Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Taking a Closer Look at the Words of Thomas Jefferson

The book discussion that occurred on Friends of Liberty was held a couple days before I addressed Thomas Jefferson in my ninth grade US History I class. There was such a lively discussion in book group that it inspired me to see what my students' opinion of Thomas Jefferson would be if they were presented with some of the contradictory statements and actions he has regarding the plight of the African Americans.

I set up a Think and Wonder Activity. I placed a variety of quotes from Thomas Jefferson himself or books written about Thomas Jefferson around the room. The quotes were as follows:

"They [the African Americans] are at least brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger til it be present (Notes on the State of Virginia)"

"Comparing them [African Americans] by their faculties of memory, reason and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to whites; in reason they are much inferior; and in imagination they are dull and tasteless (Notes on the the State of Virginia)"

"All men are created equal (Declaration of Independence)"

"I advance it therefore as a suspicion only that blacks...are inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind (Notes on the State of Virginia)"

"...He found no discomfort in aligning himself with a circle of cosmopolitan intellectuals who were decidedly antislavery and prepared to do something about it (Friends of Liberty)"

"Part of his reluctance [to speak against slavery] was concern about his political future, and linked to this fear of offending friends and fellow planters ready to charge him with betraying his class (Friends of Liberty)"

"But hidden in the language of the letters was the decision he had already made: that he would not free any of his slaves with Kozciusko's assets (Friends of Liberty)"

Students had to walk around the room silently. They first had to read all the quotes and then had to write a comment on the paper placed under each quote. Before the students broke into small groups to discuss the quotes I addressed some of the questions I saw written on the papers and clarified the quotes that they seemed to have difficulty understanding.

The students were broken into groups of three and given the following questions to discuss:

Why does this man seem to be conflicted about his views on African Americans?

What do you think of this man's conflict? Is it reasonable?

If you could ask this man one question what would it be?

Who do you think this man is?

After the students discussed these questions in their groups we came back together as a class so people could share out their ideas. When the students first received the discussion questions many were surprised that these quotes were all about the same man, although many of them did guess it was Thomas Jefferson. This activity was useful in helping the students evaluate Thomas Jefferson and come to their own decisions about his actions. There ended up being quite a few who were willing to defend Jefferson.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE this lesson idea. I might have the use it! Thanks, Amy!