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.
“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…
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.
Below are some more examples of how to go through this 3-step process with other quotations. As you read these, think about the primary sources you teach and how you might make them more interesting using the quotations, claims, counterclaims and essential questions featured on the posts.
Aesop Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything.
Mahatma Gandhi Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good
Margaret Mitchell Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.
Leo Tolstoy Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
Benjamin Franklin Energy and persistence conquer all things.
Asechylus Wisdom comes alone through suffering.
Henry Ford Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently
Ernest Hemingway Courage is grace under pressure