Accessing Civil Disobedience 1” 50 minute class period

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Accessing Civil Disobedience 1”

50 minute class period

Name: Ryan Dainty

Grade: 11

School: Marian High School

Objective: Define and demonstrate understanding of what Thoreau means by the “rule of expediency” and how it frames an understanding of the text.

State Standards: 11-12.RI.3 Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

11-12.RI.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text.

Assessing Student Understanding:

Note: Pre-Assessment given at end of previous class

Formative Assessment: Pass out of class: “First two steps”—1 definition for the rule of expediency, 2 “ends” for Thoreau with regard to government

Modified Assessment/s:

Spoken, not written


Give a list of examples and student identifies definition, mean, or end

Materials Needed: Civil Disobedience text, notebooks, pens, SMARTBoard

Sequence of Lesson:

Bell work: Explain and respond to the following in a journal entry—“The end justifies the means.” (7 min)

Anticipatory Set: Envision modern contexts in which the above quotation is applicable. Segue to issues of conscience and what it means to live and act with integritylead to Civil Disobedience (10 min)

Classroom Read-aloud: Teacher reads the first 3 pages of CD to students, stopping frequently to prompt processing, note-taking, and discussion. This models critical reading and critical thinking.

  1. Distinction of expediency and inexpedient

  2. Attitude toward Mexican War

  3. Distinction between Government and American people

  4. A purpose for Thoreau’s writing

  5. Metaphor of a corporation with a conscience

  6. Attitude toward soldiers

Teacher will check for understanding by listening to student interaction, fielding questions, etc.

Assessment: “First two steps” pass out of class

Closure: Highlight a couple of potential “ends”, Thoreau’s purpose(s) in writing his essay. Introduce the search for “means” to those ends, which will be the topic of discussion tomorrow. Sets purpose for reading assignment that evening.

Independent Practice: re-read 1-3, and read pp. 4-6. Answer study questions that will be posted online.


Prepare Guided reading/Cornell notes with key passages on one side and room for student comment on the other.

Resistance to Civil Government by Henry David Thoreau

Study Questions

Part 1 (pp. 1-6): The nature of government and of the individual

  1. What distinction does Thoreau make between the US Government and the American people? (pp. 1-2)

  2. With what does Thoreau say the individual should serve the state? (pp. 2-3)

  3. What does Thoreau mean by the rule of expediency? What does this indicate about his views on the majority rules government versus the individual’s conscience? (pp. 1, 4-5)

  4. What is Thoreau’s attitude toward voting? What does he advocate instead? (p. 5)

  5. What is a “man” (a person) according to Thoreau? What, according to him, is the nature of civil government? (pp. 3, 6)

Key passages

Identify page number(s) where you find each passage, write notes about meaning, keys terms, etc. as well as any questions you may have

Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.

Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow. Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies.

But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? — in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.


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