Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Empowering Students In the "Choice" for War

Through a series of five lessons titled, Mobilizing the Hearts and Minds of the American Public in WWI, students are asked to consider through primary source analysis and debate how the government, most often represented by the President and Congress, shape public opinion, and, by extension, the responsibility of the public to embrace their democratic responsibility of participation. I wanted to share a few activities that are a part of this series.

First, as a starting point to the series, I felt it important to remind students of the basics, to start at the foundation of the US government and country, the US Constitution. In this first activity, students are asked to recall what the Constitution says about war, what power and authority do government officials actually have? In a twist on the traditional KWL chart, I ask students to brainstorm what they know or think they know on what the Constitution says about war AND what they think the Constitution should say about war. Students are then asked to skim through the Constitution, correcting or affirming what they knew or thought they knew. By giving students the opportunity to brainstorm what the Constitution should say about war, you provide an opportunity for debate, evaluation, and exploration. Debrief as a whole class, reflecting on what surprised them, hypothesizing reasons for what the Constitution says and omits about war, and critiquing and evaluating the effectiveness of “direction” it provides. As a homework assignment, I ask students to brainstorm an amendment they feel will address, clarify, protect a value that has been left vulnerable by absence or lack of clarity.

At the end of this series of five lessons, in which students have read presidential and congressional speeches, supporting and opposing war, and analyzing propaganda posters, students are asked to participate as members of a democratic nation. Students are required to reflect and apply the concepts they’ve discussed as a class and write a letter to their state’s senator or representative. They must find out who their representative is, his/her address, and their position on the war in Afghanistan. Students’ letters must introduce themselves, state their opinion on the US’s involvement in Afghanistan, defend their opinion with two or three reasons (reasons that were discussed throughout the lessons), and end with a strong and persuasive conclusion.

I accessed Wilson’s address to Congress asking for war, Senator LaFollette’s “It has no popular support,” speech, and the North American Review’s, “War is a blessing, not a curse,” article from History Matters, American Social History Productions, Inc. [http://historymatters.gmu.edu/]. To see more of these lessons, check back to the History Connected website! [historyconnected.wikispaces.com]

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