I like to visit the M&G world news section to be aware of how news outlets outside of the United States are covering U.S. and international issues. Often M&G will be covering issues or situations that have been ignored by the U.S. media. Sometimes they cover issues that have dominated U.S. and European news with a different (perhaps more nuanced) perspective. M&G’s coverage of African issues, in particular, tends to be remarkably different to what you will see on the BBC or New York Times.
  3. The M&G Thought Leader blog by Mandela-Rhodes scholars is a gem. The contributing writers are young South Africans who are/were recipients of the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship, and they express their opinions about things happening in South Africa and beyond. Not only are the posts engaging and well-written, they also show how young people in South Africa are grappling with many of the same issues facing their counterparts in the U.S. and beyond—race, violence, injustice, an intimidating economy. Reading the blog is an excellent way to challenge stereotypes; it encourages readers to recognize that young people in the developing world are not just victims but are also educated, thoughtful, and facing complex questions about their world and their futures.

Bonus:
For a sample of M&G’s arts and culture reporting, check out this article on musician and composer  “Mac” McKenzie and his innovative impact on South African music.


Choices Program resource:
Freedom in Our Lifetime: South Africa’s Struggle

Using Choices Values Cards to Examine Value Differences Between Generations

Anyone that has used the Choices Program curriculum units would agree that the Prioritizing Values Activity is a simple, yet powerful, strategy for encouraging students to think carefully about how their own beliefs, presuppositions, and values impact their opinions on political and social issues. I developed a lesson to use in a Sociology course that builds upon the Prioritizing Values activity that I wanted to share with fellow educators. This lesson is an effective way of introducing concepts of demographics, shared culture, generational shifts in values, and changes in public opinion. In my experience, it also encourages students to discuss values and worldviews with people outside of their own generation. After completing this lesson, I received several emails from students and parents, thanking me for providing an impetus for meaningful discussions in their homes.

I start the class by asking the students to define the concept of “culture.” After some class discussion, I provide several anthropological definitions, many of which include “shared values and beliefs” as part of the definition of “culture.

I then pass out an envelope with the ten Choices value cards:

  • Community
  • Cooperation
  • Democracy
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Justice
  • Security
  • Self-reliance
  • Stability
  • Tolerance

 

And this Handout

Before I ask them to rank these values according to their own definitions and beliefs, just as the Choices lesson has them do, I explain that while culture is, in part, a collection of shared values, individuals do not share and prioritize these values in the same way. People may have different definitions of these values and also may rank some values as more important than others.

I then ask them to put the Values in order of importance to them as individuals, emphasizing that this is about examining their own personal values and that the order of other students’ value cards should not influence their own ordering of values.   After they have had adequate time to order their cards and answer the questions provided, I collect the assignment and enter their rankings on a spreadsheet.

On the spreadsheet, there is a row for each value and a column for each student. This allows you to use spreadsheet functions to do all of the addition for you. For the purposes of data collection, I assign the inverse number of points to their ordering. For example, if the student ranked “Freedom” as #1, I added 10 points to the Freedom row on the spreadsheet. This seems like a lot of work but it actually only takes 10 minutes or so to enter all of the data for 100 students (several classes compiled together). After adding up all of the rows, I sort the final column with the totals for each value and add ranking labels (#1) to each value. This is what it looks like when all student data is compiled, sorted, and ranked:

pic1

This can then be easily transformed to a graph to show the relative “importance” of each value for the collective student group.

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The percentage data labels are merely an indication of how each value was ranked by the students. The higher the percentage, the greater amount of support for that value as important among the students as a group. It can be misleading because it does not mean, for example, that 15% of students ranked Equality #1 (though a graph that did show the data this way would be very easy to generate from the spreadsheet). I call this a “strength of ranking” score because it reflects how strongly the value is regarded among the population group.

Assignment #1 is then returned to students and we have a class discussion about their individual and collective rankings. At some point in the discussion, I ask the class where we get our values and why we place more importance in some values than others. The most common answers are “our parents” or “our family.” At this point, I hand out assignment #2.

Cautioning students to not reveal their individual or the classes’ rankings to the parent or family member that provides the data for assignment #2, I instruct them to go home, hand the selected person the cards, and show them assignment #2 without providing any additional information. Students report back that the discussion prompted by completing the questions on assignment #2 is an interesting one, especially if they show their own rankings and talk about the similarities and differences after the parents or family member completes their own ordering.   Here is the chart for the parents’ generation collective rankings:

pic3

Two differences between the two age cohorts’ value rankings stand out immediately. First, the top 4 for each group is completely different, with Freedom being the only value that makes the top 5 for each group. Secondly, there are less very high and very low percentages in the parents’ age cohort rankings. For example, notice that there are only 2 values higher than 12% in the parents’ age cohort, compared with 4 in the students’ data. The same trend can be seen on the other end of the spectrum too with the parents’ lowest ranked value, Tolerance, receiving a 7% “strength of ranking” score. I interpret this as meaning that there is less agreement on the importance of these values among this group than among the student group.

After a class discussion comparing the composite rankings of the student and parent age cohorts, students receive assignment #3.

In my experience, students are engaged and enthusiastic about continuing the project with their grandparents’ age cohort. Often, parents are interested in knowing how the grandparents will rank the values and join the post-ranking discussion with the students. It is fascinating to hear students talk about the discussion with three members of their families about values and what life experiences shaped their ranking orders. This is the chart from the grandparents’ value rankings:

pic4

This lesson is a very simplified version of social science research that can be done with students of all ability levels. While I never took it further myself, this method could also be used to examine gender differences in the prioritization of values as well as aggregating data by other demographical categories.

If you decide to do this project with your students, I have a few suggestions:

  • Do not tell students about assignments #2 and #3 initially. I suspect students would do their initial rankings differently if they knew parents and grandparents would be asked to do the same task.
  • Be aware that students’ individual life situations may require exceptions or alterations to the assignment. For example, students may have parents older than the assigned parents’ cohort age range.
  • Emphasize to students that the aggregate data is the only part that will be shared with the rest of class and that individual responses, from students and their family members, will not be shared.
  • Consider discussing the meanings of the values with the students before they do the ordering task. I found it helped to come up with a “crowd sourced” broad definition of what is meant by each value.

I hope this post will get you thinking about creative ways to engage your students as the new school year begins. It is likely that many teachers, especially those with training in statistics and quantitative research methods could improve the validity and presentation of research results significantly. If you have suggestions for improving or expanding the lesson, I would be very interested to hear from you.

 Jeremie Smith
Outreach Coordinator
Center for Global Studies
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
smith193@illinois.edu


Have you done something creative with our Prioritizing Values Activity ?  Tell us about it in the comments section below. 

Continual Reconstruction: The Confederate Flag Controversy in the Classroom

The Confederate flag stands—or sits in a museum display case—as a symbol of very different sentiments depending upon perspective.

For some, the flag flies in pride of past Civil War fighters and American heritage, but to others, it is an archaic symbol of racism, segregation and slavery in the United States. Following the fatal shooting of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley finalized a bill to remove the flag from the state capitol building on July 10, 2015.

“No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.”  Governor Nikki Haley

When the Charleston shooting first spurred national debate about whether the Confederate flag should be lowered, one female activist took it upon herself to scale the 30-foot flagpole and remove the battle flag herself.

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June 27, 2015. Bree Newsome climbs South Carolina Capitol building’s flagpole, removes flag.   Washington Post.

“I’m prepared to be arrested,” Brittany Ann “Bree” Newsome told police, who demanded that she come down. Then she climbed a bit higher to unhook the flag before descending to greet the authorities, who handcuffed her and immediately put the flag back in its former position.

Newsome spoke for a greater community when she explained her motive:

”We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.” —”Bree” Newsome

Politicians have struggled to reach an agreement about how to best honor history through the flag’s placement. A majority of civilians and government officials haven chosen instead to focus on what lies ahead; whether or not the flag represents a commendable moment in time, it does not represent the future of the United States.

An immense, mostly cheering crowd gathered to see the official lowering of the Confederate flag on July 10 — in the state that was the first to secede from the United States in 1860. Back then, Southern states that depended upon slave labor saw Abraham Lincoln’s election as a threat to their lifestyle and liberty. South Carolina lead the way in separating from the Union to form a new nation called the Confederate States of America. Ten other Southern states followed suit: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The ideological and legal division between the (Northern) United States and the Confederate States of the South led to the Civil War.

“It wasn’t just about rights for African Americans, it was about reconstructing the nation…. It was about wholesale re-conceptualization of rights, on a national and international scale.” — Michael Vorenberg

Tensions continued to rise after officials removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol. On July 19,  confrontation occurred at a rally between members of the Ku Klux Klan and the New Black Panther Party.   At the height of the Klan in 1925, there were an estimated 5,000,000 members, while in the Civil Rights era (in the 50s and 60s) there were about 42,000 members. Approximately 24,000 remain today. While the KKK has diminished over time, this is the first Klan rally in South Carolina since the late 1980s.


Perceptions of race and its relevance throughout history remain a highly contested topic. Still able to provoke anger and pain, past instances of racial inequality can be difficult to discuss.   For students and future leaders who will likely face similar challenges, this history is important to learn.

New standards of the Texas State Board of Education in 2010 will introduce a new social studies curriculum to 5 million public school students this upcoming semester. Many people are concerned that stories of suffering and fighting for civil rights are veiled, important lessons left unlearned.

Continue reading

Money in Politics

“Elections should be determined by who has the best ideas, not who can hustle the most money from the rich and powerful.” There are the words of Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democrat nomination for the 2016 presidential election, famous for being a self-described democratic socialist and the longest serving independent in Congress. While Sanders is known for pushing political boundaries, his views on money in politics are not exactly radical. A recent CBS-New York Times poll has shown that a whopping 84 percent of people (90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans) think that money has too much influence on political campaigns today. 46 percent of respondents believed that the system for funding political campaigns is so flawed it must be completely rebuilt.

Although campaign financing did not rank high on the list of most important problems facing the United States (the economy and jobs, predictably, dominated the poll), campaign funding is becoming an important talking point in the long run up to next year’s election. For example, Hillary Clinton, the predicted front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has made campaign financing a key element of her campaign. “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all—even if it takes a constitutional amendment,” Clinton said at an event in April 2015.

The controversy around money in politics revolves largely around recent developments in laws about campaign funding. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that there cannot be limits on third-party spending on political campaigns. This ruling was based on the First Amendment. But why is third-party political spending important? What is the public’s concern?

The New York Times released the following video, explaining “the murky process of campaign contributions and the impact of anonymous donations on the political system.”

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In many ways, the question of campaign finance is similar to many other questions we ask about the government, the United States, and the world we live in. Decisions about issues like how money in politics should (or should not) be regulated revolve around values. Values play a key role when defining the broad parameters of public policy. What do we believe about ourselves? What matters most to us? When strongly held values come into conflict, which are most important? Equality or free speech? The democracy of changing a system that most people believe to be in need of an overhaul, or the stability of maintaining a system that is not ideal but works? Some values fit together well. Others are in conflict. Governments and their citizens are constantly being forced to choose among competing values in their ongoing debates about public policy.

The Options Roles Play in Choices curriculum units not only invites students to identify and express the key values present in different policy perspectives or options, it also creates a framework where students can identify and prioritize their own values.  As the United States enters this long campaign period, recognizing values and how they relate to policy will be a vital part of being an engaged citizen and choosing a government that will help create the kind of future you want to see.

 

Related resources from the Choices Program:

Considering the Role of Values in Public Policy is an activity that uses “value cards” to analyze how political values play a part in civic life.

U.S.RoleStudentThe U.S. Role in a Changing World is a full-length curriculum unit where students reflect on global changes, assess national priorities, and decide for themselves the role the United States should play in the world today. It places U.S. policy in global perspective, inviting students to decide how the United States should frame its future.

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