Title: Civil Disobedience in History
Author: Sarah White
Grade Level: 11–12
Summary of Lesson
Students will use the essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" to examine the definition, methods, and purpose of civil disobedience. They will then find examples of its use in history.
What is civil disobedience and when and how has it been used as a method of protest?
Databases(s): Student Resources in Context
Steps/Activities by Teacher
Lead a class discussion about the concept of civil disobedience. Ask students to explain what civil disobedience means to them. Use this discussion as an opportunity to dispel any misconceptions students might have about this concept.
Assist students in accessing the Student Resources in Context database. Help them locate Henry David Thoreau's essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience."
Distribute copies of the Civil Disobedience worksheet [link].
Allow students time to access the Student Resources in Context database to research additional historical examples of civil disobedience.
Once students complete their research, lead a class discussion about how civil disobedience has been used throughout history as a means of bringing about change.
Steps/Activities by student(s):
Think about the concept of civil disobedience. In a class discussion, talk about what you think civil disobedience means. Think about how civil disobedience has been used throughout history.
Use the Student Resources in Context database to locate the essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau.
Read the essay and use it to complete the worksheet your teacher provides.
After reading the essay, use the database to find other examples of civil disobedience in history.
In a class discussion, talk about how civil disobedience has been used throughout history. Think about how civil disobedience could be used today to address world issues. Does civil disobedience play an important role in today's society? Why or why not?
Students will understand the meaning of civil disobedience and be able to cite examples of how it has been used in history.
Related Activities: This activity can be easily integrated with the activities suggested.
Ask students to write an essay about whether civil disobedience is an effective tool for change. Encourage students to provide historical examples to support their opinions. Ask two students with different viewpoints to engage in a debate about this issue. When they finish, ask the rest of the class to discuss whether the students presented effective arguments.
As a result of activities, students will understand what civil disobedience is and recognize its impact on society.
National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
High School (Grades 9–12)
II. Time, Continuity, and Change
Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the past and its legacy.
Learners will be able to:
B. research and analyze past periods, events, and recurring issues, using a variety of primary sources (e.g., documents, letters, artifacts, and testimony), as well as secondary sources; validate and weigh evidence for claims, check the usefulness and degree of reliability of sources, and evaluate different interpretations in order to develop their own interpretation supported by evidence.
D. use historical facts, concepts, and methods to evaluate an issue of importance today, and make informed decisions as responsible citizens to propose policies, and take action on it.
VI. Power, Authority, and Governance
Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create, interact with, and change structures of power, authority, and governance.
Learners will be able to:
A. ask and find answers to questions about power, authority, and governance in the region, nation, and world.
B. examine persistent issues involving the rights, responsibilities, roles, and status of individuals and groups in relation to the general welfare.
D. analyze and evaluate conditions, actions, and motivations that contribute to conflict and cooperation among groups and nations.
X. Civic Ideals and Practices
Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.
Learners will be able to:
B. compare and contrast the roles of citizens in various forms of government past and present.
C. identify examples of civic ideals and practices throughout history and in a variety of cultural settings.
D. research primary and secondary sources to make decisions and propose solutions to selected civic issues in the past and present.
Standard Source: NCSS 2010
Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects:
Key Ideas and Details
1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
Standard Source: NGA Center and CCSSO, 2010
ISTE NETS for Students
3. Research and Information Fluency
Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. Students:
locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
process data and report results.
6. Technology Operations and Concepts
Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations. Students:
A. understand and use technology systems.
Standard Source: ISTE NETS for Students, 2007
Information Power; Information Literacy Standards:
Standard 1: The student who is information literate accesses information efficiently and effectively.
Standard 2: The student who is information literate evaluates information critically and competently.
Standard 3: The student who is information literate uses information accurately and creatively.
Standard 9: The student who contributes positively to the learning community and to society is information literate and participates effectively in groups to pursue and generate information.
Standard Source: American Library Association, 1998
Use the Student Resources in Context database to locate the essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau. Use the essay to complete the questions below.
In the essay, Thoreau wrote, "That government is best which governs least." Explain what this quote means.
According to Thoreau, how can the government sometimes hinder the people?
Why did Thoreau think that the government was bad?
"It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right." Explain what you think this quote means. Do you think this idea would work in today's society? Why or why not?
What was Thoreau's view of slavery?
To what events is Thoreau referring when he talks about "…a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army…"?
What actions does Thoreau ask people to take against unjust laws?
Based on what you read, define civil disobedience in your own words.
Use the Student Resources in Context database to find two more historical examples of civil disobedience used as a method of protest. Record the information below in notes format for each event.
Name of event
What was being protested?
Who was involved?
How did others react?
What was the effect/impact of the civil disobedience?
Be ready to share and discuss these events in class.