The Lavender Scare: A Hidden Era of anti-LGBTQ+ Lies, Fear, and Persecution

by Ryan Pierson

Starting in the 1950s, in an unsubstantiated panic parallel to the Red Scare, known as the Lavender Scare, several thousands of LGBTQ+ people were fired or intimidated into resigning from jobs in the federal government. Because LGBTQ+ people were seen as “sex perverts” and security risks, they were banned from federal employment in 1953. What followed was years of persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation, ruining their careers, often outing them, and sometimes even driving them to suicide.  Given the lingering effects of the Cold War-era discriminatory practices, the federal government’s failure to compensate for its wrongdoing is particularly egregious.  It is important to come to terms with the implications of this witch hunt and its long-term effects on LGBTQ+ American lives. During the Lavender Scare, the United States government committed a blatant violation of the 14th Amendment by systemically targeting LGBTQ+ American government workers on the basis of their sexual orientation, setting the precedent for modern employment discrimination and lack of government protections for LGBTQ+ people. 

Figure 1: Perverts Called Government Peril.  19 April 1960.  New York Times. 

Although living in a heteronormative society has never been easy for LGBTQ+ people, the Lavender Scare represented a particular harmful manifestation of anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry fueled by fear that they were traitors.  During the Cold War, when tensions with the Soviet Union were at an all-time high, fear of Communism ran rampant in America.  Communism was seen as counter-culture in America, as was homosexuality, so the two were often linked.  Additionally, people believed that LGBTQ+ people were vulnerable to blackmail because they feared their sexuality being exposed (Gleason, 2017).  The first NSA defection proved to fuel the fire by acting as supposed evidence.  When cryptologists Bernon F. Mitchell and William H. Martin left the NSA to work with the Soviet Union in September 1960, they became symbols of one of Americans’ worst fears- disloyal Americans aiding the Soviet Union.  Because they were accused of being gay, the situation was further complicated.  Although there was no evidence for this accusation, the hatred Americans had for these two men extended to all LGBTQ+ folks (“The First NSA Defection,” 2013).  In keeping with a traditional facet of bigotry, all members of the marginalized group were held responsible for the actions of a few.  This fueled the assumption that all LGBTQ+ people were unfit to serve in the State Department or other government positions.  As demonstrated by the news article above, sensational headlines perpetuated these myths in an effort to try to convince Americans that the federal persecution of LGBTQ+ people was necessary for national security. 

Figure 2: C.D Bachelor.  31 March 1950.  Washington Times Herald.

As much as some government officials fed anti-LGBTQ+ narratives to the people, the people also put pressure on the government.  In the 1950s, the US government faced immense pressure from its citizens to expose information regarding findings of LGBTQ+ workers in the State Department.  The cartoonist who created the above political cartoon accused Truman of duplicity, claiming that he had extensive knowledge of “traitors and queers in [his] administration” but refused to share this information with the American people.  Americans largely viewed LGBTQ+ people as security risks so any action by the government seen as protecting them, such as not releasing information about their employment in the government, was viewed as support for a dangerous group. 

Additionally, there was also general hatred for LGBTQ+ folks, as there has been throughout the history of the world in certain cultures.  The artist uses the term “queers” to refer to LGBTQ+ people, which, although it has developed to have varying connotations, was distinctly a slur at this time.  This confirms the homophobic viewpoints of the author and the general approval of anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes in American society.  At some points in American history, LGBTQ+ people have found ways to live out their identities, albeit covertly.  However, the 1950s was a time when suburbs bloomed, as did conformity in America.  Because being LGBTQ+ subverted the norm, those within the community were hated and even their private relations were seen as a risk to the social and moral order.    Given the fear and anger that permeated American society, the government felt empowered to persecute LGBTQ+ folks as they wished.  After all, very few people would stand up for themselves or act as allies given the deeply homophobic culture, so the US government had no check on its power from the American people.  As a result, the Lavender Scare could bulldoze through the lives of LGBTQ+ people with very few obstacles in its path. 

Figure 3: If You Don’t Want a Man Let Him Go- Don’t Ruin His Entire Life in the Process.  17 April 1965.  ABC News.

During the Lavender Scare, LGBTQ+ people were not just fired; their lives were ruined, as explained by the sign carried by a protester in a march in front of the white house against the mistreatment of LGBTQ+ federal workers.  After the passage of Executive Order 10450, which banned all people deemed security risks including “homosexuals” from working in the government or for government contractors, LGBTQ+ people found their lives forever changed.  The US government understood that LGBTQ+ people were deathly afraid of being out because it could mean institutionalization, rejection, ostracization, or violence.  Hence, those who were suspected or known to be gay were often interrogated and threatened, their strength broke down until they resigned out of fear and intimidation.  Others who did not resign were not only fired but sometimes outed to their families (Gleason, 2017).  Without due process, they were deprived of their lives as they had known them and their liberty to keep their personal relationships private.  They were also deprived of their economic well-being; many LGBTQ+ people found themselves unable to find a job in the government sector.  Those who were forced out of the military often received dishonorable discharges, impacting their abilities to find any well-paying job.  Even as American citizens, they were denied access to jobs, military service, and privacy, all of which are crucial aspects of life and liberty.  However, the US Government did not stop at simply violating LGBTQ+ people’s basic 14th Amendment rights; government officials also pushed some to suicide and then attempted to cover it up.

Figure 4: Find Victim in Gas Filled Home.  8 September 1954.  The Morning Herald, Uniontown, PA. 

Some LGBTQ+ folks, when faced with the decision between being outed or resigning to a life of economic difficulty and shame, chose the only way out they could see: taking their own life.  The number of suicides linked to the Lavender Scare is difficult to estimate because the circumstances of these people’s deaths were largely kept secret.  Media would sometimes report deaths of federal workers but the cause of death was often omitted or if it was reported, the circumstances that caused it were not revealed.  For example, in the case of Andrew Ference shown above, a thirty-four-year-old man who killed himself after two days of intense questioning that led to him admitting he was gay, his family was not made aware of the events that led to his death until two years after his passing  (Johnson 159).  Any common newsreader would find no indication of government involvement with the above death because it was very explicitly excluded from the story.  The fact that the government was averse to news of the reality of LGBTQ+ workers deaths being revealed, suggests that it knew on some level that its policies were partially responsible for them.  After all, while there was minimal mainstream resistance to the Lavender Scare, the grassroots movement against it could potentially grow if it was revealed that the government essentially blackmailed people into committing suicide.

Figure 5: State Maps of Laws and Policies: Employment.  28 January 2019.  Human Rights Campaign.

While the anti-LGBTQ+ bans in federal organizations were officially ended in 1995, LGBTQ+ workers are far from protected.  American homophobia has shifted away from anti-Communist fervor and towards general bigotry often with a religious veil.  Although the specific motives are different, it all comes from the same root: disgust or fear of those who are different.  This prejudice still has far-reaching effects for LGBTQ+ people and for some it may feel as if the Lavender Scare never really ended.  Only 21 states and DC, shown in dark purple, protect against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, while 8 states, shown in medium purple, protect against employment discrimination on these bases for public employees only, and 4 states, shown in light purple, protect against employment discrimination for public employees only on the basis of sexual orientation.  This means that in 17 states, shown in gray, there are no protections for any LGBTQ+ workers and workers in the private sector are not protected in 29 states (Human Rights Campaign).  In many places in America, LGBTQ+ people can still be fired for living openly.  This situation sounds eerily familiar to the days of the Lavender Scare in which LGBTQ+ people could only be open about their identities in largely underground groups.  Evidently, the fervor that created anti-LGBTQ+ legislation during the Lavender Scare has left a legacy of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in the realm of employment protections. 

State governments and employers across the nation continue to violate the 14th amendment similar to the federal government during the Lavender Scare.  Civil Rights law has improved since the Lavender Scare, but LGBTQ+ workers in the Midwest and Southeast have not been able to enjoy the fruits of these improvements.  The 14th Amendment guarantees that all people should be equally protected under the law.  Yet, LGBTQ+ people are denied employment protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which explicitly outlaws discrimination on the basis of, among other factors, sex  (  Given that the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that discrimination on the basis of sex stereotyping is discrimination on the basis of sex, LGBTQ+ people should be protected (Gulati, 2003).  After all, the idea that a woman should love a man and vice versa is one of the most prevalent sex stereotypes, and LGBTQ+ people face discrimination for subverting that stereotype.  The law clearly spells out protections for many groups of people and LGBTQ+ people should be included.  States that refuse LGBTQ+ people protection under these laws are violating the 14th Amendment because they are denying them equal protection under the law, despite the fact that they are rightful citizens of the United States.  Clearly, the hatred and aversion to change that fueled the Lavender Scare and the 14th Amendment violations that resulted from it are still alive and well in present-day America, exemplified by the striking lack of employment protections for LGBTQ+ people.

During the Lavender Scare, the US government deprived LGBTQ+ workers of their life and liberty without due process by firing, blackmailing, and outing them, hence violating the 14th Amendment.  The anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment that fueled the Lavender Scare has evolved to cause continuing employment discrimination today.


“The First NSA Defection.” (2013). Cold War & Internal Security (CWIS) Collection. J.Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University. Retrieved from  

Gleason, J. (2017).  LGBT History: The Lavender Scare. National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.  Retrieved from

Gulati, S. (2003).  The use of gender-loaded identities in sex-stereotyping jurisprudence. New York University Law Review.  Retrieved from

Johnson, D.K. (2009).   The Lavender scare: The Cold War persecution of gays and lesbians in the federal government. University of Chicago Press. 

Engaging Students through Cartoons, Characters, and Comics

by Jamie Megee

Creating an environment in which students are constantly engaged in the content is something that first year and veteran teachers both struggle with. To combat this struggle, implementing different types of primary sources into our lessons would be useful. Walt Disney propaganda cartoons to be extremely interesting and found them to be useful in the classroom.

Using sources such as animated cartoons, posters, and even feature films, can be a way to engage students in topics they may otherwise find boring or irrelevant. Using content from the Walt Disney Company would be a fantastic way to teach different topics. As documented in several biographies, the layout of certain parts of the Disney parks, and themes throughout the films, cartoons, and characters, Walt Disney was a huge patriot. Disney was a huge fan of the Revolutionary War period which many students find irrelevant. It happened so long ago, why does this matter? Why does this matter to me? 

 Answering these questions can be very difficult for the first-year teacher. Of course, educators in the field of social studies can agree that we have found something that has engaged us with the content. As a student, I remember finding films a very exciting way to engage in historical events, people, and themes.

Historical Background

“Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood,” Walt Disney. The Walt Disney Company is generally associated with childrens’ movies, theme parks, and lovable iconic characters and the Walt Disney brand has been a consistent influence in American and global entertainment culture. During World War II, the Walt Disney Production Studio was one of the companies tasked with creating propaganda to enlist the American people into supporting the war effort on the home front. The Disney Production Studio took a firm anti-Nazi stance, evident in the animated shorts created during the era. One of their most influential and memorable pieces renowned worldwide was entitled Der Fuehrer’s Face. This cartoon aired in 1942 and went on to win an Academy Award the following year. This film was widely accepted and enjoyed by many throughout America and around the world.

Der Fuehrer’s Face was a cartoon primarily produced to promote American ideals about fighting the Nazis and how Americans should feel about the war. This is an example of how the Disney Company was promoting American ideals since its earliest days. One of Disney’s most beloved characters, Donald Duck, finds himself waking up in a dystopian German town living as a Nazi and as a lover and supporter of Adolf Hitler. He lives a day in the life of a worker in a demanding factory forced to show his adoration of “der fuehrer” in a never ending wave of demanded heils to show the conditions of life in Germany during the war. Finally, Donald wakes up back in America surrounded by strong images of American patriotism and is thankful to be alive in the wonderful nation. This firm anti-Nazi stance helped push the Walt Disney brand into the spotlight and homes of Americans who had access to television or attended movies.

The Walt Disney Production Studio was involved in the creation of different types of propaganda in support of America’s entrance into World War II. This helped rejuvenate the nation in a time when faith was fading. The Disney brand created pins, buttons, and patches for several branches of the military. They also designed paintings for airplanes based off of one of their newest characters: Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Because of all of this work in defense of the American cause, it is clear that Walt Disney Productions was promoting patriotism and freedom. At this time, the American people needed reassurance that the government and military were leading the United States to victory on the frontlines.

According to historian John Wills, “Disney Culture promotes a distinctive fantasy and simulation, facilitated by media, technology, and control, and mass consumption.” This mass consumption is what would define Walt Disney Productions as the large corporate entertainment company it is today, but the support of the American cause during World War II would be what propelled them into the American household and global spotlight in their early days. This article will analyze the cultural impact of Disney Production Studios and its propulsion into the American mainstream by promoting the “ideal America/n” between the years 1939-1945 and into the modern era. At this time, the short form cartoon was becoming more easily accessible to families and Disney quickly grew into the multi-faceted culture producer and influencer it is today. The Walt Disney Studios successfully created propaganda that pushed the brand into the cultural spotlight and helped launch it into having more influence in American culture. Walt Disney’s parks also represent the ideal America and helped to promote this message to a growing audience.

Educational Application

Because the Walt Disney Company is so widely renowned and beloved, using the content in the classroom to explain different themes would be beneficial and could reach almost every student in that class. With the growth of the Disney streaming service Disney +, the content is more accessible than ever. For example, a lesson around the issues of redlining could focus on the opening few scenes from “The Princess and the Frog.” This film shows two families, one white and rich and one black and struggling. Visualizing this issue through a cartoon could help students see the differences in towns very close to each other, but separated by their economic or racial demographics.

Using these films can also reach different themes in a way that makes them interesting for students. Themes such as determination, bravery, “doing the right thing,” “the importance of family,” “the importance of finding yourself.” All of these themes can be found in Disney movies and films. These themes are important to students in middle and high school because a lot of these things are what they are going through themselves. Connecting these themes to content can be difficult, but making those connections is what will bring students into the content and make it more relevant to them.

Teachers can also use these films to go through historical periods. For example, using Mulan to discuss Chinese heritage could be a good way to introduce that topic. Of course, that film has its flaws (as all films do), but this could be a way to quickly introduce the topic. Also, you could use the films and its flaws at the end of the unit or lesson as a project. Students could rewrite parts of the film to make it more historically accurate. Taking films with flaws and turning it into a way for students to show their command of the content through editing or rewriting would be a great way to assess student learning while also keeping them engaged in the content.

Something that could be used more frequently, though, would be the propaganda that the Walt Disney company created during World War II. This propaganda could be used in a Document Based Question. Having links to videos to analyze in a DBQ would also be a very engaging and different way to analyze documents. Seeing their favorite characters in a different setting may take some getting used to, but it would be a good way to get students involved in a DBQ. Of course, this is not their favorite task, but if we add different styles of documents such as comics, cartoons, and animated characters.

As educators, it is our responsibility to engage students in content that may not seem relevant or exciting to students. Using different sources such as cartoons, comics, or other characters that students are used to is a great way of connecting with content. There are several applications for using Disney films and cartoons. Using these in the classroom to teach themes could be helpful in connecting with students about problems or challenges they may be facing in their daily lives. This is not so much a content based connection, but this could help students understand more of what they’re going through.

Content wise, there are also several different applications. Using the films to discuss histories of different areas or cultures could be a way to introduce the topic at the beginning of a unit. Following a unit with a film could be beneficial if students were asked to change the film to make it more accurate. Disney’s propaganda films created during World War II would be appropriate to use in a document based question or for a primary source analysis activity. This could be a way to get students to practice this skill with something they seem more familiar with.


Disney, W.E. (1943). Der Fuehrer’s face. Cartoon. Walt Disney Production Company. Retrieved from

Sammond, N. (2005). Babes in Tomorrowland: Walt Disney and the making of the American child, 1930-1960. Duke University Press, London.

Spangler, T. (2019, November 13). Disney Plus hits estimated 3.2 million app downloads on launch day.” Variety, November 13, 2019.

Watts, S. (1995).  Walt Disney: Art and politics in the American century.” The Journal of American History, 82 (1), 84-110.

Wills, J. (2017). Disney culture. Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ


Gangsta, Gangsta: How Teaching through Hip Hop Can Help Us Navigate the War On Crime

Taina Santiago

In 2015 the film Straight Outta Compton was released, proving that NWA as well as other rappers of this decade had a lasting impression on American culture. Rap music continues to deliver stark political messages as well as reflect the struggles of the community it represents. At the start of the 1990’s the “War on Crime” hit the black community disproportionately harder than any other community. At the same time, gangsta rappers began to speak out on what it meant to be a criminal.

In using their words correctly within the classroom, two things can be accomplished. First, the war on crime era can be taught and contextualized in a way that acts as built in engagement for students. Analyzing the music gives kids a sense of cultural lexicon that is still current and relevant. Furthermore, it provides students with a baseline for public opinion on the era. Being so contemporary there is difficulty finding scholarly sources that culminate the black American experience in the 90’s. Popular culture is public opinion and rap music deals with these trickier issues head on.

The secondary benefit of using rap music to teach the War on Crime is that it is an easy way for teachers to relate to a more diverse classroom, by assisting students in evaluating their role models. Public reactions to NWA and other rappers proved to be polarized. Understanding both sides allows students to contextualize their idols today, specifically rappers and musicians under the same lens.


The War on Crime refers to an era in American history, spanning from the 1970’s to the end of the 1990’s wherein the American government hyper focused on the prevention and punishment of crimes. In 1965, President Johnson addressed what he referred to as an increase in “street crime” and created the Office of Law Enforcement Assistance (Flamm, 2019). The primary goal of the Office was to partner local police departments with federal crime bureaus. As a consequence, crimes that would typically be resolved on a local level and would have smaller sentences, were now reviewed on a federal level and resulted in stricter prison sentences. Just as well, crimes that would have otherwise been resolved through community service or public scrutiny were for the first time subject to prison sentences (Thompson, 2010, p. 713). This, of course, led to more individuals being incarcerated and for longer periods of time.

The “War on Crime” was punitive in nature, focusing heavily on punishing lower priority drug crimes. In the 1970’s, New York’s Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had long been in favor of a rehabilitation first approach to drug crime, passed a series of stricter drug laws that lowered tolerance and increased jail time in convictions (Thompson, 2010, p. 707). This ultimately led to a higher incarceration rate, which translates to more families being affected. These harsher drug laws quickly spread across the nation. Thompson (2010) writes that “While in 1970 there had been only 322,300 drug-related arrests in the United States, in 2000 that figure was 1,375,600,” also noting that by the end of the twentieth century there were more Detroit residents incarcerated than there were Detroit residents holding unionized jobs in the auto department (p. 709). The “War on Crime” fed into the prison industrial complex in America.
            The prison industrial complex is unique to American culture. What makes it more unique though, is how it has found its home in implicit racism. By the end of the twentieth century, one in fifteen black men had been incarcerated at some point in their lives, compared to one in one hundred and six white men within the same age rage (McCann, 2017, p. 126). The War on Crime disproportionately affected communities of color, but none more than the black community.

The rise in mass incarceration changed the family dynamic of the black community, making criminal behaviour a cornerstone of their identity. Thompson argues, “The  criminalization  of  urban  space  and  the  imposition  of  lengthy  prison  terms  not only  rendered  an  increasing  percentage  of  urbanites  unable  to  contribute  to  the  cities where  they  grew  up  but  it  also  made  it  difficult  for  them  to  provide  for  the  dependents they  left  behind” (Thompson, 2010, p. 716). Increased incarceration rates meant that many parents would find themselves with a criminal record. This affected their families on two fronts. First, that during their sentence they would be missing from their households. The rise in the single parent home increased dramatically as the twentieth century closed (Thompson, 2010, p. 711). Families struggled to support themselves on a one parent income. The secondary effect mass incarceration had on families was the newfound inability of parents to re-enter the workforce due to their criminal records, as Thompson alludes to above. Families who were already struggling in poverty stricken neighborhoods were now forced to find creative ways to earn an income, which often led to committing more crimes. This, in turn, led to more people being incarcerated and the creation of a police state in poor urban communities.

The effects of the war on crime are still evident in urban classrooms. Students today have parents who felt the direct impacts of the time period. When dealing with a topic so close to home for so many people, it is important to navigate with care. The easiest way to do so is to connect it with something the kids are familiar with and enjoy on an overall level.


The police state created a cultural stigma around black people. The idea became that they were inherently violent, and inherently criminal. The advent of the gangsta rap genre created a caricature of what a Young Black Male from a poor, urban community should look like. Analyzing this persona gives a glimpse of what type of image the black community portrays and how that legacy has carried on to children today.

When N.W.A released their debut album Straight Outta Compton in 1988, they addressed these issues. On the first track, the titular song, Ice Cube sings,

“Straight outta Compton, crazy motherf****r named Ice Cube

From the gang called N****z Wit Attitudes

When I’m called off, I got a sawed off

Squeeze the trigger, and bodies are hauled off” (Jackson, Carabby, Wright, & Jerald, 1988)

The very first impression displayed here is glorification of intense violence. Ice Cube hailed from a community where this type of violence was not only familiar, but expected. The lyrics continue to tell a story where the men engage in more violence, as well as mentioning and advocating for illicit drug usage.

            This impression is what Bryan McCann refers to as the popularization of criminality. McCann described the phenomenon that NWA popularized in saying, “The mark of criminality circulated in white civil society in ways that mobilized affect as fear of racialized bodies and communities, but NWA attracted affective investments from audiences with playful, even joyful performances of black criminality” (McCann, 2017, p. 36). NWA’s third track on the album, titled Gangsta, Gangsta”, provided the framework for what they believed to be the experience of the black gangster growing up in urban Los Angeles,

“Since I was a youth, I smoked weed out

Now I’m the mothaf***a that you read about

Takin’ a life or two, that’s what the hell I do (Jackson, Carabby, Wright, & Jerald, 1988)”

The music is melodic, catchy and strikes the youth as fun. The men do not lament over their hardships. Instead, they create a larger than life personification of that hardship and market it as the authentic experience. All of the things that the establishment, be that the government or on a smaller scale the police, expected them to be was culminating in this persona.

            Other rappers followed the same trend, personifying what they felt to be formative traits and experiences of growing up in an urban, black community. 2Pac was well known for his often depressingly honest depictions of day to day life.

Very quickly, the message gangsta rappers sought to deliver became problematic. Their representation of self and poignant resistance to violence challenged the authority of the establishment. This became evident as government agencies, namely the FBI, spoke out against the rappers’ music.

The analysis of rap music allows students to engage with materials that may be familiar to them. They are interesting, and honest depictions of the ways in which the war on crime affected black America.

The War on Crime stigmatized black communities and provided shallow justifications for racist generalizations of the community. Black families have since become known for single parent households, criminal activity and ex-convicts. While, statistically, many of these were realities for black families, public opinion fails to rationalize these connotations in light of the context of unfair and discriminatory legal malpractice. A community so disenfranchised struggled to break these stigmas under a system that did not allow them room to breathe.

Gangsta rappers were not attempting to turn culture on its head, nor were they trying to redefine or correct the stigmas surrounding them. Instead, they provided social commentary on the persona they were expected to have and created the larger than life caricature of the black gangsta. This persona contributed to an overall fear of the black community. Tricia Rose writes in “Fear of a Black Planet” Rap Music and Black Cultural Politics in the 1990’s, “Rap music is fundamentally linked to a larger social constructions of Black culture as an internal threat to dominant American culture and social order” (Rose, 1991, p. 276).  To understand a diverse classroom it is imperative to uncover the layers of struggle that minorities face in America. Engaging and connecting with kids comes with this understanding.


Flamm, M.W. (2019). From Harlem to Ferguson: LBJ’s war on crime and America’s prison crisis. Stanton Foundation: Columbus, OH.

Jackson, O., Carabby, A., Wright, E.L., and Jerald, L. (1988). Straight Outta Compton. Ruthless Records: Los Angeles.

McCann, B.J. (2017). The mark of criminality: Rhetoric, race, and gangsta rap in the war-on-crime era. University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa, AL.

Rose, T. (1991). “Fear of a Black Planet”: Rap music and black cultural politics in the 1990s. The Journal of Negro Education, 60 (3), 276-290.

Vol. 60, No. 3, Socialization Forces Affecting the Education

Thompson, H.A. (2010. Why mass incarceration matters: Rethinking crisis, decline, and transformation in postwar American history. Journal of American History, 97 (3), 703-734.

The Oceanside-Uniondale Bridges Program

by Mitchell Bickman

In the 2019-2020 school year, the Uniondale and Oceanside School Districts on Long Island entered the fourth year of a unique and innovative program that is designed to grow in all students a stronger awareness and understanding of issues facing our communities and our nation. The Bridges program fosters empathy, and collaboration amongst students. It is our belief that engaging students in the evaluation of contemporary issues related to race, economics, and politics will lead to well-rounded, active, and engaged citizens. In Bridges, we encourage difficult conversations and ask challenging questions, and we welcome different points of view with the understanding that we can agree to disagree with civility. We tell students to get beyond your comfort zone, to get to know people different from yourselves.  It’s in that space beyond comfort that true education occurs.

We believe that in education there is not one set formula for success. This reality makes teaching one of the most exciting yet challenging professions that exists. Over the past two decades I have been extremely fortunate to work with a group of educators and leaders that are amongst the most passionate and inspiring individuals in this profession today. What sets them apart from others is that they shifted their instructional focus from student engagement to student empowerment, carving out time and space for students to explore their passions. In order to truly empower students, two major shifts have to take place. The first being a focus on student agency, where students are given ownership over the direction of their learning. The second and perhaps most important is that teachers have had to gradually shift their role from that of the expert (or sage on a stage) to that of lead learner, acting in a role that on the surface may appear as more of a moderator or facilitator. Through this approach to teaching student learning no longer exists in a vacuum, but rather it connects to other disciplines in a meaningful and authentic way, allowing teachers to create a more cohesive narrative for students. While there is not a singular pathway towards fostering empowered students, a hallmark of Oceanside’s program is taking informed action.

Due to the demands placed upon K-12 curricula, and the subsequent time constraints it engenders, taking informed action happens least often in classrooms across the country. Our work flips this model with the belief that taking informed action needs to be at the heart of curriculum development and instructional practices. This work is built on the premise that it is critical to provide students with thoughtful and deliberate opportunities to critically and deeply evaluate issues that impact them on a local, national, and global level. As we continue to orient our lessons and units to promote divergent thought and foster argumentative skills, it is more important than ever that we provide students the opportunity to take their new knowledge, skills, and understanding to the world. One of the most common examples that comes to mind would be for students to engage in writing letters to elected officials. However, this is just one of many actions that can be taken by students as they begin to assess their world and take action. Other actions can include:

  • organizing a book club to dig more deeply into an issue
  • organizing a fundraising event for a cause related to an issue
  • Inviting community stakeholders to a classroom forum
  • inviting guest speakers to debate an issue
  • presenting to elementary school classes
  • creating an advocacy campaign (morning announcements, Edmodo, lobby presentation during lunch periods)
  • working collaboratively to create a class or team resolution
  • organizing a community service project
  • interviewing an expert or activist

These ideas are often starting points for larger more meaningful experiences that students can engage in, which is the purpose of Bridges.

The Bridges program began in the Fall of the 2016-2017 school year with a cohort of sixty diverse middle school students. It has been designed to unfold over the course of six years (currently in year four), extending through a student’s senior year in high school. It is our hope that as students move through their high school years, they will take ownership over the direction of a shared service-learning project that will take learning out of the classroom walls, into students’ lives, their community, and perhaps the world.  

Our Story

The Bridges program was born out of a conversation held between Oceanside and Uniondale High School seniors centered on Race in America. At the time of this conversation the news cycle was dominated by Michael Brown, an eighteen-year old teenager from Ferguson, Missouri. Our schools came together via a shared connection we had from a Hofstra University professor, Dr. Alan Singer. Long Island is one of the most racially and economically segregated regions in our nation. The demographics of the Oceanside School District and Uniondale exemplify this reality as Oceanside’s student body is close to 85% Caucasian, while Uniondale a ten-minute bus ride away is almost 100% Latino and African American. Our districts rarely interact beyond the world of sports, so we believed a conversation on Race in America between seniors who were at the time about the same age as Michael Brown would be worthwhile for everyone involved. In addition, many of these students would soon be leaving their segregated communities, and entering college in the fall, a broader world with others different from themselves. Over the course of this hour-long conversation, students shared raw, powerful, and at times emotional experiences about what it was like growing up white, black, Latino in their respective communities while at the same time discussing police culture, racial profiling, and other related topics.

While this conversation was a powerful one, we recognized that one discussion like this is not going to change the world or even these communities. Hopefully it helped students think about issues that are often in the background but never up front, especially in an interracial setting. As they go off to college, maybe these young people will have a new sense of possibility for the future. The desire to extend the conversation and start it at an earlier age led to the creation of the Bridges program an ongoing relationship between Oceanside and Uniondale Middle Schools (and now high schools) where teachers and students come together to make this vision a reality.

            Bridges serves as an opportunity to address the growing racial, religious, and ethnic divide on Long Island, where communities remain isolated despite often being very close to one another.

            Starting in seventh grade, students at Lawrence Road Middle School (Uniondale) and Oceanside Middle School apply to Bridges via an essay asking which societal issues they wish to see addressed by the government and which they would like to address themselves. Each year of the program is broken up into several meetings. These meetings are designed to first develop trust between the students, then inform them on a topic, allow them to discuss it, and ultimately take informed action regarding the subject.

            Bridges students (“builders”) meet to discuss the present events of the day in an environment designed to foster alternative opinions to their own. The project is a six-year journey, with each year organized around a shared theme. Year One focused on immigration and how it affects us on both a personal and national level. Year Two and three has focused on the Age of Protest, the idea of protest, what a “worthy” cause may be, and when it is “right’ to voice protest as a private citizen, public official, or even a celebrity. As students grow and mature, more complicated issues can be addressed, and deeper action taken.

            The long term goal of the program is for students to develop lasting relationships with others who on the surface may look different from one another, but have more in common than they initially thought, and while they may not always agree, we look to foster the tools for civil discourse, leading to individuals working together to take informed action. It is our hope that students can garner a shared perspective and mutual respect in a time of intense difference, experience cultural events together, bond, learn new things, and have the opportunity to go on trips to explore their college options as the program grows.

            The Bridges program was also briefly profiled in Teaching Tolerance (link: Since the national magazine came out we have been contacted by teachers in Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, and New Jersey and have helped them to lay the foundation for similar programs in their schools. We also believe that this program can be a national model for schools that we can help build through presentations and publications to inform districts/states of this work.

Too often teachers shy away from issues because they are deemed sensitive or controversial. This program will show teachers that they can embrace these issues head on regardless of resources at their disposal.  The program presents a unique opportunity for schools to bridge racial, religious, and class divide that often exists between suburban and urban school districts in a manner that is cost effective regardless of budget. It also presents a flexibility that would allow schools which adopt the program to tailor it based upon the needs of their respective communities or in response to current events and world news of the moment.

The ultimate legacy of Bridges will be the relationships it creates between adults and children who likely would have never interacted were it not for the program despite living in neighboring communities. A more powerful impact Bridges will have is in shaping an enlightened student who is capable of seeing civic issues from the other side of the spectrum as well as mobilizing their views in a way that takes informed action.

From a social-emotional standpoint the program has met its intended goal from conception – creating relationships between students from different backgrounds through discussion and debate, and by creating lasting out of school relationships between students who often had not met someone unlike themselves before. Students socialize outside the program, and within the program find a voice for their growing identities, developing leadership roles, getting a chance to have a voice where in other forums they may feel “drowned out”, and planting the seed of activism by creating change in their own communities.

While Bridges is still in its infancy, the program has expanded with our second cohort of middle school students who began this work last year. Our first cohort are now high school sophomores and have begun to suggest ideas about what they can do to frame out and address issues in their local communities and beyond.

Bridges is no doubt ambitious in its scope and length of time until completion, so we have created several other district wide experiences that exemplify taking informed action. Several other examples of student activism in the Oceanside School District include “A Day Without,” a Driver and Pedestrian Safety Campaign, and the upcoming “World We Want Fair.”

At the heart of Bridges and these other programs is student voice and choice.  When student agency becomes the central focus and/or integral to one’s instructional practice students become empowered as change agents who actively seek out problems to solve, not waiting for someone (often adults) to tell them what to do.

The Time is NOW!

by Ben Szczepanikby

In the New York Times in 1952, Joseph R. Toven, from Mount Vernon New York, wrote a response to an editorial about Senator Joseph McCarthy. He did not take kindly to the words that were said about the senator. He wrote, “Senator McCarthy has accomplished a great deal in awakening the sleeping minds of many Americans whose use of the newspaper was confined to the comics and the sports pages; he has succeeded in disillusioning many false idealists who thought no evil such as communism would dare to threaten our way of life” (Toven, 1952). One can feel his disdain for the New York Times for writing about the Senator and criticizing him. He said “Mr. McCarthy has made a rather great contribution toward the security of our country; at the expense of a few hurt prides, deflated egos, and flushed Reds, he has helped stem the disease that is communism. He has cried “wolf” justifiably and should be thanked-not damned” (Toven, 1952). This man has a clear love for McCarthy. A love and passion not only for him but also for what it best for his own country.

In today’s political society we see a polarization of Americans and their political party affiliation. As of the beginning of October 2019 Republicans and Republican leaners sit at 41% and Democrats and Democrat leaners sit at 48%. Leaving true independents at 11% (Gallup, 2019). While the true independents have increased since the poll began in January 2004 there is still a big divide between the two parties. What makes a big impact on these people who affiliate to one side are where they get their news from. 

Newspapers and news networks today often have a bias to one of the two political parties in America. When it comes to news networks, critics say CNN and MSNBC have a bias towards the Democratic Party while Fox News has a bias towards the Republican Party. With newspapers the New York Times and the Washington Post are more liberal and the Chicago Tribune is more conservative. Even in the 1950’s The Chicago Tribune supported the Republican Party and The New York Times favored the Democratic Party. Especially when it came to Senator Joseph McCarthy.

            Newspapers were able to observe McCarthy and his career as a senator and formulate opinions on him. Some of those opinions were pro-McCarthy and others were anti-McCarthy. the Chicago Tribune was biased towards McCarthy and the New York Times was biased against McCarthy. During certain events that involved McCarthy in the 50’s both newspapers would write a report on that said event and the reports would be polar opposites. For example, the censure hearings of 1954.

            In 1954 Ralph Flanders called for a debate in a censure of McCarthy and accused him that he was abusing his powers as senator (Stone, 2005. Pg. 1403). It was a very intense couple of weeks and tensions rose within the hearings. But on September 27, 1954 a six-member committee agreed to change the word from censure to condemn. Stone wrote, “McCarthy roared that he was the “victim” of a Communist conspiracy and that the Communist Party “has now extended its tentacles even to… the United States Senate” (Stone, 2005, 1403). More debates continued about the misuse of McCarthy’s power as Senator. “Following a nearly month of debate, the Senate on 2 December approved the censure resolution. By the decisive margin of 67 to 22, the Senate voted to condemn McCarthy for behavior that was contrary to senatorial traditions and ethics” (Raines, 1998, 14). After this censure hearing he was able to keep his Senate seat but his life as a politician started to decline till his death in 1957 (Raines, 1998,14).

Even after he had been condemned the Chicago Tribune still defended him from this censure. A reporter from the Tribune named Edwards defended him with gusto. “No evidence had been established to show that McCarthy “obstructed the processes of the senate,” as charged by the Watkins committee, the Dirksen amendment stated. Moreover, failure to move to bar McCarthy from his seat, in January, 1953, after his reelection in 1952, precluded senate consideration of his conduct in 1952, it continued” (Edwards, 1954). Even after he was voted out from the first censure count the Tribune defended him as if his tactics that he used as Senator were wrong.

The New York Times report seemed happy with the results of McCarthy being condemned in December of 1954. “In the ultimate action the Senate voted to condemn Senator McCarthy for contempt of a Senate Elections subcommittee that investigated his conduct and financial affairs, for abuse of its members, and for his insults to the Senate itself during the censure proceeding” (Leviero, 1954, 1). The results of this, according to McCarthy, had no effect on him. The times asked him an interesting question though after the last hearing. “He had referred to the session as a “lynch party” (Leviero, 1954, 1). Compared to a certain president it is interesting to see that another politician who called an event where people were against him and tried to get him out of his seat a Lynching. It is often said that history repeats itself. But it was Mark Twain that said “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”

This is where opportunity knocks on the door. This could be a perfect lesson about what Americans are seeing on the news today about the possible impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. Both men are accused of abusing their power as a government official. The media was all over McCarthy in the 50’s and the media today is all over Trump as well. So why not take this opportunity to make a connection to the past and also to what is going on today?

The first step is to go over what exactly was McCarthy being accused of in 1954. Explain that he was accused of abusing his power as Senator when hunting for communists in the early 50’s. Then, giving out the articles from the Tribune and from the Times about the censure hearings of McCarthy in 1954 and comparing and contrasting them together to see what these two newspapers are reporting. Then, compare those articles to two modern day articles about the impeachment of President Trump. The next step is to address what exactly President Trump is accused of. Explain that he is accused of abusing his power as President. Then, hand out two modern-day news articles about the impeachment. One from Fox news, a conservative news network, titled Varney: Impeachment efforts boost Trump’s Chances in 2020. The other article from CNN, a liberal news network, titled Trump assaults facts to survive Impeachment. Then compare and contrast as to what both articles are talking about. After showing all of these articles to the students explain the overarching theme of Mark Twain. That history doesn’t repeat itself. But it does rhyme.

Social Studies teachers have an opportunity in their hands right now to really connect an event from the past to an event that is of similarity today. Opportunities like this don’t happen very often. So it is up to us as educators to grasp this moment in American history where we can teach them to make a connection from the past to what is going on the American government right now. It’s happening right in front of their eyes and it would be a wasted opportunity if social studies teachers did not use this to their advantage within the classroom.


Collinson, S. (2019, December 11). Trump assaults facts to survive impeachment. Retrieved December 11, 2019, from

Connor, F. (2019, December 10). Varney: Impeachment efforts boost Trump’s chances in 2020. Retrieved December 11, 2019, from

Edwards, W. (1952, December 2).  “McCarthy censured, 67-20.” Chicago Daily Tribune. Retrieved from

Gallup. (2019, October 31). Party affiliation. Gallup. Retrieved from

Toven, J.R. (1952, September 15).  Senator McCarthy praised. The New York Times, 15 Sept. 1952.

Leviero, A. (1954, December 3). Republicans Split. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Raines, R.R. (1998). The Cold War comes to Fort Monmouth: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the search for spies in the Signal Corps.” Army History, 44 (14). Retrieved from

Stone, G.R. (2005). Free speech in the age of McCarthy: A cautionary tale. California Law Review, 93 (5), 1403. 93, no. 5.

Confronting Stereotypes and De-Otherizing Refugees with Suburban Seventh Graders

by Andy Beutel

War and terrorists. These were the two words my students most commonly associated with Islam, Muslims and the Middle East. Projected on the screen in the form of a word cloud that enlarges the most often repeated words, it was clear to all students that the majority of them had negative associations with Islam. Unfortunately, this is a trend I’ve seen year after year among my students.

I teach seventh grade social studies in a high-achieving public school district situated in an affluent, suburban, and conservative-leaning town in northern New Jersey. The school is somewhat diverse in relation to the neighboring school districts but the student body is nearly 80% white and the majority are Christian and from families earning a household income well above the state average. For most of the students, my class is their first exposure to contemporary social and political issues beyond what they have seen on social media or heard at home and this is especially the case with topics related to unfamiliar cultures and places.

One my overarching goals as a teacher is to help students think critically about the world in which they live or develop what Freire (1997) described as a “critical consciousness.” I seek to expose them to issues of social injustice like discrimination, war, and inequality and help them to analyze issues from multiple perspectives. I want them to be able to think beyond their bubble and understand their place in the broader society as it compares to those who are underserved. At the same time, I try to empower them with the skills to analyze societal challenges and consider creative ways those challenges could be addressed. However, as Swalwell (2013) noted, it is difficult to engage in this type of teaching with this population of students while avoiding the alienation of students and accusations of indoctrination from parents and administrators. To achieve this goal, I teach social studies by having students analyze different types of primary and secondary sources, synthesize information they are learning with their prior knowledge, write for conceptual understanding rather than factual regurgitation, and consider how the past is relevant to the present (Downey & Long, 2016).   

I approached the unit I teach on Islam and the Middle East through this lens. Out of my 110 students I taught last school year, only three were Muslim. I tried to teach in a way that valued the culture of those few students while also challenging the misconceptions and stereotypes of the majority of my students. As part of the introductory lesson, we discussed the differences between extremists and typical adherents to a religion and then students responded to an analogy comparing Muslims to ISIS with Christians to the Ku Klux Klan. My goal in my first lesson was simply to have students be willing and able to recognize that not all Muslims are terrorists.

From there, students learned about the history and beliefs of Islam. They analyzed the similarities and differences between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the spread of Islam and its influence in parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East. They studied the lasting contributions of Muslim civilizations and empires and saw how life in the Middle East one thousand years ago was a much different place than what they see and hear today. Unfortunately, I have found over my years of teaching world history that most of my students don’t develop empathy for people today by learning about people from the same place in the past.

I have consistently struggled with how to approach teaching the Middle East in the modern day in a way that helps them critically understand the issues while also challenging their negative assumptions about Muslims. Part of my goal is to help students understand the complexities of the conflicts and the involvement and culpability of the United States in those conflicts. Students are not wrong in associating the Middle East with war – for their entire lifetimes the US has been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and in recent years wars in Syria and Yemen. Even as I write this there is speculation of the US starting a war with Iran. But the students need to understand that most people living in these places are simply trying to go to school, work, have families, and live their lives free of violence and persecution (much like people in their own country). To that end, I approached this part of the unit differently than in previous years. Rather than focusing solely on current events articles and video clips, I had students read part of a young adult fiction book.

The book is called Refugee and it was written by Alan Gratz and published in 2017. The book is broken into three separate but similar stories of refugee children set in different times and places. The story I assigned to my students was about a fictionalized 12-year-old Syrian boy and his family who fled the war in Syria in 2015 and journeyed as refugees to Germany. The story integrates information that the students learned in class including the geography of the Middle East, religious and cultural aspects of Islam, and the conflict in Syria. Additionally, the book raised key questions about topics we explored throughout the year such as migration, war, and human rights. Finally, I thought reading this book would help students empathize with people who have different life experiences from their own, specifically refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East as well as those seeking asylum at the southern border in the United States. Ultimately, my hope was that by reading this story it would help to de-otherize marginalized refugees of color for my white, non-marginalized students.

            During each class period over the course of seven days, students read parts of the story, responded to reflection questions, and engaged in a critical discussion with their peers. As hooks (1994) asserted, when all students are actively engaged in critical reflection and dialogue with others it helps them better understand themselves and their world. Some of the topics students discussed included the idea of loss, the complexity and effects of living in a place at war, living without a home, how refugees are viewed by others, and the criminalization and imprisonment of refugees. Students also considered decisions made by the characters like leaving one’s home country and entering a country illegally. After finishing the story, the culminating questions I asked the students were:

  • Do you think refugees (people fleeing their home country due to persecution, war or violence) should be free to move to a country of their choice? Why or why not?
  • Do you think countries that are wealthy, free and relatively safe (like the US, Canada and many in Western Europe) should be taking in more refugees? Why or why not?  

In the end, there were quite a few students who wrote responses[1] that demonstrated empathy and support for refugees, including a desire for their own country to do more for these people. For example, in response to the first question about whether refugees should be free to move to a new country, Amelia wrote: “Yes because nobody owns a country and if someone wants to live there they can.” Similarly, Sydney wrote: “Yes I do believe that refugees should be free to move to a country of their choice because I feel like they should be able to be free and have their own choices.” Responding to the second question about whether countries like the US should be taking in more refugees, Megan emphatically stated, “Yes! If we can take in more refugees, we should! Reading this story made me realize the hardships they have to go through. I think it is absurd to have a law banning refugees from Syria. These people are just trying to find a home, and it’s ridiculous to ban them.” This group of students represents those with the most support for refugees. However, not all students adopted this perspective.

Many students wrote responses indicating some empathy and support for refugees but with conditions and limitations. For instance, Abby reached this conclusion: “From reading this book, I learned just how hard it is for people to have freedom. I gained a new understanding on all the Mexicans trying to come in. Although I still don’t want them in, I feel bad. I think that refugees should be able to have freedom but don’t be waiting for months to get into my country.” Here, it is clear that Abby developed empathy for refugees but is not willing to go the next step and see her country support and honor the freedom of refugees.  Mike wrote in response to the question about freedom of movement: “I believe it shouldn’t be free, but based on the refugee’s assets and how useful they are to the country.” Mike was rather ambivalent to the plight of refugees on a human level but saw the question of entry into a country through a utilitarian lens, only wanting people to come into a country if they add value for the people already living there. Both of these responses reveal some sympathy for refugees but also a view of the United States as belonging to them as American citizens rather than others seeking entry.  

A handful of students remained obstinate in their completely negative view of refugees. The most obvious example of this is Sarah who wrote in response to the question about whether refugees should be free to move to a new country: “No. They could be carrying diseases and spreading them throughout all different countries. They could also be terrorists so there should be a background check. Lastly, some people could be spies working for enemies.” This response is disappointing on several levels but further justifies correcting misinformation among our students and emphasizing the importance of facts and evidence to guide our views.

On balance, the majority of students both enjoyed and learned from the book study. For example, Nicole said, “On a scale of 1-5, I would give it a 5 because usually I don’t like reading books but this was different. I loved this. I think it fits right into social studies and we should read more like this. I learned that life could be crazy and a big journey especially for kids my age too. I gained new insights and perspectives by reading this book.” Nicole was a struggling student all year but this activity enabled her to better access the information about refugees and make personal connections to the content. While the analysis of non-fiction texts is essential to the teaching of social studies, this response validates the integration of fictional texts as a supplemental resource. This book in particular was ideal for in-class reading with my seventh grade students. The late elementary/early middle school reading level allowed my struggling readers to be successful and the two other refugee stories in the book created a built-in supplemental activity for my stronger readers.

            After the book study, students completed an inquiry-based research project as a final assessment for the unit. They had the choice of focusing on either cultural practices and misunderstandings, countries in conflict, activism, or refugees in the Middle East today. Many students chose to learn more about refugees after reading the book. Through the project, students were able to dig deeper into their topic of choice through focused research. As part of the assignment, students wrote reflective responses about why they chose the topic they did and how they are affected by the issue. Hannah wrote the following in her reflection:

“Syrian refugees really interests me because before I did this project I saw Syrian refugees as terrorist (sic). But after I did this project I know now everything they go through. This affects me because now I won’t take anything for granted. For example, I am able to go out with my friends without my parents being worried about me getting shot or something bad. But Syrias (sic) can’t even leave their house for two minutes without getting asked to recruit or getting shot or having an air missile dropped on them. This also affects me because illegal Syrian refugees have been coming into our country for the wrong reasons and killing legal people in our country. This could affect me because the person that they could decide to hurt could be someone that I love and care about.”

This single response captures both the possibilities and limitations of critical teaching and learning in an affluent, suburban, majority-white public school setting. Hannah began the year with strongly negative views of Muslims and refugees but through the book study and research project she developed a more nuanced and empathetic view of refugees. However, despite that new perspective, her default was still to assume that Syrian refugees are a threat to the country and her family.

            For nearly all of my students, the issues of war and human rights are far-removed from their everyday lives. For that reason, the social studies classroom is an invaluable space for critically engaging with these questions and topics and confronting the racial stereotypes that permeate our society. Progress on this front is both necessary and possible through the use of carefully-selected texts, student-centered research projects, guided dialogue and reflective writing.


Downey, M. T., & Long, K. A. (2016). Teaching for historical literacy building knowledge in the history classroom. New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the oppressed (Revised 20th anniversary ed). New York: Continuum. (Original work published in 1970).

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Swalwell, K. (2013). Educating activist allies: Social justice pedagogy with the suburban and urban elite. New York, NY: Routledge.

[1] All student names have been changed to ensure privacy.

Teaching Impeachment and the 2020 Election

Alan Singer, Hofstra University

The “Answer Sheet” column by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post published a letter that an Edina, Minnesota social studies teacher sent parents explaining how he was addressing the House impeachment hearings in his middle school classes. The teacher, Jason Pusey, stressed that lessons “focused mainly on process, not so much on substance.” Pusey makes an important effort to include students in discussion of current issues without alienating parents and administrators or risking his position. But given the level of the threats to American democracy posed by the Trump administration, focusing education on process, not substance, while it is a safer approach to teaching about impeachment and the 2020 election, sells students and democracy short. There are alternative classroom approaches that promote analysis, decision-making, and active citizenship and are aligned with state and national learning standards.

The United States is in the midst of a constitutional crisis that may be the worst since the 1850s when Southern states, fearing a permanent minority status in the national government and federal action against slavery, attempted to leave the union precipitating the Civil War. The contemporary Republican Party has embraced two very dangerous ideologies, the Unitary Executive and “win-at-any-cost no matter what the consequences” that threaten constitutional government and democracy in the United States.

In schools we teach that fundamental principles of the United States Constitution are “separation of powers” and “check and balances” between three theoretically co-equal branches of government, the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. This scheme has roots in the writing of French Enlightenment thinker Baron de Montesquieu who believed that “separation of powers” and “check and balances” were the most effective way to prevent autocracy and the abuse of power.

James Madison, writing in Federalist Paper 51, argued that these principles were imbedded in the Constitution by design. Madison famously wrote: “To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places.”

The problem, however, is that while the Constitution establishes three independent branches of government, in the case of the Executive and Judicial branches, it does not clearly delineate their responsibilities and the limits of their power. The Supreme Court’s authority to evaluate the constitutionality of laws and actions was assumed by the Court and accepted by the other branches following its decision in the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803). But the Court has no power to enforce its decisions and in the case of Worcester v. Georgia (1832), President Andrew Jackson refused to abide by the Court’s decision. In the 1950s and 1960s, states delayed implementing the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education school desegregation decisions while local authorities defunded public education and established white-only private academies.

While there are procedures for Congress to overrule the President and for the President to veto Congress, the words “checks,” “balances,” and “separation” do not appear anywhere in the text of the Constitution. There is also no definition of what is meant by Executive power. While Section 2 specifies some Presidential responsibilities such as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, the power to grant reprieves and pardons, and with the approval of the Senate, to make treaties and nominate and judges, Article II, Section 1, Clause 1, simply states “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

During the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2009), Bush advisors advanced a “Unitary Executive Theory” claiming he had unrestricted authority to invade Afghanistan and Iraq because the Constitution assigned the president all “executive power.” This supposedly meant the President could set aside laws and court rulings that attempted to limit his power over national security.

With Donald Trump in office, “Unitary Executive Theory” advocates have expanded this interpretation of the Constitution to justify every Presidential action as inherently legitimate because Trump as President is chief executive. Legislative or judicial challenges to his authority are dismissed as harassment. His current chief defender is Attorney General William Barr. In a recent speech to the Federalist Society, Barr argued that the Constitution does not permit Congress to place any limits on a President, even if a President is covering up crimes committed by the President or an associate. Based on this theory, a President has dictatorial power for four years, power that can even be used to destroy the government and American society. Congress’ only redress is impeachment and removal from office, which is incredibly difficult to do.

A unit or periodic lessons examining the question “Is democracy threatened?” allows space for a range of viewpoints. Democrats in the House of Representatives launched the impeachment hearings because they believe Donald Trump’s actions violate the standards for constitutional government. In response, President Trump charges Democrats with an attempted coup, trying to overturn the results of his legitimate election and popular will.

I propose three classroom alternatives to engage secondary school students in understanding issues but also prepares them for participation in the 2020 election as civic activists. Preparing and supporting students as civic activists is mandated in a number of state social studies standards. I call these approaches (1) Policy Wonks, (2) Campaign Fact-Checkers, and (3) Civic Activists.

(1) Policy Wonks: In this approach social studies lessons focus on specific issues, rather than on candidates. Students research and define positions on immigration, climate change, gun control, economic growth, free speech and social media, democratic values, health care, foreign involvement, and Presidential leadership. They can send their recommendations to candidates, promote their ideas in public forums, and use their research to evaluate candidates.

(2) Campaign Fact-Checkers: This approach is especially important as students evaluate candidate claims in the 2020 election campaign and draw conclusions and make recommendations about which candidate to support. Important websites that do fact-checking include, Fact Checker, and Politifact. Students can also conduct textual analysis of testimony and documents, including transcripts of the phone calls. Based on these investigations students can turn to an examination of the Constitution and legal precedents and make judgments based on their investigations. Is President Trump’s decision not to make some documents available and his order to members of the Executive branch not to testify a defense of Presidential pejoratives and the independence of the Executive branch or obstruction of justice by a legitimate and Constitutional Congressional inquiry? If the Democratic majority on the House Committee concludes that President Trump did use the Office of the President to solicit support from Ukraine to further his 2020 reelection campaign, does that in itself constitute an impeachable offense and grounds to remove the President from office?

            (3) Civic Activists: Teachers constantly worry whether they are allowed to express a point of view in class on major issues or how to handle student views that may be extreme or disrespectful of others. Teachers I work with expressed that these two concerns came up repeatedly in discussions of the 2016 election and I expect them to continue in 2020. A goal in a democratic classroom community is that students learn to respect themselves and each other. Democratic classroom communities provide students with emotional support so they can take intellectual and social risks. For communities to develop, teachers must play active roles. I believe they must also be willing to model what it means to develop a point of view based on evidence and what it means to listen and learn from others.

The New York State Social Studies Frameworks are aligned with the National Council for the Social Studies College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework and national Common Core Standards. They specifically call on teachers and students to collaboratively “Analyze evidence in terms of content, authorship, point of view, bias, purpose, format, and audience.” In addition, students are supposed to learn to “Compare the points of view of two or more authors in their treatments of the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.”

As part of this process, students are expected to “Demonstrate respect for the rights of others in discussions and classroom debates; respectfully disagree with other viewpoints and provide evidence for a counter-argument”; “Work with peers to set rules for collegial discussions and decision making (e.g., informal consensus, taking votes on key issues, and presentation of alternate views), clear goals and deadlines, and individual roles as needed; “Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions”; and “Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.”

As students develop their views through research and discussion, they are encouraged to act on their understandings. New York State and the NCSS’ C3 Framework specifically endorse student activism through voting, volunteering, and “joining with others to improve society.” I can’t think of a better way of “joining with others to improve society” than becoming involved in the 2020 election.

Some projects students can create as they engage in any of these approaches include rapping about a candidate or issue, making a sixty-second infomercial, or producing memes, t-shirts, letters to the editor of local newspapers, blogs, and tweets. I tweet Donald Trump my latest meme about two or three times a week. You can follow me on twitter at

Teacher Responses on Teaching Impeachment and the 2020 Election

Mariya Korobkova, Curriculum Specialist New York City Department of Education: Understanding current issues and events is an essential component of a robust civics education. As students learn about engaging in and having an impact on their communities it is important that they remain informed about the issues affecting our city, nation, and the world. Civics for All has created, and will regularly add to, a collection of supplemental lesson plans and resources to aid in teaching current issues and events. The Civics for All: Current Issues and Events collection is available on WeTeachNYC. It is recommended that teachers download and review Current Events and Civics Education before using the resources in this collection in the classroom. These materials include two resource types: Full K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and/or 9-12 lesson plans that connect fundamental civics concepts to current issues and events. The formatting of the lesson plans is consistent with the Civics for All lesson plans and are distinguishable by their purple color-coding.

A brief summary of the issue or event with suggested resources for lesson planning and teaching civics-related current events.

The first resources created for this collection are grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 lesson plans on the impeachment process. They are available for download now on WeTeachNYC.

Derek Pearce, Division High School, Levittown, NY: Levittown is an interesting place. Despite the fact that I grew up here, went to K-12 school here, and have lived here for much of my adult life, I still have difficulty understanding the people here. On paper, Levittown is “left leaning” with 51.3% voting Democrat in the last presidential election. However, conversations with my students and neighbors reveal ample support for President Trump. Teaching something as politically sensitive as impeachment in such a politically divided atmosphere has presented a unique set of challenges that I have attempted to address throughout the year. My first lesson on impeachment coincided with the House Speaker Pelosi’s press conference announcing the beginning of the House impeachment inquiry on September 24th. I predicted that most of my students would have only the vaguest sense of the impeachment process and the circumstances surrounding the impeachment- predictions that unfortunately proved to be accurate. To counter this lack of context, I started the students with several headlines from various newspapers that provided clues about the background circumstances surrounding the announcement of the impeachment inquiry. This allowed the few students who were aware of the details to explain the context to their less informed classmates. To connect the impeachment inquiry with the curriculum, we moved next to a brief mini-lesson on the system of checks and balances inherent in the Constitution which included various examples outside of the obvious check impeachment offers Congress over the Executive. Finally, students compared an excellent video on the impeachment process from Ted-Ed with a well-designed flow chart from the Conthat demonstrated the possible routes of the Trump impeachment inquiry. The lesson closed with a debate among students about the likely course of the impeachment proceedings. Using their newfound knowledge of the historical context and Constitutional procedures of impeachment, many of my students came to the realization that impeachment was likely in a Democratic controlled House of Representatives, but conviction and removal from office was unlikely in a Republican controlled Senate. Since my first lesson on impeachment did not allow my students much room for a debate or discussion on their views of the Trump impeachment inquiry- a conscious choice considering their lack of contextual or procedural knowledge, I decided to teach a second lesson on the impeachment inquiry that coincided with the House Judiciary Committee’s vote to recommend two articles of impeachment on Friday, December 13th. In this lesson, students were presented with reactions to the announcement from various Democrats and Republicans. After identifying the repeating themes associated with the quotes, students were tasked with identifying the quote that most aligned with their view of the impeachment process. Students whose views were not adequately represented by the available quotes were able to create their own. Using the foundational knowledge from the previous lesson along with the spectrum of perspectives presented by the quotes, students were able to have a reasoned, informed, and academic discussion on a topic that many of them were unable to define just a few weeks earlier.

Pablo Muriel, Alfred E. Smith High School, Bronx, NY: This is a very exciting time to be a social studies teacher but it is also a vital time in our democracy and society as a whole. Currently we are facing a climate crisis that threatens the earth, income inequality that have led many historians to call this time period the second gilded age, immigration policies that place children in cages, massive cuts to social services and austerity policies that threaten public services. All of these current issues make teaching the impeachment process a vital part of participation in government. I begin my lessons with a 10-minute clip of democracy now and give the students time to write down issues that they believe have the most impact on their lives. Next students share out their ideas, this allows students to have a dialogue on the current issues and become acquainted with those issues. The class moves on to the lessons which this year have revolved around major issues such as climate, Immigration, and securing the social safety net (my students are mostly impoverished, 93% title one school). To this end students have read articles on these issues, have joined the climate protest, visited community board meetings (mandatory in my class) and are currently writing letters to their congressperson on bills they are in support of or against. During this process they are engaged in the topic of impeachment through reading newspaper articles daily as a do now assignment and must respond in writing on google classrooms and a share-out that typically leads to the lesson. The goal is to immerse students in dialogue, politics and activism so that they may take full control of their agency, use it to engage in government functions and ultimately include themselves as part of the larger system.

Debate and Inquiry-Based Instruction on Presidential Impeachment

Russell Hammack, Jacksonville State University

Lisa Matherson and Elizabeth Wilson, The University of Alabama

After the completion of the Russia political interference investigation and with the recent Ukrainian Presidential phone call controversy, the U.S. House of Representatives has moved forward in the last two months with an official impeachment inquiry, led by Representative Adam Schiff (Costa & Rucker, 2019). This impeachment process, can lead to the accusation of a criminal wrongdoing, but also the removal of office of the president. Britannica (2019) states:

In the federal government of the United States, the House of Representatives institutes impeachment proceedings by authorizing a formal inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee, which may then recommend articles of impeachment (an impeachment resolution) for a vote by the full House (articles of impeachment may also be introduced in the House without a formal inquiry). If the articles are approved, a trial is held in the Senate, and conviction is obtained by a vote of at least two-thirds of the senators present. In Great Britain conviction on an impeachment has resulted in fine and imprisonment and even in execution, whereas in the United States the penalties extend no further than removal and disqualification from office. (p.1)

            Historically, both the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton led to a formal charge of misconduct; however, in both cases, there were not enough votes to remove either president from office (U.S. Senate, 2018). However, with the rising controversy over President Trump’s administration, is there enough evidence to bring forth articles of impeachment and conviction? To thoroughly examine the issue of impeachment within the classroom, we recommend using a method of inquiry; the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) coupled with the richness of academic debate (C3 Teachers, 2016).

Inquiry Using the IDM

  “Historical inquiry involves a process of learning and discovering in a cultivated culture of thinking and doing” (Kalmon, O’Neill-Jones, Stout, & Wood, 2012, p. 18).  Participating in this process gives students the ability to research, inquire, and gather information to support one side of an argument. Historical inquiries allow students to develop and construct interpretive accounts based on incomplete, complete, or contradictory information (van Drie & van Boxtel, 2008). “Students who research an issue then argue in support of it have a deeper, more meaningful encounter with the material than they do merely reading about it in a textbook” (Tumposky, 2004, p. 52). Thus, inquiry is a student-centered approach, along with guidance and facilitation from the teacher, resulting in a productive classroom environment (Grant, Swan, & Lee, 2017).

Inquiry fosters academic investigation and gathering evidence-based research for supporting arguments and conclusions (Levy, Thomas, Drago, and Rex, 2013). Inquiry also develops a deeper understanding through historical thinking skills that promote a democratic citizenship (Barton & Avery, 2016; Lévesque, 2008). Inquiry-based instruction embodies the rich fullness of the C3 Framework by engaging in disciplinary exploration that leads to defending ideas and concepts (NCSS, 2013). Social studies teachers can begin to introduce topics through developing compelling questions. These questions frame out the inquiry and provide a reference point for students. In addition, at the end of the inquiry, each student should be able, through careful research and collaboration, to develop a concise argument that answers the compelling question. Therefore, the compelling questions become the catalyst for the starting the inquiry.

Inquiry Design Model (IDM) Blueprint

Compelling QuestionWhat is the legal standard and procedure to impeach a president?
Standards and Practices2010 Alabama Course of Study- Social Studies 6th
Grade- 12-2 Recognizing domestic issues that shaped the United States since World War II Examples: McCarthyism, Watergate scandal, political assassinations, health care, impeachment, Hurricane Katrina 10th

Grade- 15-5 Explaining causes for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson 11th

Grade- 16 Describe significant foreign and domestic issues of presidential administrations from Richard M. Nixon to the present.

Examples: Nixon’s policy of détente; Cambodia; Watergate scandal; pardon of Nixon; Iranian hostage situation; Reaganomics; Libyan crisis; end of the Cold War; Persian Gulf War; impeachment trial of William “Bill” Clinton  

College and Career Readiness Standards – History/Social Studies 11-12

CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.5 Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.  
Staging the QuestionUsing the video clip on Presidential impeachment, how successful has the impeachment process regarding the removal of a President?
Impeachment Video  
Supporting Question 1 Supporting Question 2 Supporting Question 3
What is the process of impeachment described by the Constitution?  What were the charges and results of President Andrew Johnson’s and President Bill Clinton’s impeachment?Is there evidence to impeach President Trump?
Formative Performance TaskFormative Performance TaskFormative Performance Task
Write a paragraph describing the constitutional process of presidential impeachment.      Students will compare and contrast the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.      Students will participate in a debate on the impeachment of President Trump. Students will be asked to work in collaborative groups, using the Debate with Inquiry Mode for Social Studies, to develop their argument and reach a conclusion.
Featured SourcesFeatured SourcesFeatured Sources
  U.S. Constitution      Trial of Andrew Johnson The Articles of Impeachment of President Andrew Johnson
Trial of Bill Clinton
The Articles of Impeachment of President Bill Clinton
Mueller Report Mueller’s Testimony Ukraine Transcript      
Summative Performance TaskArgumentStudents will develop an interactive website, detailing the processes, historical aspects (former Presidents), and current examinations of Presidential impeachment. The purpose of this assignment is for students to display their understanding and expertise, while presenting their final product to their peers.  Website development using Wix
ExtensionStudents will construct a Presidential Interactive Timeline on impeachment; thus, providing information on the process, past impeachments, but also listing information to support or oppose the impeachment of President Trump. Timeline using Sutori
Taking Informed ActionAfter understanding the process of impeachment, and examining the evidence concerning President Trump, construct a letter to a local (Alabama) legislator arguing for or against articles of impeachment for President Trump.

Emphasizing Debate with the Inquiry

One of the most exciting and engaging activities among teachers and students is debate (Doyle, 2007). Debating in class incorporates the development of various types of skills that correlate with critical thinking, such as research, oral communication, organization, and logic (Jackson, 1973). According to Hooley (2007), debates and classroom discussions grants students the opportunity to gather information, discern what is essential, analyze the content, and frame their argument. Debating in the classroom embodies an open-ended format of historical scholarship with the emphasis placed on student discussions with colleagues in formulating deeper understandings of history (Musselman, 2004).  “Despite this political emphasis, middle and high school U.S. curricula rarely delve into the political bickering that surrounded governmental acts or discuss how historical events have helped today’s political landscape” (Journell, 2014, p. 57). In the deeply political divisiveness of our nation, having students respectfully debate political issues in a social studies classroom could be considered instructionally controversial (Taylor, 2017). However, with the growing need for students to understand multiple viewpoints and to construct decisions that engages their active citizenship, there is a need to model and experience the concept of debate while exploring evidence through the instructional method of inquiry.

Likewise, within the IDM model, additional supporting questions can be used for groups of students based on the affirmative and the opposing positions while implementing a debate as an activity within the inquiry. Social studies teachers could also provide featured sources or guide students through the research process of the inquiry.

Along with the C3 teachers IDM Model, we also developed a debate model that overlaps the IDM. Although the IDM offers an excellent framework for developing an inquiry-based investigation into multiple topics, we added an additional resource that extends from the IDM, in which students can develop their arguments by using pertinent information and also write down opposing points of view on the topic. Formulating historical arguments are based on using quotes, citations, and references (Poitras & Lojoie, 2013). By adding a place for an oppositional viewpoint, the student is then able to view the topic from multiple perspectives. Therefore, by the end of the debate, students can reflect in a debriefing session and ultimately reach their own decision based on the classroom debate.

Figure 1. Debate with Inquiry Model for Social Studies by Hammack, Matherson, and Wilson, 2018.

Using Debate Instructionally

Debating in the classroom grants students the opportunity to strengthen the development of an argument, supported by evidence, while allowing students to meet the challenges of critical thinking and oral persuasion (Dundes, 2001). Hunt (2006) contends that the benefit of debate extends past the content alone, helping with the advancement of critical thinking skills, research, and self-esteem. The National Council for the Social Studies (2008) notes that students can learn necessary skills in solving issues and problems through debates and discussions, which include the use of inquiry. However, to make a debate successful in a class that allows students to evaluate multiple viewpoints respectfully, a debate framework, that includes inquiry, must be modeled and implemented. This is our proposed classroom debate framework:

  1. Display great debate models before you start a debate Example: CNN Crossfire (CNN, 2014).
  2. Before the debate, divide the class equally into small or large groups (Larson & Keiper, 2013).
  3. Cite evidence to support your argument (through inquiry-based instruction— Inquiry Design Model (C3 Teachers, 2016).
  4. Once the debate begins, only one person speaks at a time. (Doyle, 2007).
  5. Attack the argument and not the person. (Doyle, 2007).
  6. Have students take time to debrief; to be able to see both sides of the issue or topic. (Larson & Keiper, 2013).
  7. Allow students to reach a decision. (Larson & Keiper, 2013).

Model the Debate

Debate is an exciting method that naturally incorporates inquiry while developing ideas and arguments based on evidence. However, to have a great debate within a classroom, teachers must carefully select a platform of debate. One method of debate that we recommend within our framework is a “Crossfire” platform (CNN, 2014). Taken from CNN’s Crossfire program, this debate platform allows a moderator to delegate questions and equal amounts of time for both sides of a debate to put forth their best argument concerning a specific topic. For classroom purposes, teachers could easily serve as moderators within a class; allowing for students to present their best arguments. Also, modeling expectations regarding a debate could serve as a great example: thus, playing several excellent excerpts from the CNN Crossfire show could be a superb example for students.

Equally Dividing the Class

            Equally dividing the class is also a crucial element within our framework of debate. A division must happen so that the class, as a whole, can experience the multiple perspectives concerning the topic. This will later add to the cognitive ability and skill of the students to be able to reach a conclusion after hearing and experiencing both sides of a particular issue. This will allow every student the opportunity to critically think about the evidence that has been presented and draw upon both the affirmative and the opposition. Even if the group or groups of students might already have a bias toward a particular issue it is important for students to argue from multiple perspectives so that they can have greater expertise concerning the subject matter and evaluate the issue after considering different subjective opinions.

Starting the Debate

            After students have gathered their information from using the IDM model, they can meet either collaboratively in small groups or large groups to discuss their findings relating to their research and inquiry. This collaboration allows time to formulate their potential arguments and examine counter-arguments that could be raised in the debate. Doyle (2007) contends that a well-organized debate should allow one person to speak at a time. Doyle’s (2007) position coincides with the CNN Crossfire model, which allows the moderator to give a specific amount of time, that is undisturbed, for each person to express their perspective. Jackson (1973) stated that, “since debate usually requires a cooperative effort, with at least one other person, in preparing for the final presentation, students should gain valuable insights into the processes involved in a dyadic relationship. This learning experience also offers an opportunity for the teacher to utilize the principles of peer-teaching” (p. 152). 

Debates can often spark emotions due to the nature of the issue and how it might affect the participants. To give students a civil experience in social discourse, teachers might consider explaining how to attack and defend the argument, and not the person (Doyle, 2017). Therefore, social studies teachers need to provide a respectful environment, so that multiple perspectives and opinions are valued, even if students do not agree. Respect is often defined as “worth of high regard or esteem.” (Merriam-Webster, 2019). “There is, then, an opportunity to discuss controversial issues in a context where participants have real disagreements and positions in which they have some investment” (Zimmerman & Roberston, 2018, p.13).

Debrief the Debate

            Once the debate has concluded, one of the compelling perspectives of using debate is to allow for students to debrief. Debriefing allows each student an opportunity to reflect on the inquiry-based research and presentation of arguments given concerning the topic. This type of cognitive reflection allows students to employ their critical thinking skills to examine their positionality now that they have heard multiple perspectives on the topic.

Duhaylongsod (2017) argues that using debates as a type of instruction gives “students valuable opportunities to practice both listening to different perspectives and sharing their differences in a manner that is civil, which is what we want future citizens to do in public discourse, whether on paper, online, or face to face on a stage” (p. 114). 

Having Students Reach a Conclusion

            After debriefing the debate, the students will have an opportunity to metacognitively reach a conclusion based on the information and oral arguments that were performed during the debate. This portion of the debate is often missed in classrooms but offers a time of crucial reflectivity for students. After finishing all arguments, and after carefully reflecting and evaluating both sides of the issues presented, students now have to reach their own conclusion. Instead of viewing information from personal perspectives, students can reflect on all the information that was presented and argued; thus, leading each individual student in constructing their own personal opinion on the topic.

Beyond the Debate by Informed Action

            After the debate has concluded, classroom teachers might decide to extend beyond the debate with greater relevance by offering students a taking informed action activity as part of the IDM model. “Informed action can take numerous forms (e.g., discussions, debates, presentations) and can occur in a variety of contexts both inside and outside of the classroom” (Grant, Swan, & Lee, 2017, p. 110). Other activities might include becoming a part of a local or community organization, or leading or starting a new community project. This form of social action allows students to become engaged within the community; therefore, using their knowledge from the debate and inquiry into active citizenship. This begins the process of encouraging students to take ownership of a civic challenge, developing the skills to take meaningful action; thus, learning through their practical citizenship (Levinson, 2012).  This part of civic participation has greater meaning as students extend from their classroom environments into community environments.

            For this specific inquiry, we have asked students to construct a letter to their local congressional legislator in support or opposition to developing articles of impeachment regarding President Trump. Our curriculum goal for this inquiry is for students to explain and describe the constitutional requirements of impeachment, comprehend by comparing and contrasting historical outcomes of past presidential impeachments, and evaluate and assess the current impeachment inquiry, while making a decision regarding the recent evidence concerning President Trump.


             For our democratic society to have participatory citizens that are active in researching, evaluating information from multiple viewpoints, and developing their arguments, classrooms must be able to display and engage in a similar form of social discourse. Inquiry along with debate grants classroom teachers an opportunity to model democratic principles by giving students a venue to model democratic ideals through the free exchange of ideas and concepts (Dewey, 1918). In addition to simple argumentation, students must be able to inquire, research, collectively articulate ideas and concepts, and to cognitively reflect in a respectful setting. Students that regularly participate in classroom discussions are more engaged, more likely to vote, follow the news, and be involved in political discussions (Hess & McAvoy, 2015).  According to Vygotsky, the scaffolding of higher-order thinking skills of cognitive development is accomplished through the social interaction of peer learning; such as peer discussion, cooperative learning, and project-based learning (Vygotsky, 1978).

            Our goal for sharing this impeachment inquiry, along with a debate framework, is to present social studies teachers with the resources to develop a meaningful instructional method that can be applied in multiple topics throughout the social studies curriculum. By doing so, students will gain the necessary skills and intellectual growth to continue this process from the classroom to their communities; thus, exploring, searching, and modeling solutions that involve a rich social, but respectful discourse.


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Grant, S. G., Swan, K., & Lee, J. (2017). Inquiry-based practice in social studies education: understanding the inquiry design model. New York, NY: Routledge.

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Hooley, D. (2007). Speaking My Mind: The Importance of High School Debate. The English Journal96(5), 18–19.

Hunt, I. (2006). May Madness! A classroom competition merges historical research with public debate. Social Education, 70(5), 304-308.

Jackson, M. (1973). Debate: A neglected teaching tool. Peabody Journal of Education, 50(2), 150-154.

Journell, W. (2014). Teaching Politics in the U.S. History Classroom. The History Teacher48(1), 55–69.

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Teaching a People’s History of Abolition and the Civil War

Edited by Adam Sanchez

Review by Aleisha Forbes

     First, I want to state that I am reviewing this book from three perspectives: from the standpoint of an educator with an advanced certificate in Secondary Education, as a historian with a master’s degree in History, and as an African American woman. This book, Teaching a People’s History of Abolition and the Civil War, is essential for various reasons. Primarily it pushes students to challenge their assumptions about enslavement and the response to the question of “who freed the slaves?” Students are taken on a journey in which they recognize the agency of the enslaved while dispelling the “Great Man” narrative that names Abraham Lincoln the “Great Emancipator.” Finally, this book aims to be encouraging and uplifting by promoting the possibility of social change by often overlooked historical actors. It inspires students to recognize their parts in resisting unjust authority figures in their own lives.

     Although this book may seem idealistic in its aims, it takes a very systematic approach to increasing student engagement when dealing with a polarizing segment of American history. The authors aptly include poetry and art, along with primary and secondary source analysis. The book offers units of varied lengths depending on what the teacher is able to implement in their curriculum. As a teacher with knowledge of the students in my classroom, I wouldn’t follow their prescribed trajectory completely. The lessons that seem most valuable from my perspective are lesson one: Frederick Douglass fights for freedom; lesson two: poetry of defiance; lesson five: raising the voices of abolitionists through art; lesson eight: a war to free the slaves; and lesson nine: who freed the slaves.

     The authors explains that if necessary, a teacher can begin at lesson eight, which is focused on Lincoln, in order to increase student “buy-in” to the unit’s topic. Lesson eight challenges the myth that the civil war was a war to free the slaves. It does this from an inquiry-based perspective where students investigate the statement that Lincoln and the North fought the Civil War to free the slaves. It also poses the question: How might U.S. history have turned out differently had the Southern states accepted Lincoln’s offer in 1861 to support the original 13th amendment to the Constitution which would have guaranteed slavery forever. This is a compelling question because in my experience, students are always interested in examining alternative versions of history and answering the question “What If?” Overall this lesson seems to be very engaging for students because it is discussion centered, however it needed more direct teacher modeling if this would be the first lesson in the unit. If presented to a classroom of diverse learners, the text would need to be chunked while defining challenging vocabulary for students and pushing them to write gist statements of what they read in their own words. This would ensure that they are able to grapple with the rigorous material of Lincoln’s inaugural address and the Emancipation Proclamation.

     A method that the authors included to assist diverse learners was “role-play. “Lesson seven, a role-play on the election of 1860, was in my opinion the most complicated lesson in the series. It was a multi-step lesson that required vast preparation on the part of the instructor. Although it is worthy because it will increase student involvement and ownership of their learning, the teacher may be apprehensive due to the theatrical nature of this lesson. The major benefit of this lesson is the fact that is outlines the campaign points of the various candidates. However, it assumes that all students will be compliant and get into character in order to achieve lesson outcomes. All in all, this lesson is a great support for students with varying learning styles who need a more hands on approach to learning, but it can be time consuming to implement properly.

     The most intriguing lessons were lesson two: poetry of defiance, and lesson five: raising the voices of abolitionists through art. Both lessons present the narrative of resistance in captivating ways. Lesson two uses poetry to challenge the notion that slaves were happy and protected while in the system of enslavement. Students examine quotes that illustrate several methods that the enslaved incorporated to resist the system of oppression. This lesson lends itself to the opportunity to make several text-to-world connections in the form of Negro spirituals such as “Wade in the Water” and popular movies such as “Beloved 1998” and “Birth of a Nation 2016.” Making these instructional decisions will assist students in the culminating poem writing exercise. It is a spectacular tool in shifting the narrative of enslavement for the next generation of students, especially with present day figures such as Kanye West spewing false accounts that slavery was a choice. The powerful quotes that are included in this text illustrate that the enslaved were far from mentally imprisoned. On the contrary, they were the architects in their own form of resistance and freedom.

     Lesson five brings this project full circle because it connects the voices of abolitionists through art with contemporary artists who use art as a form of opposition. Two of these pieces, Frederick Douglass’ “the meaning of July fourth for the negro” and Sojourner Truth’s “ain’t I a woman” are poignant pieces that are sure to draw out responses from students, especially in the era of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest and the growth of the Me-Too movement. In the social studies classroom, we often task students with image analysis of political cartoons and various art pieces, but there is value in having them create their own illustrations to powerful speeches that were aimed in invoking strong feelings from the reader. In my own classroom, I use illustrations for vocabulary practice and poster presentations. However, using it in response to famous historical pieces is an important instructional decision.

     All in all, this book is a valuable tool in a 21st century social studies classroom. It challenges students’ misconceptions and pushes them to be more civic minded. The use of role-play and the incorporation of art and poetry along with primary and secondary source analysis present a balanced approach to teaching about a difficult topic.

     In my own instructional practice, I have struggled to find effective lessons on slavery, abolition, and the Civil War. This book of lessons will allow me to incorporate new techniques into my teaching. My main concerns about the implementation of role-play activities, the chunking of challenging texts, definition of challenging vocabulary, and modeling of rigorous material are all instructional choices that a teacher can make to adapt the material to meet the needs of students in their classroom. This book will help Rethinking Schools achieve their goals of helping students realize the possibility of social change, especially on the part of ordinary citizens by analyzing the toppling of the institution of slavery by abolitionists and the enslaved alike. Students will be able to realize the impact they can make in the world, whether they aim to tackle school shootings, racism and injustice, or immigration and female empowerment in order to shift their outlook.

Evaluating the New Global History and Geography Regents

     In June 2019, New York State high schools had the option of having students take the new Global History and Geography Regents or one based on the earlier format. Both exams cover world history and geography since 1750. The three-part new exam included 28 multiple choice question, each based on document analysis of a quote or image (Part I); two sets of constructed response questions, each based on a pair of documents (Part II); and an “enduring issues essay” requiring students to identify “a challenge of problem that has been debated or discussed across time” and “that many societies have attempted to address with varying degrees of success” (Part III). For the “enduring issues essay” students were provided with five documents and expected to identify and define an enduring issue presented in the documents, argue why the issue they selected is significant, and how it has endured across time. There essay was required to include a “historically accurate interpretation of at least three documents” and “relevant outside information from your knowledge of social studies.” The initial “enduring issues essay” had documents on the industrialization of Great Britain in the 19th century and its impact on world trade, the continuing problem of child labor, the export of electronic waste across international boundaries, a contemporary commentary of globalization, and an advertisement for South Asian tea in a British newspaper. The easiest enduring issues to discuss would be “Impact of Trade” or “Impact of Globalization,” however students could also make a case for “Impact of Technology,” “Impact of Industry,” “Impact of Imperialism,” and “Tensions between Traditional Cultures and Modernization.” The EngageNY website has an online enduring issues chart ( . A video describing the new exam is online at Both Global Regents formats will be issued through June 2020. The United States History Regents will have a similar transition from June 2020 through June 2021.

Below is a sample document pairing with two multiple choice questions from the exam:

. . “I started from Cork, by the mail, [coach] (says our informant), for Skibbereen and saw little until we came to Clonakilty, where the coach stopped for breakfast; and here, for the first time, the horrors of the poverty became visible, in the vast number of famished poor, who flocked around the coach to beg alms: amongst them was a woman carrying in her arms the corpse of a fine child, and making the most distressing appeal to the passengers for aid to enable her to purchase a coffin and bury her dear little baby. This horrible spectacle induced me to make some inquiry about her, when I learned from the people of the hotel that each day brings dozens of such applicants into the town. . . .”

Source: James Mahony, “Sketches in the West of Ireland,” Illustrated London News, February 13, 1847 (adapted)

What is the most likely purpose of this document?

  1. to highlight the benefits of free markets
  2. to record the negative impact of child labor
  3. to minimize the impacts of agricultural innovations
  4. to inspire social and political reform  

The conditions described in this passage directly resulted in

  1. Ireland invading Britain
  2. millions of Irish emigrating to the United States
  3. most landlords forgiving the rent the Irish owed
  4. Britain agreeing to withdraw from Ireland

Teaching Social Studies asked New York State social studies teachers to comment on the new exam.

Karla Freire, Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning High School, Queens, NY:  I am concerned that if the new framework for the Global Regents, if not improved in some areas, will ultimately harm rather than help our students. The areas of the exam I find problematic, are Parts II and III. Both of these sections contain questions that need rephrasing or concepts that need to be changed completely, in order for students to better understand what is being asked of them. For example, several constructedresponse questions need to be clarified. Providing a document and asking a student to describe the historical context or events that led to what is being described, is not enough. It is vague and confusing. Having an open-ended question like this, with an endless possibility of answers, may appear to be helpful, however, the reality is that it is too broad of a question for any student to answer in a timely manner. If a student was anything like I was in school, the first instinct for a very studious student is to overthink the question. For example, a myriad of factors led to major events and paradigm shifts in history. Events, such as, conquest and colonization cannot be explained by one sole factor or motive. Therefore, by asking a student to explain which events led to a major historical event, it can be overwhelming for the students to go through all the possible answers to this question. How will they be able to determine which events are the “correct” ones to mention in their answer? On the other hand, if a student did not prepare as much for this exam, they would not be able to determine an answer, either. He or she may be greatly discouraged to even attempt to answer such a question, given the enormity of history. It’s much too broad, and one cannot ask anyone to historically contextualize an image or text within 2-3 lines of space. Additionally, within the 2-3 lines that are provided, the chances that students are producing actual analysis is slim. It is more likely that a factual, rote answer regarding historical chronology will be constructed. We need to reframe the question and ask for specifics. For example, “explain 1-2 factors that led to the Industrial Revolution” and allow for space for a larger response. Otherwise, it should be eliminated, given that our goal as educators is to push students towards critical analysis. In Part III, the “Enduring Issues” essay is flawed in the sense that anything can be described as an enduring issue in history. Once again, history is being viewed much too broadly. Accepted enduring issues, such as “interconnections,” can be anything from cultural diffusion to trade to peace treaties. It is an unusual and unrealistic way of interpreting history. Other acceptable enduring issues, like “conflict,” is problematic given that history is filled with conflicts. Having a student write an entire essay on a general category, can lead to redundant answers that are void of analysis. Overall, as a Social Studies teacher, the new Global Regents will shape how I will plan curriculum, as I will have to schedule time to teach students how to successfully take this exam. Ultimately, it is more classroom time dedicated to teaching solely for a test, because historians do not interpret history in the same way the Regents does.

Alicia Szilagyi, Hutchinson Central Technical High School. Buffalo, NY: Overall, the exam was fair, and what I had expected. The questions for the most of the multiple choice and document selections were fair and expected. The Enduring Issues piece was excellent. There are a variety of topics that could apply to the EI. The CRQ was nicely done as well. The only questions I really was not a fan of were: 9 & 10. The Political Cartoon had too much symbolism going on, and the choices were not that great. Given that we cannot rate our examinations, until we have our conversion charts, and are unable to analyze trends – I feel I cannot answer this question yet. In the future, my primary focus will be on writing skills, cross-topical teaching, and applications. A lot of the questions were not comprehension-based, but content-based. It required our students to draw on content knowledge that is very specific.

Kim Cristal, West Irondequoit Central School District:  I am responding before we’ve started scoring… but my and my department’s feeling was that the assessment was totally fair and aligned with our expectations. We felt our efforts for preparation aligned to what the test looked like. We will continue refining the major shifts we’ve already made over the past two years. Overall, we feel relieved and confident that we did all we could to prep our students.

Fayezeah Fischer, Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management:  The exam was basically a DBQ question with choices. The readings were too long. The readings were too lengthy for a special education student. If the person creating the question, had to pick a document that required them to re-read several times, that person should reconsider the document or the wording of the question. The Mao Zedong document was a terribly worded document and discussed a time period that is not discussed in length. It was difficult to prepare the students for the multiple choice. I think we all had a false sense of the length of documents to be used for multiple choice, and the amount of inferring the student would need to do. The enduring issue wasn’t too bad. I think that ended up being the most subjective item to teach. The Irish Potato famine question, and the Mao Zedong question were terrible questions. Again, these are not topics well covered (or enough time to cover Mao to that extent.) As a department we also believed that the point value on the 3rd CRQ should be two not one. If this type of exam is going to be given, then the amount of curriculum to be taught needs to be reduced. We cover so much, and the true depth and understanding can’t truly be met that is expected from this exam. I think the enduring issue did a fair assessment though. That was the student demonstrating their knowledge. I plan on getting to the 20th century sooner, and using more readings to help the students get use to longer documents. I also plan on changing the multiple choice to more document based than I did this year. I did use New Visions multiple choice, and I don’t think they used anything as rigorous as we saw on this exam. Rigorous questions will need to be created by myself to better prepare my students. We can only hope for a generous conversion chart for this first exam.