The unit "How Fear Threatens Freedom, A Thematic Approach: From the Inquisition to the McCarthy Era" is to be used in a large urban public school with great diversity among ethnic groups and levels of past academic preparation. It would be taught in a course entitled United States History II. It also might be taught, given that the chronological scope reaches back as far as the Middle Ages and the Salem Witch Trials, in United States History I. Further, to the extent that the essential question involves limitations on individual freedoms and the Bill of Rights, it might also be taught in a Civics class. The target audience would be either tenth or eleventh grades. Although this unit was written for "college" (middle level) and honors students, with the proper modifications it could be taught at any level, including basic level and to non-native speaking students (taught in English).
The material for the unit is designed to be covered in ten sessions, divided into roughly three sections:
: Historical precedents for persecution of heretics and denial of the right to remain silent;
: The drama of the Cold War, fear of Communist expansion, the Arms race, and the McCarthy Era; and
: Fear of the "other", fear of infiltration, terror within the country, recent limitations on civil liberties of foreigners, especially Islamic people, after 9/11.
These lessons were written for use with a combination of 50 minute and 90 minute classes. The longer classes will enable the teacher to use various classroom materials and teaching methods. For example, an LP containing live audio of interrogation by the House Un-American Activities Committee would take 40 minutes if played in full. It is worth doing so because the tension and conflict between the accusers and the accused is so high. Further, as the lesson plans and filmography show, there is a rich film history directly applicable to the Unit's theme and content. Given the total time devoted to the unit, most of the films would have to shown in part only, and placed in a lesson plan as illustrative of the point being made, in order to stimulate discussion and/or writing on the subjects.
The lessons will cover the Medieval Inquisition; witch hunting, persecution of heretics and the meaning of heresy; the Salem Witch Trials; the English Leveller movement; the Bill of Rights, especially focused on the Fifth Amendment; due process and the application of the Fifth amendment to criminal prosecution; the Miranda Rule and presumption of innocence; the Cold War fear of Communism, the Atomic Age and the Arms race; the McCarthy Era; the nature of Soviet style totalitarianism; the fall of McCarthy; and application of the themes to recent world events.
The primary teaching method will consist of class discussion, using primary sources such first person accounts, audio tapes and films of McCarthy Era testimony, autobiographies such as Lillian Hellman's
and Owen Lattimore's
Ordeal by Slander
. We will also use secondary sources such as fictional films, textbook, plays such as Arthur Miller's
and George Bernard Shaw's
Assessments will be in the forms of 1) writing critical and persuasive pieces during the Unit (in the five paragraph format used for the CAPT test (as many as three of these), an end of Unit written examination, and at least one inquiry lesson. The inquiry lesson may have a due date of well after the completion of the Unit. One of the inquiry lessons would involve students investigating and doing a PowerPoint presentation as a group and a newspaper article as individuals, on Edward R. Murrow's landmark "See It Now." television broadcast about Joseph R. McCarthy in 1964. This inquiry project is described in the Day 6 Lesson Plan below.
If possible and feasible, and partly depending on the class level taught, the Unit will help students get ready for the kind of class likely to be taught in a college environment, and help them prepare for the demands of a college class.
The High School Teaching Challenge
While the goal will be to teach college bound students, even honors students will not be prepared for the demands, rigor, or boredom of lecture/discussions or a heavily academic focus. The fact is, students of this age must become engaged on a personal level to stimulate an ongoing interest in the material. One must constantly ask oneself as a teacher, and the students: "Why do we give a damn about what happened to Saint Joan, the murdered heretics in England, or Lillian Hellman before the House Un-American Activities Committee. What does it have to do with us?" The challenge for any teacher of adolescents is how to engage the students. The answer may be to engage their sense of right and wrong, their heightened sense of what is fair, what is just. That is why I chose to design this Unit. So what are the "hooks" for this unit, the strategies that will keep even the most disinterested heads off the desks? That will vary greatly with the teacher's style and preferences, and some techniques are laid out in the lesson plans that follow.
The Challenge in Using Films
Showing films is no substitute for teaching. Indeed, it is tempting to show films in their entirety because it is easier than picking key segments and using these within a coherent unit or lesson plan. And, of course, there is the question of time. With a classic 50-minute class, it might take at lest three classes to show just one film. In the case of this unit plan, I have listed or suggested the use of many films. One that may be shown in barely over one class is
The Atomic Café.
Only the last 15 minutes of Fahrenheit 451 need be shown, with careful prior explanation. The most compelling moments come at the end, when, during an early snow, fugitives from a totalitarian anti-utopia are committing books to memory before burning the books. (Books have been outlawed in their society) Only short segments of
A Man For All Seasons
need be used, those that directly involve their "trials" for treason and heresy, respectively. Conversely, 12 Angry Men should be shown in its entirety because, while it is not directly on the subject of McCarthyism, it is the most compelling illustration of the rights of criminal defendants to an impartial jury, protected by the right to remain silent, with the full burden of proof on the prosecution. For a film with a setting of a small jury room on a stormy afternoon, and given that the film is all discussion, every student I have shown it to has been fully engaged with the characters and the plot.
The films listed in the annotated filmography exceed in number those specifically mentioned in the lesson plans, and are provided as suggestions so that teachers may have more to pick from, and may use some for general background in preparing their units or lesson plans.
Recommendations for prior knowledge
Ideally, the following topics should have been studied in depth, or at least touched upon, in this course or other courses, prior to beginning this Unit: the Ascendancy of the Roman Catholic Church and its dogmas, the Inquisition and persecution of heretics, the early Colonial Settlers and their reasons for coming to America, the Constitutional Convention and the development of and historical precedents for the Bill of Rights, World War I and the 1920's Red Scare; the Soviet Totalitarian state and Soviet Style Communism; and the events of 9/11.
Resources for teacher and students include those that are contained in the annotated bibliography; there are some secondary sources such as
The Politics of Fear.
More important for the daily classroom use, are the primary sources, such as Owen Lattimore's
Ordeal by Slander
. The teacher resources help the teacher in getting a detailed background of the subject matter, in preparing assessments, leading discussions, preparing question for the students in alignment with the objectives elaborated below. The student reading material will include periodicals from the Cold War, articles with will form the basis of CAPT type essays, segment of a number of the books and some readings from Internet sources e.g. Arthur Miller's
, Lillian Hellman's
, and Ray Bradbury's
, Leveller Pamphlets, transcripts of the trial of Saint Joan, and others. These will assist the students in gaining a basic background in the subject matter, include primary sources aimed at enabling the students to know how people felt and thought at the time, and to prepare the students for evaluating the essential question posed by the Unit: Can Fear Threaten Freedom? Classroom materials include a slide show, films of various types, audio recordings, handouts of student reading list materials, an inquiry lesson assignment, and other segment of various readings. These directly relate to the goals of the Unit in that they are among the most effective at engaging the students, through primary sources and films.