Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Required Documents

A Case for Reading The Whole Document- Letter From A Birmingham Jail

 

Documents used:
Letter to Martin Luther King A Group of Clergyman (1963)
Required Document: Letter from a Birmingham City Jail (1963) (Annotations)
Background documents (if you have time or students are lacking background)
What the Black Man Wants Frederick Douglass (1865)
Nonviolence and Jim Crow Bayard Rustin (1942)

I originally did this lesson with my 8th graders last year, but will differentiate it for AP seniors. I had gone to a seminar on Civil Rights in America: Speeches and Leaders last January put on by Teaching American History

I had decided to really challenge my 8th graders (who are in an accelerated program) and have them read the entirety of the Letter from a Birmingham Jail. We were in the midst of our Civil Rights unit (I taught them pre-APUSH), and we had already read, annotated and discussed What the Black Man Wants by Frederick Douglass. This set the stage for the bigger discussion on all of the documents culminating with Letter from a Birmingham Jail. 

Now, I know this year that I will not have the luxury of time with my seniors, so I am shortening the sequence but I want the outcome to be the same.

I started this with the Letter to Martin Luther King from A Group of Clergymen. This is an easier document that students can read at home. I do this to set the stage for Dr. King’s letter. I don’t think that the document should be a stand alone. The letter to King, published in a newspaper, is a quick read and I require students to write down what the clergy are asking of Dr. King. This letter basically says, “Don’t tell me how to clean up your backyard.” King wasn’t from Birmingham, and the clergy didn’t feel like and outsider should be able to come in and tell them how to deal with their racial issues. A note that it was also written on Good Friday.

King’s response? It’s OUR backyard. He starts off with “My dear FELLOW clergymen” to off the bat show that it’s an “us” mentality. This document is long, but let me tell you, I gave the 8th graders 4 days to digest it and they knocked it out of the park. I wish I could say I had an amazing lesson plan, but I didn’t. I let it all happen organically and with 8th grade accelerated students, it was magic.

For my seniors, I gave them the assignment on a Friday for homework, and gave them Tuesday after our Civil Rights notes to work on it.

Prompt: Discuss key points that Dr. King discusses in response to the Letter to Dr. King. Explain how this has translated into modern day civil rights.

The purpose of the Socratic seminar was to gain a deeper understanding of the documents.

I broke the students up into two groups. Each got 20 minutes to discuss and since we did this on a block day, I gave an additional 20 minutes to discuss as a whole. Students had so many incredible comments. There were discussion about this being a redress of grievances, as MLK discusses Jefferson and the Declaration a few times. Discussions of Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, LBGTQ+, Flint, and Kaepernick showed students ability to connect the themes to current events.

Questions arose: Was MLK’s optimism born out of necessity? Does the world lack empathy?

Students reflected on the document after the discussion: Discuss the legacy of the Letter From A Birmingham Jail.

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I appreciate the time struggle of the semester crunch, as I only have a few more weeks. However, as with every other document, I attempted to get students to understand the whole document’s themes and connecting it with other parts of political history. And it as assigned mostly at home.

How has your interaction with this document played out in your class? What have you found to be successful?

Assessment, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Projects

Supreme Court Hand Turkeys

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and our school is hosting a blood drive. This means sparse classes and excited students. Yesterday, I assigned them a Supreme Court case from the list I made so they could prepare for Supreme Court Dating next week. {My students loved the Bureaucratic Speed Dating we did and last year appreciated the Supreme Court speed dating because they were able to get a lot of info from it!} With the new cases, I want them to have a firm understanding of the case. It’s an easy assignment, it’s fun, and it’s awesome to see what they create! Hand Turkeys assignment.

To really get the cases, we will draw them, talk about them (Supreme Court speed dating), and write about them. I loved the way these turned out! 

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Teachable Moments

Teachable Moments- Birthright Citizenship

Today, I was reminded why it’s so vital that we teach what we do. The day was going along as I assessed the media unit, and assigned the Supreme Court Speed Dating cases to students because some will be gone tomorrow before the Thanksgiving break. 3rd hour, students came in heated and angry from another class because of a conversation on birthright citizenship. There were tears, there was anger.

I allowed students to tell me what happened with leaving out names, because that information is neither hear nor there. *This is where I tell you to know your class. We called a family meeting because I know my class, and I know what we can/cannot do. Based on the political ideologies we did at the beginning of the year, this will be a good conversation. 

We keep this up all year to remind us that we all have different ideologies. We need to keep it Constitutional.

I listened to the frustrations and boiled it down to the student was upset because the opposition didn’t have as much knowledge (because they haven’t taken Government yet) and therefore, wasn’t making Constitutional arguments.

Immediately, students started to look at the 14th amendment and make their arguments to me. I gently pushed back, trying to explain the other side. And then I had a moment of genius. I asked the class, “Is this something you want to further explore? I have articles and a podcast we can listen to tonight and discuss tomorrow.” That, my friends, was a moment I am proud of because there was emphatic yeses. I put the following links on my Planbook for the students:

Essay from Constitution Center

Breaking Down the Birthright Citizenship Debate

Does the Constitution Require Birthright Citizenship? Podcast

Plyer v. Doe (discussed in the podcast)

The Constitution Center is all in with the new redesign and I love that they have both sides presented in a civil manner. In the current political climate, it’s not often we see respectful, educated disagreements. It’s very important to me that we model this is many ways in our class.

Yes, the College Board standards are important and it’s my job to prepare them for the AP test in May. Yes, I only have a semester to teach. Sometimes, going off the lessons is important and valuable. And when you’re unsure, there’s a mountain of available resources just waiting for your students and you to help dissect the information.

When in doubt, get medical with it (as I explain in an earlier post) 

Stay calm, and teach on.

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Foundations of American Democracy, Interactions Among Branches of Government, Political Participation, Professional Development

My favorite podcasts for AP Government

I absolutely love podcasts! I can listen while I’m driving or out for a walk. I love having my students listen to them as well. I often assign them outside of class, but sometimes we will listen to them if they are short and meaningful. It’s also helpful for my auditory learners or for students that just need a bit of extra information to really “get it”. The green are ones I listen to in class or assign for extra knowledge on a subject! The red are for my own personal knowledge and growth. 

Here are my favorite podcasts for AP Government!

  • Constitutional– I use this one in class and for my personal knowledge.
  • We the People– I have to admit, I love Jeffrey Rosen. And when he followed me on Twitter one day, I about died. THIS is a podcast I have my students listen to because it presents both sides from a scholarly view point. It has been especially amazing for the redesign. I highly recommend this! 
  • The Daily– I listen to this daily. Each day on my way to work. Like clockwork. 
  • Teaching American History– with titles such as “How to Read Federalist #10” , many AP teachers jump for joy. Let’s be honest, we all need to brush up on some of our document knowledge. This is a great resource for teachers who don’t want to be caught unaware! 
  • More Perfect I love using this in class. More specifically, they have a great one on Citizen’s United which can be used with my lesson on the required case. There are 3 seasons and I’ve found they are easy listening. 
  • PBS News Hour- quick, easy, informative, and part of my Alexa morning routine. 
  • Ain’t No Free Lunch– I met Danielle at my Street Law summer and really loved listening to her talk. Her and her friend, Taikein look at current/past issues. I appreciate hearing different points of view because it makes me a better teacher and better citizen. Plus, I am working on expanding my resources so that all students feel represented. And my students love the back and forth. 
  • Slow Burn– Nixon’s Watergate. Clinton’s impeachment. So enthralling and something I listen to so I can strengthen my history knowledge. 
  • Up First– The news from NPR in 10 minutes. I recommend to students who want to listen to the news and keep up. They can listen to it on the way to school or work. 
  • The Wilderness– I started to listen to Pod Save America awhile ago on the recommendation of a friend, but soon found it to be not up my alley. I decided to give this a try because of it’s look at what happened to the Democratic Party in the 2016 and what they need to change. It’s like an autopsy and it’s refreshingly honest. This is a podcast I listen to for my own personal knowledge.  From the website: “The Wilderness is a documentary from Crooked Media and Two-Up about the history and future of the Democratic Party. Pod Save America’s Jon Favreau tells the story of a party finding its way out of the political wilderness through conversations with strategists, historians, policy experts, organizers, and voters. In fifteen chapters, the series explores issues like inequality, race, immigration, sexism, foreign policy, media strategy, and how Democrats can build a winning majority that lasts.”

 


Tell me, what are your favorite podcasts and how do you use them?

Interactions Among Branches of Government, Professional Development

Pacificus and Helvidius– or Why Hamilton and Madison broke up.

This year, I’ve had the pleasure of being on the Bill of Rights Teacher Council. It’s a fun gig and I highly recommend working with this organization.

With that being said, I was able to attend a colloquium on Liberty and Executive Power. The group of teachers was amazing and I had such a great time. The best part is, I learned SO MUCH!

I never really knew what made Madison and Hamilton “break up”. I always just brushed over it and figured Jefferson somehow convinced Madison to become a Democratic Republican and they all lived politically ever after.

Enter Washington’s Neutrality Proclamation, April 22, 1793.

Madison was a member of the House at this time, and Hamilton was Treasury Secretary so we can see how this will start out.

To start with this, we will look at the powers vested in the Executive, as well as enumerated in the Legislative. After we have a good read on that, we look at the Neutrality Proclamation and ask “Can he do that? Where does the power to declare neutrality lie?” (Spoiler alert: there’s no straight answer yet)

*Please note that I’ve already gone over Federalist 70 with students and will be asking them to refer back to it

Then, I’ll ask the following {straight from my reader} to keep students focused during their research time:

Does the general grant of executive power in Article II imply more than the enumerated powers that follow in the article? Are Congress’s powers to declare war and its participation in the making of treaties simply exceptions out of the general executive power vested in the President? How does the enumeration of powers in Article II differ from Article I?

The most important part of this is not telling students who did the writing. One group will get Pacificus and the other will get Helvidius. You can use the excerpts from TAH.org and break up the pieces of it. I’ll be honest, Hamilton is WORDY, but what he says matters. Personally, I like reading Madison because he’s much more organized.

This can be done at home or in class, depending on what works best for your class.

And magically, this can turn into argumentative writing!

Defend or refute the claim that the Executive has the power to declare neutrality. Use evidence from the documents to back your thesis. 

What made this so great for me was that I was an actual participant in the learning. I had never read these pieces before, so becoming the student made it more meaningful for me.

The Bill of Rights Institute updates their seminars here and I strongly urge you to check them out AND to take a look the Founder’s Fellowship for next year once it comes out. To keep updated sign up for the Bill of Rights Newsletter here! Don’t miss out!

Political Participation, Projects

Keeping Interest Group Interesting

As you know, I only get a semester to teach AP Government and that requires me to get a little creative when I want to make sure that students “get it”.

Enter the Interest Group Project. I introduced the project on a Thursday and made it due the next week on their block day {Wednesday/Thursday} with limited in class work time.

I like to sometimes give more creative licensing to my students. I don’t care about the format, I care about the content. This is why I didn’t put specifications on having to use PowerPoint, although most did just that or used Google Slides. Just follow the rubric. I also didn’t give them a list of interest groups because I want THEM to do some research! Per usual, they did incredibly well and I was so interested to learn about each group!

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This was the AARP group. They took it up a notch with dressing up! 

Here is a student example from the AARP. {posted with student permission}

What I will change for next time:

  • I want to add a portion of how they use high tech media to get their (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc)
  • I didn’t teach them anything about interest groups yet, because I wanted them to do this FIRST and then be able to tie it all in. I liked this, but I think I’ll try it the other way to see if it works just as good.

What I REALLY LIKED:

  • Letting them be in charge of their own learning because inevitably they chose groups they had an “interest” in researching {pun intended}
  • Giving space to research without giving too many guidelines
  • Being flexible with the guidelines
  • Requiring that most work be done outside of class since they had a choice of groups or to do the work individually.
  • They turned NOTHING in. It was all a presentation grade. I LOATHE papers everywhere, so this suited me nicely

If you try this project, let me know how it goes!

 

American Political Ideologies and Beliefs, Political Participation, Writing for AP Gov

Discussing Citizens United

Oh campaign finance.

The wonderful world.

{take a deep breath and continues to pretend it’s super fun!}

money

*I take 2 regular and 1 block day for this.

On Friday, I assigned Citizens United v. FEC. They are not writing the DBQ, but using the documents (including Federalist 10) to prepare for a Socratic discussion on their block day (Wednesday/Thursday).  This is out of classwork and I like giving them a weekend to look over it and ask questions if needed on Monday during the lecture.

On Monday, I give notes on Elections and Campaign Finance. I use Edward’s 2016 Presidential Election Edition for notes, or find some via a group, friend, or other teacher. Because the notes I use are from a group, I don’t share them here since they are not mine to share.

On Tuesday, we use Bill of Rights Institute Homework Help video as well as Money Unlimited from a 2012 issue of the New Yorker and a campaign finance cheat sheet. Students are instructed to ‘draw’ campaign finance reform as a map and prepare for their Socratic discussion. I generally walk around during this time to ensure everyone “has it”.

The day of their Socratic discussion I write the question up on the board so students have a focus: Assess whether the Supreme Court ruled correctly in Citizens United v. FEC in light of constitutional principles including republican government and freedom of speech. 

How I run Socratic:

  1. Students are familiar with how Socratic Seminar- How am I graded_. Often times students get stuck with how many times they need to talk. I care about what they say, not how many times they talk. Noting that, taking up too much of the discussion gets you points taken away. For some classes, I give them 3 sticky notes. Once those are gone, they are gone. It also helps them to regulate who hasn’t been able to speak yet with a visual that doesn’t disturb the discussion.
  2. Because I have larger classes, I do the inside-outside circle. Each group gets 2 sets of 15 minutes. Students in the outside circle are listening and filling out Socratic Seminar Observations They can use them when they are in the inside circle. Below are examples from my 8th grade class.

Group A goes first on the inside for 15 minutes while Group B writes. Then they switch, but this time Group B goes for 30 minutes while Group A writes. The final switch happens and Group A is given their remaining 15 minutes. These times can be readjusted to fit your class period. This works well for two topic Socratics (Federalist/AntiFederalist). I change it up depending on the class.

You can also use an argumentative writing rubric and give points based on that. I record my observations using Socratic Seminar Observations. I can change up what I’m grading them on easily. This is the one I use most often.

At this point, after the discussion, you can have them do a piece of writing using the focus question. I love writing after a Lecture-Reading-Discussion train because they really have the ability to look at it from all angle and engage with the material.

If you have time and a class that this would work for, watch “The Kid is All Right“. This Simpson’s episode. It’s a quick 20 minutes and the kids always get a kick out of it because they actually get it after learning about political parties, interest groups, campaigns, and campaign finance. I bought the copy on YouTube for $2 and have shown it each semester.

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