US History Big Question: Is America the Land of Opportunity?

AmericaLandofOpportunity

Well of course it is!

But is it?

This lesson, designed by history teacher Melissa Kinsey from Washington, Illinois, explores the interplay between American history and human perception. As she describes, sometimes what we perceive to be true depends on who is perceiving it.

Melissa starts with a provocative chapter from Dr. Andrew Pessin’s 60-Second Philosopher titled the Eyeball of the Beholder, and then directs students to this intriguing website on face illusions. With unique perceptions in mind, students explore how different groups (Native Americans and English colonists) viewed a common historical event– the settlement of America. They document their findings on this chart.

What I really like about Melissa’s question is that it addresses three important criteria.


  • It’s complex underneath.  Many students probably walk into this lesson assuming that America is the Land of Opportunity. That assumption is now shaken by a question.  
  • It reveals multiple perspectives. The question reveals that a static one-sided answer does not exist. Truth, then, must be seen through the eyes of different historical actors.  
  • It begs for clearer definitions. Opportunity for whom? Opportunity to do what? What does opportunity actually mean? The word ‘opportunity’ demands a clear definition.

As Melissa suggests, teachers can revisit this very same Big Question in subsequent units – the American Revolution, Civil War, Manifest Destiny for instance- to explore further the relationship between history and human perception.

Download full lesson


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.- Conflict:

Quote: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Question: What is the best way to convert an enemy into a friend?

Student assignment

This resource is from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters and essential questions.

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