In this post, I will provide the next day’s lesson after we discussed the concept “all men are created equal.”
“Yesterday, we discussed the proposition that all men are created,” I announced after my students finished the day’s activator, examining examples of irony.
“Where is this foundational principle, that makes you among the freest people in human history clearly stated?” “The Bill of Rights!” “The Constitution!” was the resounding answer from my 8th grade class. There were a few, no less quiet voices,saying, “The Declaration of Independence.”
I sternly told them that most of them were wrong and what they did not know was a threat to their freedom. Yes, I meant to scare them a little. And, yes, most of them realized that I was being hyperbolic. They’re quite used to me being a little theatrical.
As I had explained early in the week, I reminded my class that we were going to study George Orwell’s Animal Farm and that we needed to understand both its allegorical significance and, more importantly, its relevancy to the world in which they would become young adults.
I proclaimed, channeling my inner Al Pacino (check out Colonel Slade’s speech at the Baird School in Scent of a Woman), “If you do not understand where your rights originate, if you do not know where to go to point out the truth to power, than you will have no ability or right to protest what you perceive to be an infringement on your rights.”
Then I handed them The Will of the People:Readings in American Democracy, from the Great Books Foundation and asked them to find where that statement, “all men are created equal” could be found. The few who knew where to find the sentence eventually got the word around the classroom that it could be found in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.
Having given them some time to read and review what they studied earlier in the year in their social studies class, I then asked them how they knew that what I had handed them was true, was real. Was an accurate copy of the original.
The answers were interesting. “Because you’re the teacher.” “Because this looks similar to what we saw in social studies.” “Because, if you are lying, you’ll get fired.” “What? Are you telling us not to trust you?”
I went on to ask them where they could match the original with what they were holding in their hands. All of this thinking is getting them ready for the instance in Orwell’s Animal Farm where the animals who did not participate in the creation of the principles of Animalism nor in the creation of the condensed version created by the pigs, the 7 Commandments, ask Benjamin the donkey who can read, to read the Commandments which have been posted on a barn wall. After listening, the animals seem to remember the Commandments saying something different, but they can’t remember. Why? They were not a part of the process, they did not learn to read, and they did not question the pigs who created Animalism, created the Commandments, and changed them when it suited them. The result of this ignorance is their enslavement and their slaughter.
Not one student knew where to find the original Declaration of Independence. Not good considering how they live 15 miles from the United States National Archives where it and the Constitution can be found. I wish my school system didn’t make field trips so difficult. The ironies just compound themselves.
Some kids asked, “How do we know if those copies are the originals? How do we know that someone hasn’t changed the versions on display?” With a smile and an acknowledgement that that thought might border on conspiracy theory, I told them that questioning everything was a good thing.
And, here is where I told them of the need for an independent and free press. That the press has the responsibility to report on what our government is doing. And it is our responsibility to read and demand the facts. Not alternative facts. Not tweets. Real journalism based on real reporting.
What I showed them next was an attempt to help them see how to wade through the “noise” and figure out a truth. I made a pen and paper version of what I sketched on the board:
I explained how each of the black lines is a piece of reporting. A newspaper article, a magazine essay, a blog post, or an editorial. All of these pieces focus/report on one event. Say a tweet written by someone accusing another person of wiretapping his home. Maybe a tweet about one president accusing another of breaking a federal law without a shred of evidence or an understanding of the concept of truth. That’s the other green line. The one way off on the fringe. The intersection of all of these black lines is where facts can be found. At the intersection of everyone’s opinions and reporting is the most likely place to find something that actually happened. After reading multiple pieces, what these voices all discuss is likely a version of a truth.
The green line running through all of the black lines is the informed reader and citizen of a democracy. The green line is the person who immerses themselves in learning the facts and in working to figure out a truth. Not the truth (I’ll explore this idea in a later blog) but a truth. The informed citizen’s line, the green one, intersects and exists within the black lines. It cannot exist without a free press that is in turn, connected with the green line, the citizen willing to read and engage in the reporting.
With enough black lines working long and hard enough, our fundamental freedoms won’t be altered or lost.
Yes, minds are blown at this point. Most students are desperate for me to explain the difference between a truth and the truth. I’ll save that for another blog post. What I will say is that the truth requires a basketball.
The point of my simple (and oversimplified) image is to get them to understand that 1.) they cannot shoot off their mouths and say unsubstantiated nonsense without being challenged. 2.) they must have an informed opinion to be taken seriously and to be allowed in the “circle” of other informed opinions. 3.) it is their responsibility as members of the United States of America to be informed and to be engaged within the appropriateness of their age and what their parents provide.