Seems counter-intuitive to me.
But maybe I’m missing something.
Inspired by stoic philosopher Epictetus, I worked through the 3-Step process using the Teach Different Society to create an essential question for a US history unit on imperialism.
Roscoe Pound, former dean of Harvard Law School, famously said “The law must be stable but must not stand still.” Designers of the Supreme Court comparison FRQ for the AP government exam must have been listening.
Consistent with the expectations for this response, I’ve created a few sample prompts, each of which includes one the of the 15 required cases along with a case related to it.
I will add to this list leading up to the exam. Here is a chart with all of the cases– facts, holdings, precedents and significance.
(I’ve also posted samples for the argument essay FRQ here )
Was the Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu onto something? John Kennedy thought so.
Here’s another example of how you might follow this process in a unit on the Cold War in US history.
Pick a theme, primary source and a quote aligned to the theme.
You’re teaching the Cold War and you think your students would be interested in the theme of fighting— when to do it and how to do it to make sure you achieve maximum benefit. Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis speech is your target primary source because it demonstrates the value of using words, not violence, to solve problems.
Ancient philosopher Sun Tzu has a provocative angle on this theme: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”
Now pick apart Sun Tzu’s quote. Find the claim being made.
Claim: The best way to deal with your enemies is by not fighting them.
Now articulate the counterclaims which assert competing perspectives.
Example Counterclaim: Attacking your enemy– trying to overwhelm him– is the best path towards victory.
Have a silent conversation with yourself over the different ways you and your students may view this quote…It might sound like this: It seems very counter-intuitive to claim that you can actually win over your enemies without fighting. Surely many students are under the impression that direct confrontation with others is the only way to win. Sun Tzu is offering a different perspective here, one that must somehow incorporate other means of getting your way.
After exploring the claims and counterclaims of the philosopher quote, slow down and think back to the primary source– Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis speech. Think of a Big Question that draws out the theme.
Here’s one: Is fighting the best way to get what you want?
This question pulls students into an interesting conversation about the value of fighting and violence as a solution to problems.
To implement this lesson, post the quote on the board and engage the students’ ideas on fighting. What you are doing is preparing the soil for the introduction of your primary source.
Now, introduce the Big Question as you share Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis speech. With the Big Question and Sun Tzu quote in hand, students have the tools to explore the historical importance of Kennedy’s decision and connect all of it to their own personal experiences.
Below are 16 samples, each of which includes:
(NOTE! The exam format for this question has changed slightly. The main change is that students do not have to do a rebuttal to their argument. See College Board website.)
NEW! Federalism in the Age of Coronavirus: Should the federal government or the states be most responsible for responding to the Coronavirus outbreak? Prompt
Congressional roles: Does the delegate or trustee model of Congressional representation best serve the needs of the people as the Framers intended? Prompt
Political Parties: Do political parties hinder or promote democracy? Prompt
Congressional oversight: Is congressional oversight healthy or unhealthy for our system of government? Prompt
Interest groups: Do interest groups hinder or promote democracy? Prompt
Civil Rights: Should the federal government have power over states in the shaping of civil rights policies? Prompt
Citizen participation: Does citizen participation really matter? Prompt
Photo IDs and federalism: Do states have the authority to pass photo identification laws which restrict people’s ability to vote? Prompt
Presidential power: Do executive orders give the president too much power? Prompt
Gridlock: Is gridlock healthy or unhealthy for our system of government? Prompt
Term limits: Do congressional term limits violate or honor popular sovereignty? Prompt
Primaries and caucuses: Is the presidential nominating process democratic? Prompt
Social Media: Is social media a healthy way for citizens to participate in our political system? Prompt
Electoral College: Should the electoral college be abolished? Prompt
Representative versus direct democracy: Which is a better vehicle to serve citizen needs– a representative or direct democracy? Prompt
Independent judiciary: Is an independent judiciary a threat to or a savior for democracy? Prompt
Free exercise clause: Snake-handling in religious rituals
The bad news is we live in a time when everything in politics seems to be so emotionally charged and negative that it’s a struggle to talk to one another.
The good news is that carefully crafted questions can diminish this negativity and nurture better conversations. Continue reading
I may have stumbled into a way to
1. inspire students to ask more questions
2. encourage close reading of a primary source
3. save time
The idea here is very raw. Read this and reply with your ideas. And if you try this out, I’d love to know what happens.
Around 10 years ago I watched my student teacher try a strategy in US history which she learned about in her methods class. She played a short video showing a wild party at a speakeasy during the 1920s. At the party were scantily dressed men and women dancing around. After two minutes or so– during which students were noticeably confused– she stopped the video to show one of the women close up. She stood in front of the projector screen and gave a simple command:
“Hi! I’m a flapper. Interview me”.
Without delay the students started firing questions at her, ranging from “What is a flapper?”, “Why are you dressed like that?”, “How are you getting away with drinking alcohol?” to “Who was invited to the party?” I remember thinking to myself– ‘what an innovative way to get students to start asking questions‘.
Yet I never tried the strategy myself…until this week.
I was in a time crunch teaching the founding period in AP government–feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the primary sources required from the College Board. I’ve already had classroom discussions on Federalist 10, 51 and 70. Students are a little burned out. I needed a quick, imaginative idea for teaching Brutus 1— the seminal work which lays out the philosophy of the Anti-Federalists.
My mind raced back 10 years to that experience with my student teacher. What if I came up with a way to use the ‘Interview Me’ technique to inspire student questions on a primary source? Why not give it a shot? It’s not a Socratic seminar but who cares? As long as the students did a close reading of the document, and developed some cogent questions, my objectives would be met. And it might actually be fun.
So here’s what happened–
2. Before setting them off to read it, I said they would have a chance to interview Brutus I (played by me) with 15 minutes left in the period. He would clear up their misunderstandings.
3. With 15 minutes left I sat in front of the room and said
“Hi! I’m Brutus I. Interview me”
I fielded their questions and students took notes based on my responses. We went right to the bell. (I screwed up here. I should have allowed at least 30 minutes for the interview.)
I haven’t assessed them yet but in terms of student interest in the activity and the quality of their questions, I was pleasantly surprised. They were amused with my performance. I didn’t dress up at all. I just made sure that I assumed the character of somebody who was afraid of centralized political power, large republics and a national Congress which would abuse its authority through its power to tax. It actually wasn’t hard to pull off from my end. It ended up being like a bizarre 15 minute co-presentation with my students as assistants.
There was something about the interview format which motivated students to ask questions. It brought a different energy to the room. Because they were interviewing me, they didn’t seem embarrassed at all about their confusions. They went along with it.
I see some adaptations for next time:
1. Tell a student to study the primary source beforehand and run the interview for the class.
2. Find two primary sources; divide the class; give one source to each section; have each section stage an interview. Maybe they could plan out questions beforehand so the interviewee knew what was coming and they made sure to cover salient points. Sounds like a mini-class project waiting to happen.
Has anybody ever tried this technique before with primary sources? If so, what did you do and were you successful?
Any ideas for improving this? The input would be great! Thanks.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi
Essential Question: Is sacrificing for others always the right thing to do?
Join the Teach Different Society.
Students come up with stunningly good questions.
Sometimes those questions take over the class.
I just experienced this first hand during a discussion on Plato’s Crito and Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail (one of the required documents in the redesigned AP government course.) Continue reading