From the time of its founding, the “American Experiment” has been one of high aspirations and bold optimism. The high ideals of our nation’ss Founding Fathers are apparent in the language of the official early documents of the Republic. We have come to use words like “democracy”, “freedom,” and “justice” almost interchangeably. Though these fundamental national principles have been trampled on, even openly violated at times in our history, they still remain at the core of our national character. For communitarian groups, as for individuals, this challenge was foremost: would they be free to initiate their own “pursuit of happiness,” so long as it did not interfere with the happiness and well-being of others? Perhaps these groups helped to remind Americans of their creed and the freedom to be different, to pursue different lifestyle goals, indeed to “march to a different drummer.”
This teaching unit will attempt to describe several experiments in living during the nineteenth century that should help students focus on community survival in any age of history. Because the questions raised are so basic, this unit would be best taught toward the beginning of a school year, or as part of a larger unit on the community.
At the outset, I plan to survey the students with a series of general questions about community and community organization. These survey questions (see Lesson Plan Section below) can be used by the individual teacher in any way he or she sees fit. Personally, I plan to survey the students at the beginning and again at the end of the unit, to allow them to compare their answers, to see if their opinions have changed. The Thought Questions (parentheses) can be used for class discussion following completion of the surveys. The questions are designed to highlight the following issues: Definition of the concept to be discussed, “Community” (#1); Success and failure of community (#2 and #3); Community government (#4 and #5); Community economics (#6); Community goals (#7); Community traditions and social structure (#8 and #9).
I believe it is important at the beginning of a course or unit of study for the students to see “community” as a somewhat complex institution, difficult to define in a few simple words. I want them to see that communities function at many levels and attempt to meet a variety of needs. At the outset, I prefer to take students from the general to the specific, thereby allowing them to draw on their general knowledge in order to involve as many students in the group discussion as possible. I call this method “prepared brainstorming.” Students will have already prepared answers which the teacher can list on the chalkboard. The teacher is then free to ask follow-up questions to help clarify and sort out the random answers given. For example, the teacher may wish to star(*) certain answers which the class agrees are particularly good ones. Follow-up questions can be used to further clarify and reinforce key concepts and to draw out student responses on key questions.
If the teacher will refer back to my previous unit (“Utopian Communities: European Roots, American Realities”) he or she will locate (page 91) the first assignment following the above Survey assignment
This is a group assignment. Students will be expected to make up “Articles of Agreement” (i.e., a constitution) for their “community”, based on their own ideas and excerpts from three Community Covenants
. New Harmony, Pennsylvania; Zoar, Ohio; and Oneida, New York (Hinds, Appendix, pages 165-171). Student representatives will report their findings to the entire class; discussion should follow, with the teacher helping the class to summarize the similarities and differences among the groups. This exercise is intended to give students an appreciation for differences of approaches, problems to solve, and standards for success. I hope to use these three categories (Approaches, Problems, Standards) throughout the unit as one valid way of distinguishing these experiments in communal living.