Each of the following strategies breaks down the given objective into roughly one day of teaching. In order to make each lesson more straight-forward and teachable, the larger unit objectives are broken down into more measurable and scaffolded lesson objectives. This will make it easier to establish student proficiency, and therefore adjust instruction throughout the lesson.
In our first class period, we will discuss and define various types of government noted in Aristotle’s
. Specifically, we will define oligarchy, democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, and republic. Each of these terms is foundational in this unit, and so it will be necessary to ensure that the students have a sound understanding of them. Furthermore, the students will frequently return to these terms throughout my course, asking which best explains American government at any given moment.
Additionally, we will look into his biases in favor of or against each of these types of government. This will require the teacher to play devil’s advocate throughout the discussion. It would be easy to defer to their existing predispositions in favor of democracy, but it is necessary for the students to understand that beliefs they take for granted were not always commonly held.
To accomplish these tasks we will begin by reading through the excerpts as a class, taking note of his definitions, and his dispositions. When this is complete the students will translate the definitions into their own words, and compare them with the definitions in their glossary. Finally we will discuss their thoughts on Aristotle, and his opinions, with the teacher guiding the discussion to challenge their assumptions.
In our second class period, we will address the impact of the work of Locke and Hobbes on our government and political system. We will do this by reading short quotations from their works, which are generally representative of their work. The quotations are necessary given the relatively short time frame for dealing with a large amount of material and they appear in the quotes section of this unit.
The class will begin with a brief review of the history surrounding these men. It will be necessary to give a brief lecture on English revolutionary history, in order to provide context for the work of each man. This will serve as a brief primer to political history in the English speaking world, as well as offering background to the readings.
When this is complete the students will read the quotations provided in the quotations section and summarize the theories of each man. In this way the students will begin to compare the two, and should begin to see the foundations of some ideas that have been transmitted to our time.
Once the students have read and summarized the perspectives of each man, the class will reconvene, and we will assess each man’s perspective. The students will be asked whether or not they agree with each perspective, and how they think each perspective has influenced American thought. It is my hope to focus on Hobbes’ insistence that the purpose of government is to provide safety and security, and Locke’s assertion that certain rights must be protected in order to avoid tyranny.
In our third class period we will begin to study the Constitution by analyzing its wording and its concessions to republicanism and democracy. Prior to this class, the students will have read the Constitution as a homework assignment, and thus this class period can be truly devoted to our interpretation and analysis of the document.
The lesson will begin with a brief survey of their impressions of the wording of the Constitution. The class will discuss their own particular observations, and the teacher will keep a list on the board of their general ideas. This will serve as our lesson’s foundation, allowing the students to come back to their own generalizations at will.
When this is complete, the students will be directed to go back into the Constitution and read the Preamble, Article 1 Section 2 Clause 3, Article 1 Section 3 Clause 1, Article 2 Section 1 Clause 3, which deal with democratic and republican philosophy. The students will keep a running tally of their feelings about whether our government is democratic or republican in nature, and be prepared to offer arguments in favor of one or the other.
To conclude this class period, and their comparison/ evaluation, we will use an activity called Take a Stand. In this activity students stand on either side of the room, based on which of two opinions they hold. They then must, in turn, defend their perspective in a debate like format. In this case the students will take a stand on whether we are a democracy or a republic. Students will have to make a decision, and will not be allowed to sit out. In this way the students will have to make a hard choice, and defend it, given evidence on both sides of the issue.
In our fourth class the students will look into the history behind the Constitution, through an analysis of Federalist 10 and 51. This will be an opportunity to lead the students in a close reading of 2 complete pieces of political persuasion, while broadening their understanding of the underpinnings of American government.
The class will begin with a discussion of Federalist 51, in that the themes and topics it outlines are more widely and explicitly understood by students. The students will already have read the paper, and I will lead them in a brief discussion of the structures of government he outlines, and the reasoning he uses to justify these decisions. In this way I hope to flesh out their understanding of the basic structures of American government, as well as refresh their memories about the system of checks and balances. This is a much more concrete starting point than Federalist 10, which is much more theoretical, even though it is more foundational.
This will lead us to our discussion of Federalist 10, in which Madison lays out his case against faction. The idea of faction, and the protections against it, are so fundamental in our system that they can be difficult to discern when one is looking at the American system of government. I expect the students to have difficulty initially realizing just how much they know about the subject. Our discussion will center around identifying his argument, and then determining whether or not we accept it. I expect that the students will not immediately see the dangers of faction as Madison sees them. Furthermore, Madison laces Federalist 10 with the strongest available rhetoric, warning against tyranny, and oppression. I do not think the students will find the matter quite as pressing as Madison does.
That said, this paper will allow for a discussion of democracy and tyranny. Are the two mutually exclusive? Is a democracy immediately immune from the dangers of tyranny? Is our system immune? Do we have factionalism now? These are the types of questions we will ask as we wrap up our section on the Founders.
On our fifth day of the unit we will move from discussion of American government to a discussion of American culture as it pertains to democracy. We will utilize the excerpts of Alexis De Tocqueville’s
Democracy in America
, which is available in
The Lanahan Readings in the American Polity.
The first outlines quite successfully Tocqueville’s position on American culture as one of equality.
We will begin this lesson by asking a central question “Does a culture of democracy make a culture a democracy?” Given that the students’ will have read the pieces the night before, I will start by asking the students “what would a culture of democracy look like?” This short brainstorming activity is meant to call to mind Tocqueville’s thoughts on the subject, as well as bringing up some of the students own ideas on what it means to have a democratic culture. With this completed, we will delve into the first of the readings, looking to see what cultural factors Tocqueville noticed in America that fostered her democracy. Additionally, we will note the points on which they agree or disagree with Tocqueville. Finally we will return to the first of our essential questions, asking “what is a democracy?” Surely if a democracy is strictly a system of government then this whole culture of democracy discussion is moot. It is my hope however that the students will begin to see that a functioning democracy requires more than a constitution.
To wrap up this class we will transition into a small group discussion and reflection about the idea of a culture of democracy. It will be necessary to check in with the students and this point to ensure, on an individual level, that they each understand the concept of a culture of democracy. We cannot critically evaluate democracy, nor can we define it as a class, without each student appreciating the role culture plays in democracy.
Therefore the students will be asked to break into small groups and discuss the question “Is a culture of democracy necessary for a democratic government?” Tocqueville’s answer is yes, and that will likely be the answer most of the students give, but a well-argued dissent could equally prove that the student understands the idea of a culture of democracy, even if they choose to question its necessity. If a critical mass of students chooses to dissent, there might even be room for a good debate here.
The sixth lesson in the unit will require a certain amount of scaffolding in order to accomplish the objective. While we will be utilizing the same skills of critical evaluation, they will be focused on a painting rather than a reading, and this can require some explicit skills instruction. Thus I will begin this lesson with a brief overview of the process of reading a painting. To do this, I will simply remind the students that these paintings are not a photograph, and that every thing in the picture was under the artist’s control. Thus they should note that everything they see in the picture is deliberate, and should be read as such.
I will then display the painting “The County Election” on the LCD projector, and ask them what they see. This will begin as a brainstorming exercise with the students discussing what the action in the painting is, and who the characters are that are taking part. When the students have outlined the action in the painting I will pose the questions “Is this democracy?” and “what are the benefits or drawbacks to this system as Bingham sees it?”
This will lead us to our discussion of the second painting “Stump Speaking.” Our discussion of this painting will follow largely the same trajectory. It may be necessary throughout both discussions to ask the students to note particular highlights of the paintings like lighting, lines, foreground and background, all to accentuate the meaning that the artist included. The goal will be a critical look at the system Bingham presents, and the students will end class with a reflection on Bingham’s representation including its strengths and weaknesses and whether or not it is a fair depiction of our system.
For the final step in the third phase of this unit, we will reach Walt Whitman, and his perspective on American democracy. Unlike previous sources, Whitman is not making an argument about democracy as much as he is making an argument about America. In each of the writings we will read, he has something more to say about America, but offers little insight into whether or not we are a democracy, or what democracy even is. This is important I think, because just as the students take for granted that we are a democracy, Whitman takes for granted that our system is democratic, for better or worse.
We will begin our discussion of Whitman with “For You O Democracy.” In this short poem the students will begin to see Whitman’s perspective on democracy. He makes no argument here about whether or not America is a democracy, he simply lays out a list of things he will do for democracy that will make America and the idea of democracy stronger. This will serve as our brief introduction to his perspectives on democracy in America. Thus we will read this poem aloud in class, focusing on what Whitman thinks is necessary for a democracy to be strong. Given that the poem centers on companionship and love of your fellow man, it should evoke images of Tocqueville’s views of the American spirit of equality.
This spirit of companionship and empowerment will continue as we move on to discuss “A Song for Occupations.” After our discussion of “For You O Democracy,” the students will break up into groups, taking with them copies of “A Song for Occupations” and “By Blue Ontario’s Shores” and answering the question “What are Whitman’s thoughts on our government here?” The groups will be given a set period of time in which to answer the question and defend their answers using pieces of the poem. After the time is up, I will lead the students in discussion of their findings.
We will begin the final lesson of the unit with Whitman. We will reconvene as a class, and read together the third paragraph of “Democratic Vistas.” The students will look for Whitman’s thesis, and some of his feelings on suffrage; that will prepare us for the final discussion of the unit, universal suffrage, in our next class. It will be necessary to explain the background and timing of this writing, but that should not take very long, and the students should be left with a sense of Whitman’s unease regarding the future of American democracy. To wrap up this introduction to the lesson, we will discuss Whitman’s feelings about “universal” suffrage, which was not universal at the time.
This will lead us into a discussion of suffrage in America. The students will be asked to create a brief summary of suffrage in America, including all of the times it has been expanded, with a brief explanation of why it was expanded. This will require the students to read and evaluate the amendments that granted suffrage to women, African Americans, and eighteen-year-olds. When this is complete the class will go over it together, cementing a whole-class understanding of what is meant by suffrage, and its history in the U.S.
The class will then discuss how the idea of suffrage, limited or universal, plays into our understanding of democracy in America. When writing their essay, students may also choose to look back into previous readings, including Whitman, Aristotle and Tocqueville. Given that this is a final assessment essay, the students will be largely responsible for assessing the amendments themselves. Their assessment will be the final step before writing their essay which answers our original questions; What is democracy? And is America a Democracy?