Constitutional Issues Civil Liberties, Individuals, and the Common Good

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Constitutional Issues

Civil Liberties, Individuals, and the Common Good

Curriculum and Resource Guide

Essential Question:

How can the United States balance

the rights of individuals with the common good?

National Park Service

Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project

Table of Contents


Connection to Idaho State Standards 4

Teacher Instructions…………………………………………………………..………………………………………..5

Student Handouts
Unit Overview and Activities Checklist for Students…………………………………………..27

Handout #1 - Values Exercise…………………………………….……………………………………..29

Handout #2 - Democratic Ideals………………………………………………………………………..30

Handout #3 - Constitutional Principles…………….………………………………………………..32

Handout #4 - Changing the Laws……………………………………………………………………….35

Handout #5 - Instructions for the Town Meeting................................................36

Handout #6 - Analyzing a Newsreel……………………………………………………………………42

Handout #7 - Japanese American Incarceration (Reading)..............………………… 43

Handout #8 - Storyboard the Japanese American Experience……….…………………..60

Handout #9 - The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro (Reading)………………….. 61

Handout #10 - Ongoing Injustice Assignment…………………….…............................. 68

Handout #11 - Two Week Reflection…………………………………………………………………..73

Handout #12 - Graphic Organizer for the Town Meeting……...…………………………….74

Handout #13 - Reflections on the Town Meeting………………………………………………..76

Handout #14 - Town Meeting Assessment......................................….......…………..77


This unit is designed to closely align with Idaho state standards in social studies and language arts, specifically in geography, U.S. history, and writing. A lesson on analyzing photography also meets one of the standards in visual arts.
Copyright © 2008 National Park Service and Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project
Cover photo: Soldier posting exclusion orders, Bainbridge Island, Washington, 1942. Courtesy of Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, denshopd-i36-00028.
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project developed this unit. Sarah Loudon and Doug Selwyn were the primary writers. Densho is a Japanese term meaning "to pass on to the next generation," or to leave a legacy. Our mission is to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II. Using digital technology, Densho provides free online access to personal accounts, historical documents and photographs, and teacher resources to explore principles of democracy and promote equal justice. Sign up for the free Densho Digital Archive at
Feedback and Contact Information

We are very interested in receiving comments, suggestions, and questions about this unit and our materials. Feedback is essential in guiding our further work with educators! After using, or reviewing the materials for later use, we ask that you return the Teacher Talk Back page. We also very much appreciate receiving copies of student reflections written at the end of the unit.

You can contact us at:
Densho National Park Service

Email: Minidoka National Historic Site

Mail: Mail:

1416 South Jackson Street P.O. Box 570

Seattle, Washington USA 98144-2023 Street address:

Phone: 206.320.0095 221 N. State Street

Fax: 206.320.0098 Hagerman, Idaho 83332

Website: 208-933-4126

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage. To learn more about your national parks, visit the National Park Service website at To learn more about Minidoka National Historic Site, please visit our website at

Connection to Idaho State Social Studies Content Standards

This unit aligns with the following Idaho content standards:

American Government, grades 9-12



Goal 4.1: Build an understanding of the foundational principles of the American political system.

Objective 3: 9-12.G.4.1.3 Analyze the essential ideals and objectives of the original organizing documents of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution.

Objective 4: 9-12.G.4.1.4 Explain the central principles of the United States governmental system including written constitution, popular sovereignty, limited government, separation of powers, majority rule with minority rights, and federalism.

U.S. History I, grades 6-12

Standard 4: Civics and Government



Goal 4.1: Build an understanding of the foundational principles of the American political system.

Objective 2: 6-12.USH1.4.1.2 Identify fundamental values and principles as expressed in basic documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution.

Objective 3: 6-12.USH1.4.1.3 Evaluate issues in which fundamental values and principles are in conflict, such as between liberty and equality, individual interests and the common good, and majority rule and minority protections.

Goal 4.4: Build an understanding of the evolution of democracy.

Objective 1: 6-12.USH1.4.4.1 Describe the role of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin on the development of individual/political rights.

U.S. History II, grades 6-12

Standard 1: History



Goal 1.2: Trace the role of migration and immigration of people in the development of the United States.

Objective 2: 9-12.USH2.1.2.2 Analyze the changes in the political, social, and economic conditions of immigrant groups.

Standard 4: Civics and Government

Goal 4.3: Build an understanding that all people in the United States have rights and assume responsibilities.

Objective 1: 9-12.USH2.4.3.1 Identify the impact of landmark United States Supreme Court cases, including Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

Objective 2: 9-12.USH2.4.3.2 Provide and evaluate examples of social and political leadership in American history.

Goal 4.4: Build an understanding of the evolution of democracy.

Objective 1: 9-12.USH2.4.4.1 Trace the development of political, civil, and economic rights.

Language Arts/Speech, grades 9-12

Standard 6. Communication



Goal 6.2: Acquire Speaking Skills

Objective 10: 9-12.Spch.6.2.10 Deliver persuasive arguments (e.g., evaluation and analysis of problems and solutions, causes and effects) that structure ideas and arguments in a coherent, logical fashion.

Goal 6.3: Acquire Viewing Skills

Objective 2: 9-12.Spch.6.3.2 Analyze the impact of the media on the democratic process (e.g., exerting influence on elections, creating images of leaders, shaping attitudes) at the local, state, and national levels.


Unit Overview

The unit begins with an exploration of the role values play in the way we live our lives. Students will examine and explore their own values and beliefs, and come to understand that these values (whether we are aware of them or not) are the basis on which we each make decisions about how to act in the world. They will track the origins of these values, when possible, and begin to compare and contrast their values with those of others while appreciating and acknowledging that each has an equal right to his or her own worldview and values. Different does not mean worse than or better than.

The exploration will then move to the values, ideals, and beliefs of the government of the United States. Students will explore democratic ideals and then constitutional principles that form the backbone of the U.S. government. They will make connections between and among various aspects of the U.S. Constitution and the democratic ideals on which they are based. They will also explore the U.S. government’s decision to incarcerate 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and how it relates to democratic ideals.
Next, students will research and prepare a presentation and paper on a topic of their choice on an ongoing injustice. The focus here is to examine issues that are perceived to be ongoing examples of undemocratic, unequal treatment experienced by segments of the population.
The unit then moves to a role-playing simulation designed to introduce students to the complexities attending constitutional law and social policy, and the need to situate such policy decisions within a historical context and framework. Students will engage in a town meeting focused on whether the president should have the authority to detain, indefinitely, without charge, individuals or groups of individuals suspected of aiding terrorists, even without hard evidence to confirm their suspicions. Students will work in small groups to research and then prepare a range of points of view, each of which will be represented at the meeting.
The unit concludes with reflections on the town meeting, student presentations of their ongoing injustice project, a link between the simulation and actual current events, and then guides students to develop plans for taking action based on what has been learned in the unit.
Assessing Student Achievement

This multi-step unit presents numerous opportunities to assess student knowledge, understanding, and skills.

  • End of unit paper and presentation that synthesizes learning from three-week study

  • End of unit written assignment that assesses and reflects on learning during three-week study

  • Group project that creates an eight-panel story board demonstrating an understanding of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II

  • Group project that develops and researches a role for the town meeting.

  • Written individual opening statement with major arguments in support of the group’s position during the town meeting

  • One- to two-page written reflection on what was done in the first two weeks of the unit

  • One- to two-page written reflection on the town meeting

The teacher must decide what he or she wishes to emphasize in terms of content and process, and assign and assess accordingly.

Notes about This Unit

This unit is designed to be taught over three weeks, though teachers are encouraged to make whatever adjustments best fit their situations. It is assumed that the sequence is being taught toward the end of the school year, when students are pulling together skills and content they have learned throughout the year. The unit can easily be expanded if required skills or content must first be taught or reviewed. It can also be shortened to best serve the needs of the class.

This unit sets goals for both skills and content. It may not be possible to give full attention to all of the items on the following list, but after successfully completing the requirements of the unit, students should have the ability to:

  • Read a variety of materials for understanding

  • Identify points of view and bias in a variety of texts and demonstrate an awareness of how both can affect the reading and the meaning of the texts

  • Situate past and current events within a historical context

  • Develop and carry out a research plan

  • Listen to the views, arguments, and ideas of others in an open and thoughtful manner

  • Write a position paper, using evidence, logic, and reason to support that position

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the Constitution and laws of the United States

  • Relate underlying values to actions taken by individuals and by governments

  • Identify the tensions between individual rights and the common good

  • Identify issues of racism and injustice in the United States and connect them with relevant court cases and the Constitution

  • Understand the gap between constitutional ideals and actual practice, and identify ways in which the Constitution has been changed to narrow that gap

  • Explore how change has taken place in our history, and how we can act to bring about change

  • Move from research to action

Suggested Daily Classroom Activities for WEEK ONE


The teacher begins by reading an announcement from an appropriate authority, such as a school administrator, school district administrator, or a representative from the state. The announcement should be on official-looking paper to seem as authentic as possible. The crux of the announcement is that due to concerns about poor test scores, the decision has been made to change how school is structured. The day will be longer; Saturday school will be added; students who do not complete homework will stay the next day until they finish – whatever seems plausible and slightly draconian. The authorities essentially say this is all happening because we want our students to be successful: It’s “for your own good,” and for the common good as well. We all benefit if students are better educated, and while some may have to sacrifice a bit, everyone will be better off if the policy is followed. You may note that while some students have been doing a good job, this challenge is for the entire school and all must participate. (Since the exercise may invite potential scapegoating and anger toward those deemed to be bringing the school down, you should judge carefully whether to take this extra step.) The students will of course be upset, will have questions, will complain that they have jobs, sports teams, home responsibilities, band practice, and that the policy is not fair. You will acknowledge their objections and remind them their primary responsibility (and legal obligation) is to attend school. The aim of the new policy is to help them succeed at school, and these changes take precedence over everything else. Their families will receive letters alerting them to the changes.

Stop the enactment when you judge it has gotten the students’ attention and before the mood turns too ugly. Do wait until they take the situation seriously and express emotional reactions. Then tell the students the changes are not really going to happen but were presented to introduce the next unit of study, which will focus on the connection, especially the legal connection, between citizens and their government. Make sure you address the responses and emotional reactions your fake announcement may have provoked.
Possible questions for a follow-up discussion:

  • What were your first reactions to the “announcement”?

  • How did it make you feel, and what did you think about it?

  • Did you think that the changes were justified?

  • Did you blame others for the situation you were in?

  • Did you trust that those in power were doing this for your own good?

  • What did you think your family members were going to say about it?

  • Did you plan to go along?

  • Did you wonder whether the authorities had the legal power to change the school calendar?

  • Did you question the information or the data upon which the decision was based?

  • What reasons, what belief about the function of school and education, might have been the basis for the decision?

  • What would you have to believe about the value of education to think this was a good idea?

  • How does this match your beliefs about the role of and nature of education?

Introduction to Values, Democratic Ideals, and Constitutional Practices

We live in the world according to a set of values and beliefs that guide our understanding of right and wrong, and encourage us to make sense of the world in particular ways. We acquire and grow into our values as we live, and they are shaped by many sources, including our families and home life, gender, cultures, schools, religious institutions, neighborhoods, friends, the media, and our other experiences. We may be able to identify several of our values and beliefs, and others may shape the choices we make without our being consciously aware of them. With or without that awareness, our values and beliefs play a critical role in how we live, how we treat others, and how we decide to act.

Examples of values and beliefs that we or others might carry could fill volumes. For purposes of discussion, a few examples follow. Feel free to expand, contract, or amend the list.

  • It is wrong to kill.

  • Only a man and a woman should be able to marry.

  • Decisions should consider long-term impact; how will the next generations be affected?

  • The ends justify the means.

  • The Lord helps those who help themselves.

  • To the victors belong the spoils.

  • Children are blank slates waiting to be filled with knowledge.

  • We are all created equal.

We are less likely to kill people if we believe it is wrong to do so. We might be reluctant to hire a woman to become a CEO of a company or to elect her to be a political leader if we believe that women are inferior, or are properly stationed in the home. Our values shape our decisions, large and small, from who cooks dinner, to who maintains the car, to how critical family decisions are made. Values shape social policy such as who sits where on buses, in movie houses, and in restaurants, or whether they are allowed to sit at all. Values have led nations to wars or kept them out of wars. Values cause companies to organize around particular goals or missions: make as much money as possible in the short term for their stockholders, serve the health needs of the poor, address environmental issues on land and sea, promote sustainable living, or mine all available resources without concern for the damage done to the environment.

It is easy to observe the behavior without recognizing or addressing the underlying values that drive choices. We tend to assume our values and beliefs are right not only for us but for everyone, and we either dismiss or ignore those who approach the world with a different understanding of “right action.” We may recognize that others have different values, but most of us assume they are not as worthy as our own; otherwise we would adopt them. This difference in fundamental views of the world can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and disappointments when others make choices we believe to be wrong according to our own worldviews and values.
Exercise (in-class)

Distribute Handout #1 – Values Exercise. Before having the students write their lists, you may want to generate a list of examples of values with the whole group to stimulate ideas. However, it is important that each student finally generate his or her own list.

Have students take ten to fifteen minutes to write down five or more values or beliefs that are important or influential in shaping the choices they each make. It’s fine if they choose values other than those their family members or friends would name. Have them identify, if they can, the source of each value or belief: does it come from family, community, religious institution, friends, school, popular culture, or somewhere else? Have students turn in their papers anonymously, and then the teacher will share the lists of values with the class. By having the teacher read the values, the discussion can take place without individual risk or exposure to ridicule or threat. Then conduct the discussion, guided by questions such as these:

  • What values do we share, and what values seem to not be held in common?

  • Are there times when our values collide with those of others, and what happens?

  • Where might our values come from?

  • How do we resolve conflicts; how do we begin to understand people who are different from us?

  • For those who have lived either outside the United States or in a different community do you see differences between where you once lived and where you live now?

  • Aside from our personal beliefs, how do we learn what is valued by the larger society? How do we learn what is considered proper behavior?

  • Different and possibly competing values are often manifested in a school setting, where multiple cultures and populations come together. Name some values that are “taught” by schools about how to behave, how to succeed, and how to determine what is important? Can what the school considers proper behavior conflict with what is taught at home? Can you cite a few examples?

At times we make choices that seem to contradict our values. We might think theft is bad and yet steal medicine we can’t afford in order to save a loved one’s life. Or we might be willing to trespass to save people from a burning building. We might hurt or kill someone if we feel our life or the lives of our loved ones are threatened. We might cheat on a test if the consequences are high enough. Or we might keep quiet about a crime involving a close friend or family member out of loyalty – a trait we might value more than honesty, which would require us to report them.

Discussion Point

Are there times when you or those you know have gone against your values or been tempted to do so? Without giving the specifics, what are the reasons or pressures that cause you to even consider doing what you “know” to be wrong? How do you decide what to do?

This same set of complexities applies to larger organizations and to countries: beliefs and values shape how they are governed, how they treat people, and how they deal with their environments. A constitution is a plan for governing. Our particular plan for governing, the Constitution of the United States, is a document that reflects the values and beliefs of our country, though it does not reflect the values and beliefs of all who live within U.S. borders. The class will spend the next three weeks looking at the fundamental values of our representative democracy and the Constitution. This unit will pay particular attention to the complexity and difficulty of living up to our democratic ideals.
In preparation, develop a working definition of democracy. You might offer a few quotes to stimulate conversation. Below are some suggestions.
“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” Thomas Jefferson

“All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” Journalist Bill Moyers quoting Ben Franklin
“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group.” Thomas Jefferson
“The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with.” Eleanor Holmes Norton
In your definitions, emphasize a few key points:

  • Democracy is a form of government in which the people are the final authority.

  • The government exists to serve the people, to carry out the people’s will.

  • Government officials, including the president and vice president, are in office to serve the people.

This might be a point at which to have the students read two or three articles reflecting different points of view concerning democracy in general or the United States and democracy. The idea is get the students to begin thinking analytically or thoughtfully about governance, democracy, and law.

Exercise (homework or in-class)

Distribute Handout #2 – Democratic Ideals. This exercise provides a list of briefly defined democratic ideals and asks students questions about these ideals. Students are asked to prepare written notes for discussion. You can decide whether or not to collect these notes after the discussion.


Continue working through the ideals of democracy, making sure that students understand what they mean, and perhaps what inherent contradictions or difficulties they contain. Discuss the questions in the Democratic Ideals exercise.

Exercise (homework or in-class)

Distribute Handout #3 - Constitutional Principles. This exercise provides a list of briefly defined constitutional principles and asks students questions about them. Students are asked to prepare written notes for discussion. You can decide whether or not to collect these notes after the discussion.


Remind the students that a constitution is essentially a plan for governing, and the U.S. Constitution is the foundational document of federal law for the nation. Depending on what has already been covered during the school year, a review of the overall structure of the Constitution might be necessary, or it might be sufficient to review the Bill of Rights and a few key and relevant amendments, sections of the Constitution, or landmark constitutional cases that will be referred to in the unit.

Possible guiding questions for the day’s discussion:

  • What is the U.S. Constitution and what role does it play in governance?

  • When was it passed, and in what historical context was it passed?

  • What were the strongest reasons that its advocates supported it?

  • What were the major concerns of those who opposed it?

  • What significant addition was made to the Constitution to satisfy those who had concerns?

  • Discuss changes in the Constitution that have brought the country closer to its democratic ideals.

  • Present the idea that the Constitution has not always served all segments of the population equally, that some have been treated better than others throughout the history of the United States, and that this is still the case today. This issue will be explored during the unit.

Look at the list of constitutional principles in Handout #3, and make connections between those principles and the democratic ideals they express.


Continue to review the list of constitutional principles and identify the underlying democratic ideals that relate to them. How have changes to the Constitution brought us closer to or farther away from our ideals? Note times in which shortcomings of the Constitution have been addressed through changes to it, such as the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. What problems and inequalities still exist in this country? Who is currently not treated equally under the Constitution, or in society?

Exercise (in-class small group)

Distribute Handout #4 – Changing the Laws. If you could pass one or more laws, or amend the Constitution, to better align government with our democratic ideals, what would those laws be? Who might oppose these laws or amendments and why? Work in groups of two or three to propose one or more laws or amendments that would bring us closer to our ideals. One option you might consider would be to include more rigorous or consistent enforcement of laws currently “on the books.”


At this point, have students briefly reflect on their first week of work. Here are a few questions that might guide the discussion:

  • What is the essence of a democracy?

  • What are some ideals or values that lead people to believe that democracy is the form of governance they prefer?

  • What are potential weaknesses or concerns that democracies face? Consider the quotes from Jefferson, Franklin and others on page T5.

  • What is the relationship of the U.S. Constitution to the democratic ideals and values we have explored?

  • What are current areas of concern, areas where we fall short of living according to our ideals?

  • How has the Constitution changed to bring society closer to our democratic values and ideals?

Introduction of the Town Meeting Simulation

Distribute Handout #5 – Instructions for the Town Meeting. Introduce the town meeting simulation and topic, discuss timeline, form groups. Provide an introduction to the roles the students will play at the meeting.

Note: The roles presented in the Group Role Playing Instructions are general descriptions of the positions they represent. It is certainly possible to dig much deeper, to go after the nuances and shades of positions contained within each. Decide how deeply to approach them with your students. If you choose to look for those nuances, it will require you to offer more resources for your students and allow them more time to conduct their research.
Brainstorm possible sources of information for filling out the roles and to learn more about the values and beliefs underlying each position. Provide group time for students to have initial conversations about the roles they will play and to plan how they will prepare for the town meeting.
Suggested Daily Classroom Activities for WEEK TWO
Introduction to SESSION 6 and 7


What happens to our democracy when there is a crisis such as war? How does this affect our relationship to the Constitution, to constitutional principles, and to our democratic ideals?

It is relatively easy to treat other people well and to live up to our democratic ideals when we are doing well ourselves. It becomes more complicated and challenging to live up to those ideals during times of stress and threat. We will look at an instance that highlights the tensions and struggles to live up to democratic ideals and the principles of the Constitution while also dealing with crises, whether perceived, real, or manufactured. During Session 6, students will analyze a U.S. government newsreel about the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans living along the Pacific Coast during World War II. In Session 7, students will continue discussing the incarceration of Japanese Americans, how it relates to constitutional principles, a Supreme Court case, the U.S. government apology to affected Japanese Americans, and how all this relates to the upcoming town meeting.
The example of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II raises serious constitutional questions regarding the rights of individuals living within a larger society perceived to be under threat.

Distribute Handout #6 – Analyzing a Newsreel. During this session the class views the nine-minute newsreel, Japanese Relocation made by the U.S. War Relocation Authority and the Motion Pictures Division of the Department of War during World War II. You can access this newsreel in the accompanying CD or you can view or download the newsreel from Densho’s website at This newsreel was shown before feature presentations in U.S. movie theatres in 1943. Have students view the newsreel and jot down their responses to the questions in Handout #6.

Exercise (in-class small group)

In groups of three to four, take fifteen minutes to discuss the newsreel. Students should share the notes they took during the newsreel. Below are additional questions for students to consider in relation to the newsreel. They should discuss those that seem most relevant or important and get to as many as they can.

  • What was the film’s central message?

  • Would you consider this film biased? Why or why not?

  • Why do you think this film was made?

  • Who do you think was the intended audience for this film?

  • How were the camps portrayed in this film?

  • Based on the film, what adjectives would you use to describe life in the incarceration camps?

  • Was the issue of civil rights addressed in the film? If so, how?

After the small groups discuss the questions for fifteen minutes, pull the group back together and identify commonalities and significant differences in what the groups found.

Exercise (homework or in-class)

Distribute Handout #7 - Japanese American Incarceration – Reading and Discussion Questions. Students should read this handout before the next class discussion.


Our knowledge of a historical time period is often limited to major events. We usually don’t understand the everyday experiences or feelings of individuals. An oral history interview can give an individual’s perspective of a historical event. This perspective may or may not be typical of his or her time and culture. Because of the subjective nature of an oral history interview, it should not be used as a substitute for analysis of historical materials like official documents, diaries, letters, newspapers and books. However, the oral testimony can help illuminate by placing an individual’s experience within a historical period.

Show the four video oral history clips provided on the accompanying CD or you can view or download the videoclips from Densho’s website:
Download video clips at
Aki Kurose

Frank Yamasaki

George Morihiro

Mas Watanabe

The students received the transcripts of these excerpts during the previous session. All four of the narrators were removed from their homes in Washington State and sent to a remote incarceration camp with their families. The interviews were conducted for Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle. All the interviewers are Japanese American.
Spend fifteen minutes discussing the oral history excerpts, the assigned reading, U.S. Government newsreel and any other materials students bring to class. Some possible questions to guide the discussion include the following:

  • What dangers were government officials worried about when it implemented Executive Order 9066? What evidence was offered to support the concerns?

  • What happened to Japanese Americans?

  • What constitutional rights were suspended for Japanese Americans under the government’s claim of military necessity?

  • What caused Congress to create a commission to examine the government’s actions towards Japanese Americans during World War II?

  • What were the findings of the commission?

  • Why did some people oppose the recommendations?

  • How do we feel about what happened many years after the fact? How have our feelings about the actions changed over time? Why might this be so?

Exercise (in-class small group)

Distribute Handout #8 – Storyboard the Japanese American Experience. In small groups of two to three, have students determine how they would tell the story of the Japanese American incarceration. What would be important to show? What would they show first? Second? Students should identify eight scenes or parts to explain the story. Students then create an eight-panel storyboard about the Japanese American incarceration. Students can easily create the eight panels by taking a blank sheet and drawing a vertical line down the middle and a horizontal line across the middle. Repeat on another sheet. The important part of this exercise is the discussion to decide what to show and how to show it. The quality of the drawings is secondary. Students will share their storyboards at the beginning of the next class. An alternative to doing storyboards is for the students to create eight frames as dramatic still photos or to create a series of eight statues (the students stand in positions as if they were statues, portraying a scene) along with a single line of text to be read by a narrator.

Exercise (homework or in-class)

Distribute Handout #9 - The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro – Reading and Discussion Questions. Students should read this handout before the next class discussion


Start the day by displaying all of the groups’ storyboards. Have students examine each of the storyboards. After ten minutes, pull the group back together and identify commonalities and differences in the storyboards.

Introduction to Falling Short of Democratic Ideals

The study of governance throughout the history of the United States is a complex illustration of tensions between the real and the ideal. Our founding fathers stated their ideals in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Even from the start, those documents were deeply flawed. Movements over time have struggled to bring us closer to the ideals of equality, and those steps have rarely been taken without great struggle. Historian Gary Okihiro says that efforts to achieve democratic ideals are often led by oppressed people, and rather than resent them, we must recognize that they are speaking and acting for all of us. Professor Lani Guanier has termed them “canaries in the mine,” those most vulnerable to the injustices of the system, who are sensitive to that which poisons all of us. When we are addressing those toxins of injustice that attack the least of us, we are actually working for the health of all of us.

These issues of injustice, unlike those we looked at the past two days, cannot be simply blamed on a reaction to a crisis. Our study of history leads us to view the incarceration of Japanese Americans as an aberration, an exception to the more typically democratic and fair manner in which we operate our democracy. For many groups within our society, unequal or anti-democratic treatment is more the rule than the exception, at least as it pertains to them. What does that mean?
Classroom Activity

Explain that during this session the class will discuss Frederick Douglass’s speech, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro. Frederick Douglass was born a slave and escaped to the North as a young man. He spent the bulk of his life working tirelessly for the abolition of slavery. Douglass started a newspaper, traveled the country making speeches and encouraging abolition efforts, and met with leaders, including President Lincoln at the White House. Douglass gave the following speech on July 5, 1852, eight years before Lincoln was elected, and nine before the Civil War erupted. In the speech, Douglass notes the occasion, a celebration of the nation’s independence, and wonders out loud what it means for enslaved Africans, still held as the property of white men, still considered less than fully human by the democracy in which they live.

Read, or have a student read the following passage from the speech.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
Discuss the speech, using the questions in the handout to help guide the discussion.
If time allows, show a film segment in which there are clear examples of discrimination or unjust treatment. It could be linked to discrimination based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, politics, religion, or something else. Many films could provide a good introduction, but if you are not sure what to use, consult with organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (and their journal Teaching Tolerance), Teaching for Change, and Rethinking Schools. Librarians at school or in public libraries and other members of your school or local community may also provide suggestions.
After showing the clip (ten to fifteen minutes) discuss the film. Possible questions to guide the discussion include:

  • Who are the main characters in the scene?

  • What is the setting (where/when) in which the scene takes place?

  • What actually happens in the scene?

  • What are the central issues of discrimination or injustice portrayed in the film clip?

  • In what historical context does this discrimination take place?

  • Who is most affected by the discrimination? Who benefits and who suffers? Who profits? Who loses in the short term and in the long term?

  • What are the values/beliefs that play out in the scene?

  • What laws might apply to the situation?

  • Have you experienced anything, or do you know people who have experienced anything like what was portrayed in the scene?

  • How realistic is the portrayal of the issue?

  • What actions have been taken to resist or fight the injustice portrayed on the screen? This can either be in the film, or in the “real” world; what actions have been taken to address the injustice portrayed in the film?

Make sure to reference the Democratic Ideals and Constitutional Principles work done during the first week, and emphasize that groups experiencing discrimination and injustice are also the groups that often take actions that produce change.

Assignment (due at end of unit)

Distribute and explain Handout #10 – Ongoing Injustice Assignment.

If there is still time at the end of class you can discuss particular topics, with an introduction to researching the topics of choice. Students interested in the same topics could gather in small groups to help each other organize their research strategies. Work done the previous two days can be cited as models for what the students are being asked to do.


Students will use this time to do library research and gather information for the town meeting question which is: Should the government be allowed to detain individuals or groups of individuals for unlimited amounts of time, without charging them with a crime, based on suspicion that they may be involved in the war on terror? In their research, students should pay particular attention to learning about the role they will play. Teachers will have handed out thumbnail descriptions of each part, and can also suggest or provide articles, web links, and other guidance to assist in the research effort. You know the abilities of your students, the amount of available resources, and the time they have and can plan accordingly. Students can also use the library research time to gather information for the Ongoing Injustice assignment.

Exercise (homework or during library research time)

Each student writes a one-minute opening statement expressing an overview of their position for the upcoming town meeting. He or she brings this statement to the next class to work with their groups.

Exercise (homework or during library research time)

Each student writes down the issue or topic they will use in the Ongoing Injustice assignment and where they plan to get information to complete the assignment. This information is due the next day.


Town meeting groups meet to write their group’s opening statement, brainstorm possible arguments used by other groups at the meeting and develop responses to those arguments, connect relevant court cases and constitutional law to their group’s position, and complete research on aspects of the topic or their role that they have not yet mastered. The teacher checks in with each group, to assess progress, help them to problem solve, and to support in whatever ways are appropriate. If time allows, students also work on the Ongoing Injustice assignment.

Exercise (homework or in-class)

Distribute Handout #11 – Two-Week Reflection. The following homework assignment is a writing exercise with the goal of encouraging students to more fully explore their thinking. It might be sufficient to ask students to think about the questions in preparation for discussion. You know your students and how much work they can handle, and how much structure they require.

Write a one- to two-page reflection on the work done in the first two weeks. The reflection is due the next class period. The reflections should focus on these three areas:

  • What is the relationship between a government plan, such as the U.S. Constitution, and the values and beliefs of a people? Can a country as large as the United States have one set of values and beliefs? Why does this matter, and what does it mean for those whose values don’t match the prevailing national values?

  • How did World War II change the way the government responded to the constitutional rights of Japanese Americans?

Suggested Daily Classroom Activities for WEEK THREE


In small groups discuss the reflection assignment that is due on this day. Follow this with a large group discussion. Questions to guide the discussion include the following:

  • What are the significant points and lessons identified by the group?

  • What questions came up during the discussions in the small groups?

Break into the town meeting groups. This is the last planning day for the town meeting. Each group should review individual opening statements and decide on an opening for the group, develop responses to arguments others might make, practice presenting statements out loud, and gather resources and citations.


The intent of this town meeting is to stimulate dialogue and help students realize the complexities of decisions that individuals, families, local governments, and national governments have to make. Major decisions rarely are cut and dried; more often there are many points of view about the best way to proceed, and decision makers are faced with the challenge of gathering information, becoming as informed as possible and then choosing among options that may represent conflicting values or worldviews. The point of the exercise is not the vote that takes place at the conclusion of the meeting, but the critical thinking and communication that happen along the way. Town meetings at one time occurred regularly in towns and villages within the United States, and it was at meetings such as these that eighteenth-century patriots moved toward revolution against British rule. At these meetings some of the best aspects of democracy were practiced. The town meeting format helps students better understand the complexity of constitutional questions that require balancing freedom, security, and the many and varied rights and interests of those who make up this country.

Today’s town meeting has been called in response to a proposal made by the president. The proposal to be discussed is:
Should the administration be allowed to detain indefinitely, without holding a hearing or filing charges, any individual the administration suspects of aiding terrorist organizations, even if there is no hard evidence to support the suspicion?
This town meeting, like others around the nation, is being held at the request of one of our state’s U.S. senator, who is on the Senate committee examining this proposal. The results of the town meeting will be reported to the senator, who is being guided by public response about this crucial constitutional question
Teacher Role during the Town Meeting Simulation

You play the moderator. By way of introduction, you identify yourself as a staff member for the senator. The group will discuss and debate the proposal above. Students will then vote from the perspective of their assigned role, on whether to support or reject the proposal.

Remind students they will represent the point of view they have been assigned, even though it might not be their own. Tell them their ability to faithfully represent their assigned roles will allow the group to understand the many sides to the issue. This activity can become heated, as it focuses on a real issue that the students may have strong feelings about. It is important to remind students that they can make strong, emotional statements if they feel so moved, but the statements must be based on evidence, and they may not attack the people who disagree with them.
As moderator, notice if some groups are talking a great deal, and shift the focus to groups who have said relatively little. Also, if some groups are being ganged up on, you may well shift focus to other relevant avenues for discussion to take the heat off the students representing that point of view. It is important to hear from every group to ensure that the class is considering all relevant information as they make a difficult decision. You should support those who have not entered the conversation and encourage them to do so. It’s okay to ask those who have spoken a great deal to let others into the conversation.
It is also within your role as moderator to bring your own questions or additions to the conversation if they have not been raised. Remember, the goal of this exercise is to help students think in complex and comprehensive ways about the topic, so fill in whatever gaps you deem appropriate during the discussion. Take care not to overwhelm the conversation; you don’t have to cover everything in this one brief play.
Also note before, during, and after the role play that some students will be representing unpopular points of view and the success of your study of the issues depends on them representing these views effectively. It is not easy to stand up to your classmates when you are defending policies you really don’t believe (or that you do believe, but that are unpopular), so we need to recognize and support the students taking on those roles. The teacher should take care to choose students who are able to take on difficult roles without suffering for it.
In the Classroom

  1. Begin the town meeting by reminding the group why you have been called together. Go over the ground rules of the meeting. Each group will make opening statements of one minute, without comment from other groups. All groups will be heard before there is any discussion. Distribute Handout #12 – Graphic Organizer for the Town Meeting for students to take notes.

2. Open Discussion

After all of the opening statements are made, hold an open discussion during which anyone at the meeting can speak. Remind the speaker to identify the role he or she is playing (“I represent a U.S. soldier training to fight in Iraq”). Limit their speaking to under two minutes in order to hear from as many people as possible. Statements or questions may be addressed to particular individuals in the class in response to either their opening statements or comments made during discussion (“You said that you are in favor of detainment, but what about…”). It is absolutely acceptable to disagree with ideas expressed, or to challenge or question assertions made by meeting participants. It is absolutely not acceptable to attack the person who makes the statement or expresses the idea, or to simply say an idea is stupid. That’s not an argument, it’s an unsupported opinion.
When the discussion seems to be winding down, ask for last thoughts that just have to be expressed, and then move to the voting stage of the meeting. You have the option, as moderator, of raising crucial questions or aspects of the question that have not been addressed within the meeting, though do so with caution. It is the students’ meeting, and you want to be careful about intruding or opening up significant additional dialogue.
Give students thirty seconds to decide how to vote and then take the vote and tabulate the results. Remind the students that they are voting from the point of view of the person they are “playing,” but there may be room within that role to change a vote based on what has happened in the meeting. Each person votes, so members within a group can disagree on the issue, though they must vote as the person they are playing, such as a soldier fighting in Iraq or an oil executive. Students will have the chance to present their own points of view in the days ahead.

Exercise (homework or in-class)

Distribute Handout #13 – Reflections on the Town Meeting. The following homework writing assignment has the goal of encouraging students to more fully explore their thinking. It might be sufficient to ask students to think about the questions in preparation for discussion. You know your students and how much work they can handle, and how much structure they require.

Write a 1-page reflection on the town meeting experience, with particular attention to the following:

  • What were the strongest arguments you heard during the session? These could be arguments that either caused you to change your mind or believe more strongly in your point of view.

  • What new questions do you have?

  • What do you want to know more about?

  • What is your current opinion on the topic and why?

  • What was it like to be part of the meeting?

  • Which arguments were most effective and why were they effective?

  • Were there surprises?


Begin with students sharing their reflections, particularly any strong arguments, surprises, or questions that arose. Have them speak about their ideas, not read the reflections. Then tie the meeting to what is actually going on in today’s world. What challenges to the constitutional rights of people do we face today? What are the values underlying those challenges? What crises or reasons support those who push for reducing the rights of some or all populations? What values, precedents, and court cases argue against giving up rights? What constitutional principles are at issue?

Unit Assignment (due at end of unit)

Distribute and explain Handout #14 – Town Meeting Assessment

Begin sharing the 5-minute Ongoing Injustice student presentations. We suggest having two or three groups so that the presentations can be completed in two days. It does mean that you will not see all of the presentations, which is one of the reasons students will also be required to turn in a written report. If you want to have everyone see all presentations, allow more time. It is important, as you know, to avoid jamming twenty-eight presentations into one or two days; by the end everyone is too overwhelmed to pay attention. Please organize this so that it makes best sense to your situation

On this last day, students complete their presentations, submit their papers and consider action steps about constitutional issues and democratic ideals. Examine the current state of affairs. What was learned from the Ongoing Injustice presentations? Are there other examples that weren’t presented like the prisoners at Guantanamo, Cuba, who have been held for several years without being charged. This isn’t just theoretical conversation or an intellectual exercise. What might we do as individuals or a group to take action based on what we now know? Possible examples include writing letters to editors and politicians, presentations to city groups, and linking up with other youth groups or action groups of any age.

Checklist of Student Activities
Below is a checklist that summarizes the student activities during the Constitutional Principles unit. You can use this checklist to help plan dates for the activities and to keep track of progress.

  • List of Values Exercise – in-class on Session 1 Date ________
    This exercise is explained in Handout #1 – Values Exercise

  • Democratic Ideals Exercise – homework or in-class for Session 2 Date ________
    This exercise is explained in Handout #2 – Democratic Ideals

  • Constitutional Principles Exercise – homework or in-class for Session 3 Date ________
    This exercise is explained in Handout #3 - Constitutional Principles

  • Amending the Constitution – group exercise during Session 4 Date ________
    This exercise is explained in Handout #4 – Changing the Laws

  • Analyzing a Government Newsreel – group exercise during Session 6 Date ________
    This exercise is explained in Handout #6 – Analyzing a Newsreel

  • Japanese American incarceration reading – homework or in-class for Session 7 Date ______
    Read and answer the questions in Handout #7 - Japanese American Incarceration

  • Storyboard about the Incarceration – group exercise during Session 8 Date ________
    This exercise is explained in Handout #8 – Storyboard the Japanese American Experience

  • Reading of Frederick Douglass speech – homework for session 9 Date _______
    Handout #9 –
    The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro

  • Opening statement for Town Meeting – homework for Session 10 Date ________
    This is explained in Handout #5 – Instructions for the Town Meeting

  • Identify topic & sources for Ongoing Injustice project–homework for Session 10 Date ______
    This assignment is explained in Handout #10 - Ongoing Injustice Assignment

  • Two-week reflection – homework or in-class for Session 11 Date ________
    This exercise is explained in Handout #11 – Two Week Reflection

  • Group opening statement for Town Meeting – group exercise for Session 12 Date ______
    This is explained in Handout #5 – Instructions for the Town Meeting.

  • Town Meeting participation – group exercise during Session 12 Date ________
    This is explained in Handout #5 – Instructions for the Town Meeting. Take notes using Handout #12 – Graphic Organizer for the Town Meeting.

  • Town meeting reflection – homework or in-class for Session 13 Date ________
    This exercise is explained in Handout #13 – Reflections on Town Meeting

  • Town meeting assessment – Due on Session 15 Date ________
    This exercise is explained in Handout #14 – Town Meeting Assessment

  • Ongoing Injustice presentation – Due on Session 13, 14 or 15 Date ________

  • Ongoing Injustice paper – Due on Session 15 Date ________


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