“Your silence will not protect you.” Audre Lorde

The Big Idea: Students make moral decisions everyday. Usually these decisions revolve around specific actions they take like helping a friend, cheating on a test or obeying curfew. But students also make moral decisions by being silent after witnessing the immoral behavior of others. In these situations, the impulse for self-protection overrides moral obligations. Learning how to choose whether or not to be silent in the midst of injustice is an important part of moral development.

Claim: According to American writer and feminist Audre Lorde, if you don’t speak up, your voice will never be heard. If you don’t stand up for yourself, then you will get taken advantage of. If you don’t stand up against injustice, it will never go away and it will be knocking at your door soon.

Counterclaim: Sometimes being quiet is the right thing to do. You need to be silent to protect yourself or a friend. Minding your own business can offer protection as well.

Essential Question: How do we know when to be silent?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!


These resources are from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

“The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting.” Sun Tzu

Teaching the Articles of Confederation–with an assist from MLK.”

Essential questions and conversations at the ready– just in time for the fall

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Next school year could be confusing for everyone.

One thing is clear:  there is a great need for short, portable assignments to give to students which are meaningful, inspire conversations and will work in any environment (face-to-face, blended or virtual).

In that spirit, here’s something you can send students to foster some great conversations and get them to grapple with essential questions, using the ideas of some of our great historical and literary thinkers as prompts.

Each assignment is an editable Google form which has…

  • a provocative quote and theme and picture of the author
  • a student primer video
  • text fields where students write out the claim and counterclaim the author is making
  • space to answer an essential question

Click on the resources below and click “Make a Copy

Abraham Lincoln- Leadership:  “Right makes Might”

Susan B. Anthony- Freedom: “Independence is happiness”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.- Conflict: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt- Fear: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Mahatma Gandhi- Sacrifice:  “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Winston Churchill- Perseverance: “Success is not final: failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

How do I use these?

  1. As a pre-writing activity before an essay.
  2. As a prep activity (entrance slip) before you have a conversation with the whole class
  3. As a follow-up reflective activity (exit slip) after the conversation
  4. As a stand-alone assignment if you don’t have time for a conversation at all!

They are ready for delivery.  Edit the forms as you wish and send them off to your students. Google automatically creates a spreadsheet with the responses!


These resources are courtesy of Teach Different, where you can sign up for conversation starters with a different quote every week.

AP Gov Test Prep in the Age of Coronavirus

CDC-coronavirus-image-23311-for-webI’m starting to emerge from a state of shock to a state of realization that this crisis just may serve as the best opportunity we will ever have to study of how government works (and doesn’t work).

To that end, I’m thinking about the AP exam and thought of creating a simple, yet comprehensive, ongoing e-learning assignment which calls on students to connect all of the areas of government with the crisis.

I’ve used questions directly from the AP College Board as the prompts. Clearly, not all of the questions fit perfectly but enough do to make this a worthwhile activity.

Coronavirus- Making the Connection


Steps:

  1. Students copy assignment onto their own Google doc
  2. After competing assignment, students submit the link to their Google doc to teacher
  3. Teacher checks for inaccuracies and provides feedback for revision
  4. Teacher compiles a class list of student Google doc links
  5. Students study class responses

 

If your students suffer from biased thinking, try this– for 10 minutes.

biasThere’s nothing more gratifying than watching a student eagerly share a heartfelt political opinion in class…

…and nothing more, well, disheartening.

Sharing strong opinions creates great energy for discussion. It’s infectious. It sets the model that all students should care about learning.  

But then there’s this discomforting feeling you get when you realize that the student has completely ignored any opposing views.  There’s no flexibility, no openness. There’s no critical thinking. The student is confirming an existing bias.

It’s so important for students to have passionate opinions; but it’s also important for them to cultivate a sensitivity to people with whom they disagree, even if that sensitivity doesn’t lead to a changing of their minds.

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Teaching the Articles of Confederation– with an assist from MLK

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Last post we had Einstein assisting MLK to teach the  Letter From a Birmingham Jail.  For this post we’re using a MLK quote to teach the Articles of Confederation, another required document in the AP government and politics course.

 

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“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Tell students to…

1. State the claim that MLK is making by putting it in their own words

2. Establish a counterclaim which goes against MLK’s thinking.

3. Share responses privately in groups of three

4. Share out with the entire class

MLK’s quote is clear enough: if you want freedom, you have to go out and get it, which is exactly what the colonists did when frustrations with England boiled over. To expect those in authority to give freedom is naive and the colonists knew it.

Now let’s connect this theme of freedom to the student:

Most students know all too well the futility of expecting authority figures– parents, coaches for example–to give them freedoms. A good part of growing up is spent demanding privileges while knowing that few may be granted and that the better thing to do is to obey the rules. Granted, sometimes demanding freedom yields success but other times the requests end up with a resounding ‘No’.  Encourage students to share their frustrations and successes in this opening conversation. We know they’ll have a wealth of experiences from which to draw.

For the third and last step, introduce a question which encapsulates the themes of freedom and oppression AND connects to the personal experiences of students which were unearthed in the opening conversation.  Here’s one that might get their attention: Can too much freedom be dangerous?

Now pivot to the Articles of Confederation…question-mark-2525248_960_720

This essential question gives you the ideal tool to open up student understanding of the Articles.  As the document makes clear, the states were obsessive about demanding their freedom and sovereignty, often at the expense of the federal government’s power.  As we know, that obsession with freedom will eventually lead to all kinds of governing problems later.

Give out excerpts of the Articles  along with the essential question and tell students to find examples in the text of the states trying to assert authority at the expense of the federal government, which essentially was relegated to the role of weak referee.  As a support for this text you may want to show a short video like this one from C-Span which provides some context. In the short discussion that follows you’ll definitely want to refer back to the personal experiences of the students to make extemporaneous connections.

These are great teaching moments waiting to happen because you are linking their lived experiences with otherwise lifeless curriculum.

This doesn’t have to be a long lesson at all and certainly– depending on the student ability level– we shouldn’t expect that students will pull out all of the necessary information from the document. But at the very least, this approach will generate some interest on the theme of freedom and its limits, something that you can come back to when studying how the Constitution fixed the problems.

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Teaching the Letter From a Birmingham Jail… with an assist from Einstein

cellMLK’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail is a true classic, both for its historical significance and unapologetic endorsement of non-violent civil disobedience. It actually made the list of required readings for the AP government/politics course, a list that includes Federalist Paper #10, #51 and even the Constitution.

It’s not easy to teach, though. The letter has profound ideas about the relationship between the individual and the state which are hard for students to appreciate.

Here’s a different way of teaching the letter using a compelling quote by Albert Einstein to start things off:
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“Never do anything against conscience, even if the state demands it.” 

Tell students to…

1. State the claim that Einstein is making by putting it in their own words

2. Establish a counterclaim which goes against Einstein’s thinking.

3. Share responses privately in groups of three

4. Share out with the entire class

The quote exposes the tension between an individual’s duty to follow moral conscience and the duty to follow government laws, duties which often conflict.  Einstein clearly provokes us to follow our conscience, not the law.

In the ensuing conversation encourage students to bring up situations where THEY must decide between obeying their morals or obeying the government. There’s always the refusal to go to war because of religious reasons, but there are others. This week I had a student describe how his father– who was religiously opposed to vaccinations for his children– was forced to obey the laws of the state of Illinois. He had a very difficult choice to make. This issue hits home emotionally in a very real way.question-mark-2525248_960_720

After the conversation, think about a really good essential question that puts everything together.  Here’s one I developed recently: Should you ever disobey a law if it offends your moral conscience?

With this question in hand, give out King’s Letter and tell the students to think and write about how MLK would answer the essential question using specific textual references from the document. You could give them this task as an in-class writing assignment, for homework or even as preparation for a Socratic seminar discussion. The possibilities are vast.

What has happened here?

Well, a lot.

You started the students off with a provocative quotation with a theme connected to a primary source.  You challenged students to think critically about the quotation by coming up with a claim and counterclaim and then had a thoughtful conversation about the meaning of Einstein’s quote as it relates to students’ lived experiences. Then you capitalized on their emotional investment in this conversation by creating an essential question designed to generate interest and excitement in the letter.

Yes, this process takes up a little class time and demands some careful thinking on your part. But think about what you are doing.  You’re ensuring that when students read this letter that it will be more interesting, more meaningful and connected to their lives in a real way. The upfront investment is worth it.

Here are some more examples of how to go through this 3-step process with other quotations. They come from another blog I’m managing for Teach Different, a professional development organization geared towards helping teachers design and implement essential-questions.

As you read these posts think about the primary sources you teach and how you might make them more interesting.


 

Don’t do this when a student interrupts you with a great question…

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I totally screwed up last week. We were studying the basic differences between judicial activism and judicial restraint.  We had just finished up making the point that a judicial restraint oriented court is typically more conservative in that it is less likely to overturn precedent and more likely to see the law as static. A student disrupts the chain of thinking with this question… Continue reading