Representations of Power Relationships in American Literature

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Representations of Power Relationships in American Literature
Full Year 1 credit
Caitlin Garzi

Matthew Yang

Sarah Nitti

Gina Bentivengo

Zachary Magalhaes
Course Description:
Representations of Power Relationships in American Literature is a full year course where students will come to understand different power struggles and relationships portrayed in American literature. The course, though separated into distinct units, directs students towards a holistic understanding of power relations today through a wide survey of the past foundations for present circumstances. From exploration of the literature of the industrial revolution to Southern regionalism, students will arrive in the modern area with a new background to better frame understandings of power relations today.

Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions

  1. Power is unevenly distributed across the spectrum of society.

    1. What is power?

    2. Are there different levels of power?

  2. Economic circumstances affect the (im)balance of power in a society.

    1. How do economic differences separate people within societies?

    2. How does monetary advantage serve as an avenue to power?

    3. Do the practices of a society perpetrate existing monetary imbalances?

    4. How do different authors change over time in their representation and understanding of the role money in power relations?

  3. Societal institutions such as the aristocratic plantation systems, public education, and government limit one’s ability to obtain power.

    1. In what way must people work within a system in order to eventually work independently of it?

    2. Do these systems track certain people to certain areas of responsibility and power?

    3. Are these systems imbalanced?

    4. Are these systems infringements on free will or, like any power relationship, a necessary imbalance? And if such systems are necessary, at what point do they become overpowered, abusive, or unfair?

  4. Different literary movements are attempts represent differently the change of power relationships through time.

    1. Do power relationships and literature change in a progressive or cyclical manner?

    2. Are changes in literary movements mere facelifts of presentation or real representations of a new thought and new largely focuses accepted by society?

    3. What are the shortcomings/areas of neglect of new literature in terms of representing power? Are their groups of people, groups of thought that are still or further marginalized?

  5. New power relations develop out of old ones.

    1. What kind of power shifts do contemporary literature portray?

    2. What marginalized or underrepresented groups have received a greater share of power in contemporary society?

    3. Where did the changes grow out of?

    4. How does literature stimulate, represent, or facilitate that change?

    5. Can there be a truly original power relationship outside of societal effects?

    6. Can or should “development” be considered “progress”?

Knowledge and Skill:

Students will acquire knowledge of:

  1. How literature reflects power relationships in society

  2. How literature may be in line with the dominant views of society

  3. How literature may be transgressive

  4. Literature can stimulate and facilitate change

  5. Relationships are changed through a continuing dialogue of which, in a large society, literature plays an important part

Students will be able to:

  1. Conduct research from credible sources to gain further understanding about a work of literature or a historical period

  2. Write formal papers that incorporate research as well as a communal, rigorous drafting and revising process

  3. Develop a personal voice and style in creative works

  4. Begin incorporating personal styles in some academic works as well

  5. Work in a group setting to maximize exchange of ideas

  6. Present materials and ideas that were interesting to them

Learning Activities:

  1. Short writing prompts to explicate and analyze text

  2. Small and large group discussions

  3. A long and communal revising process that incorporates technology in forums, tools of word processing programs, etc

  4. Class presentations of work

  5. Conferences with peers and with the teacher over prewriting and revisions

Assessment Evidence:

  1. Journals containing written responses to texts and text-related questions

  2. Other journals for the individual focuses and projects of the different units

  3. Personal responses to literature as expressed in small group and class discussion

  4. Multiple collaborative drafts that evidence peer-feedback through utilization technologies used in class

  5. Creative, large and small writing projects that emphasize development of the personal voice

  6. Formal papers that demonstrate and incorporate research from scholarly sources to explain problem texts, areas of confusion, or build upon an initial understanding received from class

Instructional Units:

Native American Literature

Industrial Revolution Literature

Depression Literature

Regionalism Literature

Woman’s Literature

African American Literature

Literature Depicting Government Power

Power in 20th and 21st Century Literature

Instructional Unit

Native American Literature

This unit focuses on texts written by Native American authors and explores the effects of colonization and the dominant society on their cultures. Students will gain exposure to a marginalized yet influential cultural group and their unique contribution to American literature.

Desired Outcomes

Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions:

  1. Native American literature is characterized by a broad discrepancy of power between mainstream American society and their own marginalized culture.

    1. How does what we call “American” society stand in opposition to traditional Native American values and society?

    2. What is quality of life like on “the rez” and why is it that way?

    3. How have Native American cultures been affected by encounters with European settlers during pre-colonial times? Is this contact destructive, constructive, or neither?

  2. Native American cultural identity is endangered by dominant institutions.

    1. What is important to retain as sacred to individual Native American nations?

    2. How have governmental regulations restricted a Native American’s sense of national and ethnic identity?

    3. What stereotypes are perpetuated by the dominant media?

    4. Why have Native Americans been represented unfairly or inaccurately, when even represented at all?

    5. How do misunderstandings of Native American further endanger their cultural identity?

  3. Through the study of Native American literature, we increase our knowledge of ourselves and our contemporary American society.

    1. What distinguishes Native American literature?

    2. Is there a universal Native American literature genre?

    3. Are there universal Native Americans or universal Native American values?

    4. How does exposure to Native American literature contribute to a fuller understanding of what “American” means?

    5. How do the voices and dialogues of between and among the dominant and subordinate cultures affect our understanding of what we define as “American”?

Knowledge and Skills

Students will acquire knowledge of:

  1. The historical contexts of Native American experiences

  2. Native American oral and literary traditions

  3. Causes of the Native Americans’ continued struggle for cultural autonomy and preservation within American society

Students will be able to:

  1. Critically read and respond to texts

  2. Define, recognize, and utilize literary terms and techniques (themes, symbolism, motifs, tone, audience, context, narrative structure) in interpreting literature and in creating own creative works

  3. See textual evidence that represents power struggles and imbalances

  4. Use textual evidence as proof of theses or claims

  5. Identify and analyze authors’ uses of nonlinear narrative structures and alternating points of view

Assessment Evidence

  1. Response to text and text-related questions in journals in the form of summaries and/or explications

  2. A narrative written from the point of view of a Native American individual as experiencing alienation in American culture, anywhere from colonial times to present.

Learning Activities

  1. Class discussion of texts presented and issues exposed or explored in those texts

  2. Small-group/peer conferencing of written narratives

  3. Freewriting, creative exercises, for example:

    1. give yourself a descriptive Native American phrase name (Builds-the-Fire, Raised-on-Pasta, etc.) and write about it in poetry form

  4. Compose book reviews of particular texts

Recommended and Optional Texts

Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Memorials speech

Also Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine or The Beet Queen, N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, D’Arcy McNickle’s The Surrounded, Adrian C. Louis’s Skins

Instructional Unit

Industrial Revolution Literature

[An exploration of power structures depicted in literature of the Industrial Revolution]


In this unit, students will being to understand the power struggles of people in the American Industrial Revolution era. All the while, they will question what it meant to be American in a time where xenophobia raged, unions and big business clashed, and where struggling groups constantly redefined what was patriotic, right, and American. Students will look at the American Dream, realism, and naturalism and analyze the ways Industrial Revolution authors depict power.

Desired Outcomes

Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions:

  1. An imbalance of power existed between classes during the American Industrial Revolution era.

    1. What was the mark of having power during the industrial revolution?

    2. How did society alleviate or aggravate the power imbalances affecting the class struggle?

    3. How did morality add to the definition of power and what constituted as the proper wielding of power during this time period?

    4. Was power unequally distributed along more than just class lines, along ethnic lines, for example? Which of the two, class or ethnicity, was more influential in determining the kind of power an individual could wield?

  2. Inherited circumstances limited the pursuit of the American dream during the American Industrial Revolution.

    1. What is the American dream?

    1. What specific kinds of inherited circumstance limited one’s ability to attain the American Dream?

    2. How was the attainability of the American Dream in the industrial revolution similar to or different from its current level of attainability?

    3. How does historical context affect the way Americans understand, define, and consequently write about the American dream?

3. The authors discussed are typically characterized as naturalists and realists.

    1. What features characterize naturalism and realism and make them distinct from other literary movements?

    2. How do these characterizations match with or further the goals of the authors?

    3. What are the commonalities or differences in the characters depicted in these works?

    4. What literary techniques do these authors use to confront the power inequality during their times?

4. The Industrial Revolution resulted in the changing nature of the American workplace and caused former methods, ideologies, and assumptions to be challenged.

a. What do the characters discussed struggle with in terms of their environment, and how does the environment of the Industrial Revolution force them to change?

b. How does new technology affect the way these characters live?

c. How did the Industrial Revolution change the workforce of America?

d. How did the Industrial Revolution change way work was perceived and understood?
Knowledge and Skills:

Students will acquire knowledge of:

  1. The distinctive traits of Naturalism literature

  2. The distinctive traits of Realism literature

  3. The American dream, how it is pursued, and how it has changed

  4. The class struggle in American society

  5. The historical context and events of the American Industrial Revolution

  6. General literary terms and techniques

Students will be able to:

  1. Critically read and respond to texts

  2. Define, recognize, and utilize the literary terms and techniques (themes, symbolism, motifs, tone, audience, context, narrative structure) of naturalism and imitate it in creative works.

  3. Use textual evidence as proof of claims

  4. Identify the distinctions of individual tones and voices

Assessment Evidence:

  1. Students will write an essay or speech either proposing a feasible solution to a modern day class struggle similar to the situation depicted in “Life in the Iron Mills” or “Maggie: Girl of the Streets” or describing a real life plight using evidence from photos or newspaper articles.

  2. Acting as a news reporter, the student will pretend they interviewed one of the characters in “Life in the Iron Mills” or “Maggie Girl of the Streets,” and use textual character evidence to write a transcript of the interview.

  3. The student will write an article based on that interview.

  4. Journaling, done in and outside of class, where activities include:

    1. Writing poems that imitate Walt Whitman’s distinctive style.

    2. Writing short character descriptions imitating Realism.

    3. Drawing scenes depicted in the reading.

    4. Responding to quotes.

Learning Activities:

  1. Write a short story or poem illustrating the student’s imagined situation of a character in a provided photo using styles attributed to Realism.

  2. Large class discussions and smaller group discussions.

  3. In groups, the student will reconstruct a scene from the novel discussed set in modern day, casting either real life people or celebrities. They will act out that scene as a group in front of the class.

Books and Materials:

Poetry from Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, 1855. “Life in the Iron Mills,” by

Rebecca Harding Davis, 1861. “Sculpture in the Iron Mills: Rebecca Harding Davis's Korl Woman” by Maribel Molyneaux. “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” by Stephen Crane 1893. Jack London’s Class Struggle Speech.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, 1949. Death of a Salesman (movie). OR The

Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, 1906. The Jungle (movie) (1914)

Instructional Unit

Depression literature

[An exploration of how literature expressed changing power relationships within families in response to The Great Depression]

In this unit, students will discuss the issues at the heart of works written during The Great Depression. The topics studied will concern the effect of the depression on the power of the individual within society, and the power of the individual within the family.

Enduring Understandings/Essential Questions

    1. The depression was an economic downturn that affected people in all occupations and in all parts and levels of American society.

    1. How did the depression affect farmers differently from the way it affected others?

    2. How did the depression affect power structures in rural areas differently than urban areas?

    3. What were the major issues affecting the lives of people during the depression?

    1. People expressed their worsening problems and loss of autonomy through a variety of mediums, all of which are effective in different ways.

    1. What were the different mediums of expression?

    2. What are the different advantages of the different mediums of expression?

    3. What kind of expression is accomplished by the photographic medium of Dorothea Lange?

    4. Why would the government fund the Federal Writers Project, and what is the significance of the interviews?

3) The depression affected power structures within the family

  1. What were the power structures displayed in the Joad family and how did these structures change over time in adaptation to the circumstances of The Great Depression?

  2. How did people adapt to the new situation and were they effective in this adaptation?

  3. Does the book have a hopeful ending and if so in what way?

Knowledge and Skills:

Students will acquire knowledge of:

  1. The history and events of which occurred during the depression and the impact on on both families and individuals.

  2. The purpose of the federal writers project and why its work, especially the interviews conducted, are significant

Students will be able to:

  1. Understand what photojournalism is and different methods to interpret it

  2. Be able to interpret meanings and effects of depression era photographs on society

  3. Be able to relate the photographs and interviews and poetry to the book and the movie Grapes of Wrath

Assessment Evidence

  1. Choose three of the photographs by Dorothea Lange and write a two page reflection relating it to themes in the Grapes of Wrath, in Sanburg’s poetry or the interviews (to be done over the course of the unit).

  2. Complete bi-weekly blogs expressing thoughts and opinions on the works and the material discussed in class-students are encouraged to respond in threads and comment on each others posts

  3. Students will listen to excerpts from the Federal Writers Project interviews and then choose an older individual in their life, write interview questions and interview that person about their life story.

  4. Pick three of the people interviewed by the writing project and reflect on what was said in a two page response paper, (to be done over the course of the unit).

  5. A final portfolio which includes the photograph reflections, a recording of their interview, the reflections on the Federal writing project interviews and their in class journals on the characters in the Grapes of Wrath. Accompanying these pieces will be a three to four page written response detailing what was learned from each of the assignments.

Learning Activities 

  1. Small group and large class discussions

  2. Bi-weekly Journal entries exploring different points of view of the members of the Joad family

  3. Poetry writing that embodies one of the themes discussed in the Grapes of Wrath

  4. Individual presentation of a chosen journal entry to the class and a following discussion of why this entry is relevant to what is currently happening in the book

  5. An in class viewing of the movie version of the Grapes of Wrath and an accompanying discussion of the differences between the two mediums in terms of effectiveness and expression

    1. Written reflections on the movie and its effectiveness after the class discussion

  6. Oral readings of the Sanburg poems followed by small groups discussion of meaning and significance and a group presentation of findings

Recommended Texts:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath film (1940). Carl Sanburg

selected poems. Dorothea Lange selected photographs. Interview excerpts from the Federal Writers Project

Instuctional Unit

Southern Regionalism

[Power relationships and their changes in the South as expressed in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury]

Course Description:

In the Southern Regionalism unit, the class will examine the very different social setup of southern American life, particularly focusing on its decay and the struggle to maintain its old institutions as illustrated in Faulker’s The Sound and the Fury.
Desired Outcomes

Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions:

  1. Existing power relationships prevented different groups from receiving the full benefits of equal interaction with other groups.

    1. How could more collaborative efforts across power groups have resulted in better resolutions to problems?

    2. In what ways did power differences prevent effective communication?

  2. Maintenance of an imbalanced system exacts tolls on all levels of society.

    1. How does the old aristocratic system of the South show signs of decay or the inability to satisfy all levels of a changing southern society?

    2. Do antiquated values have a place in a changing world?

    3. Are antiquated systems and/or values worthy of defense and maintenance? If so then at what cost?

  3. New models of society and new ideals come with changing times.

    1. Does the new constitute as progress?

    2. What is progress?

Knowledge and Skills

Students will acquire basic knowledge of:

  1. Modernism and its characteristics

  2. Southern culture and its distinct differences from other regions in America

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify different points of view of both fictional characters and real world counterparts, and analyze the effects of their unique additions to the overall narrative and southern community.

  2. Do a close reading of the text.

  3. Identify credible sites for research.

  4. Conduct research to further understanding of historical context and/or other areas of interest or confusion.

Assessment Evidence:

  1. A journal which measures class participation by containing a student’s in-class responses to short prompts

  2. Prewriting and drafts that demonstrate a strong revision process. Successive drafts should contain comments from peers and evidence of successive changes made in support of such comments or a written defense of written choices made and kep

  3. A few shorter, creative works

  4. A final formal paper incorporating research that furthered the student’s understanding of historical context and how it is evident in The Sound and the Fury. Alternately, students may write more on literary criticism that seeks to explain a difficult part of the book

Learning Activities:

  1. Short writing prompts to explicate and analyze text.

  2. Small and large group discussions

  3. A long and communal revising process that incorporates technology in forums, tools of word processing programs, etc

  4. Class presentations of work

  5. Conferences with peers and with the teacher on prewriting and revisions

Recommended and Optional Texts:

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. Selected poems by Alice Dunbar Nelson.

“Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Instructional Unit

Gaining autonomy

[American women writers and the expression of their empowerment through literature]

Course Description:

In this unit, students will explore the autonomy of American women writers. Topics will include the relationship between self-expression and literature and such relationships are telescoped, broadcasted into, and affect power relationships within society.

Desired Outcomes

Enduring Understandings/Essential Questions:

  1. Societal constructs and power structures inherently serve to constrain women

    1. -How do women claim power in their lives?

    2. -What constraints have women authors had to overcome?

    3. -How has this changed over time?

    4. -In what way are the ideals for the female role in society unrealistic?

  2. The written word has played a vital role in the ability of women to transgress societal limitations and gain a measure of autonomy.

  1. What are the stereotypes of female writers?

  2. Is self-expression through writing liberating and if so in what ways?

  3. How and in what instances does self-liberation and self-healing in writing apply to other minority groups?

  1. The woman’s expression of dissatisfaction with her societal role in literature helped to change or redefine those roles and male-female relationships in society.

  1. What was the effect of this type of literature on the public?

  2. How were these writers viewed in their own time as compared to now?

  3. Is death a valid way to gain autonomy and reclaim the self?

Knowledge and Skills

Students will acquire knowledge of:

  1. The basic elements of writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing

  2. Background information on each of the writers and the time period they in which they worked

Students will be able to:

  1. Analyze and interpret poetry in terms of its basic elements including but not limited to, rhyme scheme, meter, and form

  2. Imitate the poetic styles of the Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickenson and Louisa May Alcott

  3. Compile different sources pertaining to the women’s movement, relate this information to the works studied in class, and synthesize the gathered information in the form of a research paper

  4. Give insight into the subject matter of the poetry and the novel concerning how they are and are not related

Assessment Evidence

  1. Complete a packet of eight poems six of which imitate the styles of the poets studied and two in any style of the students choosing

  2. Write a research paper (4-5 pages) concerning any American women’s movement (Womens Suffrage, equal pay for equal work, etc…). Students will utilize textual support both from the core texts and from sources garnered in research. A secondary purpose of this paper is to make students more comfortable and familiar with the writing process. Activities will include pre-writing generation of a topic, library research time, peer editing as a class and in small groups, and teacher conferences.

  3. One to two page responses to prompts which feature a significant quote, topic, or question generated in student blogs or in class discussions

  4. Complete a project where students mix a CD of modern day songs that “speak to your soul” as Madame Reizse’s piano playing does to Edna. In a three page response students will explain what these songs make them feel, why, and then relate their experiences to how Edna feels.

  5. Blogs outside of class concerning thoughts and opinions about the works and their effectiveness

Learning Activities

  1. Journal entries at the end of each class which express a new understanding and a lingering question

  2. Discussions in small groups concerning main themes presented in the book or poems

  3. Big class discussions comparing and contrasting the poems and the novel and the sentiments expressed

  4. Class discussions concerning close reading of the texts and poems

  5. Group fishbowl exercises where students discuss their thoughts and opinions on topics in the book and poems

  6. Interpret poetry as a class

  7. Finding and reviewing literary criticism on the authors read and commenting on agreement or disagreement

Recommended and Optional Texts:

The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Sylvia Plath selected poems. Emily Dickenson selected

poems. Louisa May Alcott selected poems.

Marianne Moore selected poems. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

Instructional Unit:

African American Literature

[Power struggles as depicted in African American Literature across a diverse selection of time periods]

This unit attempts to read, understand, and interpret the power struggles affecting African American authors, paying special attention to how they use literary techniques to further their power during times of increased power imbalance. Students will look at tone, audience, and the concept of “other” versus “same,” and come to conclusions about power in society and how writing can achieve power goals.

Desired Outcomes

Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions:

  1. Many African American writers use literature to obtain a more favorable balance of power in American society.

    1. What methods (persuasion, shock) do these writers use to gain power through their writing?

    2. What type of power do these writers hope to achieve?

    3. How do their methods change across time?

    4. How do their methods differ?

    5. What literary techniques (symbolism, motif, tone, metaphor, etc) do these authors use, and how does this help them achieve power?

  1. Historical context influences power dynamics.

    1. Where do historical contexts play an important role in interpreting this literature?

    2. How did these authors influence their time periods?

    3. How do time periods influence authors?

  1. Writers portray power imbalances in literature.

    1. What type of power do they depict?

    2. How does society limit power according to these novels?

    3. How do these writers advocate change?

    4. How do these writers attempt to convince their readers that change is necessary?

Knowledge and Skills:

Students will acquire knowledge of:

  1. Common themes in African American Literature.

  2. The historical contexts of the literature discussed.

  3. The “slave narrative” genre.

  4. Ways African American writers used literature to fight and confront oppression.

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify audience, speaker, and purpose.

  2. Write persuasively.

  3. Write in the first person narrative.

  4. Gain practice consciously switching dialects in writing.

  5. Respond, read, and write critically.

  6. Make text based, thoughtful interpretations about the text.

Assessment Evidence:

  1. The student will relate an event (either imagined, personal, or some combination of the two) in first person narrative. Include an explanatory letter along with your piece detailing goals, intended audience, and the specific techniques used to achieve those ends.

  2. Using a technique demonstrated by one of the authors in this unit, construct a well organized argument set in the 1800’s convincing Americans to abolish slavery.

  3. Journaling, done in and outside of class, where activities include:

    1. Respond to the different styles of McKay, Hughes, and Douglass.

    2. Traditionally, sonnets were used only for romantic poetry. McKay uses sonnets instead for a difference purpose. How does this contribute to his goals for his audience?

    3. Write a sonnet on a topic other than romance.

    4. What is gained and lost by using a dialect in literature?

Learning Activities:

  1. Replicate one or more of the techniques and intended goals in “Girl” in a one page assignment. Include a note of what you decided to imitate and how this helps your goals for the assignment.

  2. Chose a passage containing a dialect other than standard English from one of the novels discussed. Then, in small groups, everyone translate a different section of the same passage and act it out in front of the class.

  3. Students will participate in small-group/peer conferencing sessions.

  4. Students will participate in class discussions.

Recommended and Optional Texts:

Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave, by Fredrick Douglass,

1845. Langston Hughes Poetry, 1930. Claude McKay Poetry, 1930

Native Son, by Richard Wright, 1940. “Bigger Thomas's Quest for Voice and Audience in Richard Wright's Native Son,” by James Miller, 1986.“I Have a Dream” speech, by Martin Luther King Jr, 1963. Girl, by Jamaica Kincaid, 1978

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neil Hurston, 1937. Their Eyes Were Watching

God (movie) 2005 OR Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor, 1976. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (movie), 1986

Instructional Unit

Regimes: Government and the Governed

[An analysis of the relationships between government and the governed in a variety of settings]


This unit explores the roles of formal and informal bureaucratic structures ranging from federal government to smaller-scale institutions and individuals acting within and outside the systems, as well as their relevance in contemporary society. Some areas to be explored are: personal freedom versus societal responsibility, censorship, policing, criminal justice, and surveillance.
Desired Outcomes

Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions

  1. Bureacratic institutions regulate freedom and rights in the contexts in which they operate.

    1. Why does regulation exist?

    2. Who decides what needs regulating and to what extent?

    3. What could happen if power is concentrated in governmental hands?

    4. What tactics, such as propaganda, do governments use to reinforce their authority? What undermines governmental authority?

  1. Authors use multiple literary techniques to make statements about government.

    1. Why do authors use allegory when portraying government?

    2. Why do authors frequently focus on scientific aspects of governmental control? Is this feasible?

    3. How is government’s power depicted in both past and future?

    4. Why is chronological setting important? What is the difference between a story about government set in the past regarding events that have already happened and one set in the future?

  1. Government can suppress the individual.

    1. What is the role of the individual within a bureaucratic institution?

    2. To what extent does government have control over individuals?

    3. How do bureaucracies define reality for those under its jurisdiction?

    4. How do bureaucracies define what is deviant, and how are those labeled individuals in turn managed by society?

Knowledge and Skills:

Students will acquire knowledge of:

  1. The concept of dystopias/utopias

  2. Historical knowledge of Salem Witch Trials, Japanese internment camps of World War II, slavery, and Mexican-American war

  3. Role of propaganda in politically-charge issues throughout history

Students will be able to:

  1. Critically read and respond to texts

  2. Recognize the arguments and grounds for support of controversial beliefs or points of view

  3. Understand and appropriately utilize conventions of the speech

  4. Conduct historical research

  5. Analyze authors’ use of literary techniques such as visual and narrative imagery, foreshadowing, symbolism, etc.

  6. Have a working vocabulary for discussing governments and power (utopia/dystopia, civil rights and responsibilities, propaganda, equality etc.)

Assessment evidence:

  1. Daily reader-response in journals in and outside the classroom, in the form of writings and drawings.

  2. Freewriting in journals: tensions between government and the people, between governmental bodies, conflicting interests, individual’s responsibility to participate in governmental affairs.

  3. Writing activity: Imagine that you have been selected to represent the head of a government or institution that has recently come under fire for some public scandal. Write your own speech, using studied texts as models, to persuade the public that they can still place their trust in your institution. Explore propaganda and rhetorical techniques that governments sometimes employ.

Learning Activities:

  1. Research a speech by President Barack Obama from his 2008 campaign and a speech by former President Abraham Lincoln. Compare/contrast historical contexts, issues addressed, etc

  2. Oral history interview with an older person concerning a government scandal, particularly its effects on public trust, subsequent historical events/laws, and individual’s perception of relation to government

  3. Small-group discussions: technology and control. Brainstorm ways that government uses technology for surveillance, protection, and military. Small-group/peer conferencing of speech-writing.

  4. Dramatic read-alouds of political speeches.

Recommended and Optional Texts:

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

Also Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobediance”, Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain, Carl Sagan’s Contact

Instructional Unit:

Power in 20th and 21st Century Literature

[Ongoing power struggles as depicted in the 20th and 21st century]

Course Description:

In this unit, students will look at the power relationships and power shifts of contemporary times. A few texts and works are provided; however, students themselves will provide much of the source material that will be explored in class. Through the gathering of their own material and through discussions on presentations of those materials, students will see evidence of the historical struggles explored in previous units and their relevance in the struggles of the present day.

Desired Outcomes

Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions:

  1. The power struggle in America is still ongoing.

    1. Where do power struggles exist in contemporary American society?

    2. How does media bias change the dynamics of power struggles?

    3. How does technology affect the power struggle?

  1. Power struggles exist in everyday life, sometimes facilitated by societal norms.

    1. How do schools contribute to power struggles?

    2. How are power struggles affected by class?

    3. What societal norms do we accept that add to power imbalances?

    4. Can society fix these problems?

    5. How do power imbalances constitute as problems?

  1. The American dream still exists today, and yet still some groups find difficulty achieving this dream because of their inherited circumstances.

    1. Has the American Dream changed?

    2. Who seeks the American Dream?

    3. What role does immigration play in defining the American Dream?

    4. Does society try to stop certain people from attaining the American Dream?

Knowledge and Skills:

Students will acquire knowledge of:

      1. Contemporary issues and struggles in power relationships

      2. Issues relevant to their school, peers, and own life.

      3. How individuals can make a difference in power relations

Students will be able to:

      1. Gather and present important contemporary materials that speak to the circumstances of contemporary times

      2. Synthesize historical information with current knowledge into a new understanding of power relationships

      3. Write creative pieces that reflect on their current circumstances

      4. Critically question norms, mores, and other givens of society

Assessment Evidence:

  1. Short, relevant explanations of student selected materials

  2. Presentation of materials.

  3. A Journal responding to:

    1. Questions and issues raised in class

    2. Prompts relevant to the required reading

    3. Topics relevant to issues such as school life, peers, and home life

  4. A creative activity that involves the personal voice and creative critical thinking. Example works may include:

    1. Pretend it’s year 3000. Write a brief essay describing the changes in power around the world, or even within one family.

    2. Write a narrative or essay about your heritage, and discuss some of the hardships your ancestors may have faced as new comers in America. Be sure to research the time periods you intend to discuss.

    3. Write a few pages of your own graphic novel. You can use images found on the internet, or draw your own pictures. Play with images and words to create your intended tone and purpose

    4. Write a short story or play involving a power struggle with technology.

Learning Activities:

      1. Students will bring in own materials, be they articles, videoclips, or short works, to class that, after being cleared by the teacher, will be presented to show some of the power dynamics that exist in contemporary life

      2. Class discussion on individual presentations of materials

      3. Journaling in response to materials presented by students

  1. Presentations of creative projects

Recommended and Optional Texts:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Sherman Alexie, 2007. Feed by M.T

Anderson, 2002. American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, 2006.Mean Girls (movie). Excerpts from ¡ASK A MEXICAN!  By Gustavo Arellano, 2007

The Brothers Torres, Coert Voorhees, 2008

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