Declaration of Independence and Acts of Courage Lesson provided courtesy of The Bill of Rights Institute. Category



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Declaration of Independence and Acts of Courage
Lesson provided courtesy of The Bill of Rights Institute.
Category - Declaration of Independence

Grade - K-12



National Standards for Civics and Government Center

Grades K-4

II. What Are the Basic Values and Principles of American Democracy?


  1. What are the most important values and principles of American democracy?

Grades 5-12

II. What are the Foundation of the American Political System?


  1. What are the distinctive characteristics of American society?


Recommended Time

Two 45 minute class periods.


Overview

In the course of this lesson, students are asked to examine closely their definitions of courage and their understanding of what it takes to act courageously. In the first section, students have an opportunity to reflect on their understanding of "courage" in response to a writing prompt. They begin to construct a definition of courage based on classroom discussion, then consider a Founding document, The Declaration of Independence and an essay about what happened to the signers in the years during and following the American Revolution. Students are asked to reassess their definition and apply it to later examples, including their own actions and lives of people they may know.




Objectives


Students will be able to:

  • define courage after reading the Declaration of Independence and an essay on the signers of the Declaration;

  • explain if/why it took tremendous courage to sign the Declaration of Independence;

  • interpret modern examples of courage and reassess definition of courage; and

  • apply an understanding of courage to their own lives and actions.



Materials

    • Merriam-Webster dictionary

    • Copy of Declaration of Independence




Procedure


  1. Warm-Up/Background/Homework

Define courage according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiatge Dictionary as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”

Have students write an essay response on  “What does it take to be courageous?” or “What qualities does someone who is courageous possess?” based on the defintition.

Give students a list of quotes about courage.  Ask them to choose one and write a response.  For a list of quotes on courage, see handout 1.

2. Brainstorm

Begin discussion with question about what qualities a person must have and/or what circumstances must exist for a person to act courageously.  You may want to have students volunteer to read part of their responses and create a list on the blackboard or overhead.



  1. Wrap-Up: Connect to Students

  • Discuss. Continue discussion with line of questions directed at students' own acts of courage.  Suggested questions:

    • Given your/our definition, have you or has anyone you know done something that could be considered courageous?

    • What kinds of circumstances might inspire you to act with courage? (Political cause? Friend in need? Crime? Betrayal of your principles?)

SUGGESTED FOR GRADES 9-12

3. Connect to Primary Document (suggested for grades 9-12)

  • Have students read (or reread) The Declaration of Independence.

  • Ask students to work in pairs to outline the Declaration and answer the following questions.

    • What was the purpose of the document? 

The Continental Congress released this document to officially announce their independence from Great Britain so that they could gain recognition and assistance from European powers.



  • Ask, did the men who signed the Declaration act with courage?  Discuss.

    • Teacher's note: Recall the punishment King George III meted out to Irish rebels in 1802, when he ordered to have them hanged, quartered, burned and decapitated for their actions against the crown.

    • Who were the signers?  What kinds of men signed the Declaration?

    • What happened to the signers as a result of their affirmation of the principles outlined in the Declaration?

    • Who made the greatest sacrifices for the principles embodied in the Declaration?

    • How does our understanding of their experience add to or take away from our definition of "courage"?

  • Review the list of qualities/circumstances created in the brainstorming exercise. Add or delete qualities from the definition based on the students' understanding of courage after reading the Declaration and essay. 



4.  Evaluate Other People, Circumstances in American History

  • Broaden the class discussion to include other people and circumstances in American history, including current events. Potential questions:

    • Can you think of other people in other times that exemplify "courage" as you/we have discussed it here?

    • Offer examples for the students to consider:

      • John Adams, who, despite his standing as an American patriot, defended the British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre of 1770.

      • John Brown, abolitionist crusader of the 1850s whose militant action lead to the start of the Civil War.

      • Ward Connerly, Civil Rights advocate instrumental in eliminating race as a factor in admissions to the University of California.

      • Julia Butterfly Hill, the young woman who lived in Luna, a 1,000-year-old redwood tree, for two years to prevent loggers from cutting it down.

      • Cardinal John O’Connor, conservative archbishop abortion opponent, activist for the poor and supporter of organized labor.

      • Reverend Al Sharpton, most recently in the news for his arrest while protesting missile tests in Viecas, Puerto Rico and for his campaign to become president of the United States.

      • Mary Beth Tinker, who was expelled from school for wearing a black arm band in protest against the Vietnam War and fought her case all the way to the Supreme Court .

    • Ask a focus question:  Does this person exemplify the characteristic idea of courage?

    • Probing question:  Does courage require a noble objective? E.g., can a Nazi officer who was awarded the German awards for valor and gallantry be considered courageous?

    • How does this person's act or circumstances alter your/our definition of courage?

  • Revisit list of qualities that class has created to define courage. 

5. Wrap-Up: Connect to Students

  • Discuss. Continue discussion with line of questions directed at students' own acts of courage.  Suggested questions:

    • Given your/our definition, have you or has anyone you know done something that could be considered courageous?

    • What kinds of circumstances might inspire you to act with courage? (Political cause? Friend in need? Crime? Betrayal of your principles?)

Follow Up

  • Homework: Research/Writing

  • Have students research current events articles where individuals are standing up for or defending rights in America today.  Students must locate a reliable published source, print the article, read the article, and write a 1-paragraph abstract or summary.  In addition, ask students to write an expository essay that explains why he or she chose the article and how the person(s) featured in the article demonstrates courage.


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