Hopefully after a year, or even a term of letter writing, your students will be motivated about American history. My personal goal for my students is for them to develop a love and appreciation for our country, and to want to become an active part of its history. As the collective future biography of America, students have many levels at which they may become more involved, both now, and as adults. Students can take a pledge to vote in every election, national and local, from the time they are old enough, and throughout their lives. Now is the time for children to learn about voter registration and absentee ballots. A wonderful culminating activity might be for students to participate in a voter registration campaign.
While students are getting excited about their country, they may want to know more about their own town and neighborhood. I have solicited several local politicians to write their own “Letter to an Unborn Patriot,” in order that my students will see the vision these people hold, and why they desire to serve the public. Encourage your students to solicit office-holders in your local area to do the same. Students can even begin with the administrators in their schools, the PTO president, the student council president and the local state representative. What made these public servants want to endure the pressures of their jobs, what legacy do these people hope to leave? Young adolescents have a tendency to think that all political officials, as well as school administrators, make a great deal of money, and are constantly deluged with a variety of job-related “perks.” Social studies class is a good time to learn otherwise.
Another project I intend to have my students complete is a “Social Action Project.” My students will have to team up into pairs and identify, plan, initiate, and carry out a “positive action” which results in an improvement either in the school, neighborhood, or greater community. By drawing on the theme of letter writing that they have performed all year, my learners will be required to use these skills to make a difference and to enact positive change. Their projects might involve implementing after school care for the young, organizing an errand running service for the elderly or physically challenged, canvassing the neighborhood to solicit support for a stop sign or a traffic light, the list is endless. As teachers were are often frustrated by what we sense as a need for immediate gratification in our youth, and we are often tempted to label our children as products of a “gimme culture.” By raising the bar of expectation and providing meaningful tools for growth, a letter writing campaign designed to set the stage for positive change just might be a very effective motivator for our adolescent history students. With this in mind, I have designed two handouts for your students, in order to focus and direct their efforts. Spend time brainstorming ideas, and review the sheets “How to Write a Letter to the Editor,” and “How to Write a Letter to a Public Official” with your classes. They just might become proactive change-agents! Their finished projects might spur them to write yet another “Letter to an Unborn Patriot,” one which has as its goal a story, which is the students’, own!