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Lesson Plan

Longfellow Studies: Longfellow's "The Village Blacksmith" and "Whitman's Song of Myself" - Alternative Constructions of the American Worker

Grade Level: 9-12 Content Area: English Language Arts, Social Studies
Most if not all of us have or will need to work in the American marketplace for at least six decades of our lives. There's a saying that I remember a superintendent telling a group of graduating high-school seniors: remember, when you are on your deathbed, you will not be saying that you wish you had spent more time "at the office." But Americans do spend a lot more time working each year than nearly any other people on the planet. By the end of our careers, many of us will have spent more time with our co-workers than with our families. Already in the 21st century, much has been written about the "Wal-Martization" of the American workplace, about how, despite rocketing profits, corporations such as Wal-Mart overwork and underpay their employees, how workers' wages have remained stagnant since the 1970s, while the costs of college education and health insurance have risen out of reach for many citizens. It's become a cliché to say that the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" is widening to an alarming degree. In his book Wealth and Democracy, Kevin Phillips says we are dangerously close to becoming a plutocracy in which one dollar equals one vote. Such clashes between employers and employees, and between our rhetoric of equality of opportunity and the reality of our working lives, are not new in America. With the onset of the industrial revolution in the first half of the nineteenth century, many workers were displaced from their traditional means of employment, as the country shifted from a farm-based, agrarian economy toward an urban, manufacturing-centered one. In cities such as New York, groups of "workingmen" (early manifestations of unions) protested, sometimes violently, unsatisfactory labor conditions. Labor unions remain a controversial political presence in America today. Longfellow and Whitman both wrote with sympathy about the American worker, although their respective portraits are strikingly different, and worth juxtaposing. Longfellow's poem "The Village Blacksmith" is one of his most famous and beloved visions: in this poem, one blacksmith epitomizes characteristics and values which many of Longfellow's readers, then and now, revere as "American" traits. Whitman's canto (a section of a long poem) 15 from "Song of Myself," however, presents many different "identities" of the American worker, representing the entire social spectrum, from the crew of a fish smack to the president (I must add that Whitman's entire "Song of Myself" is actually 52 cantos in length). I do not pretend to offer these single texts as all-encompassing of the respective poets' ideas about workers, but these poems offer a starting place for comparison and contrast. We know that Longfellow was the most popular American poet of the nineteenth century, just as we know that Whitman came to be one of the most controversial. Read more widely in the work of both poets and decide for yourselves which poet speaks to you more meaningfully and why.

Lesson Plan

Longfellow Studies: Longfellow Meets German Radical Poet Ferdinand Freiligrath

Grade Level: 9-12 Content Area: English Language Arts, Social Studies
During Longfellow's 1842 travels in Germany he made the acquaintance of the politically radical Ferdinand Freiligrath, one of the influential voices calling for social revolution in his country. It is suggested that this association with Freiligrath along with his return visit with Charles Dickens influenced Longfellow's slavery poems. This essay traces Longfellow's interest in the German poet, Freiligrath's development as a radical poetic voice, and Longfellow's subsequent visit with Charles Dickens. Samples of verse and prose are provided to illustrate each writer's social conscience.

Lesson Plan

Longfellow Studies: Longfellow Amongst His Contemporaries - The Ship of State DBQ

Grade Level: 9-12 Content Area: English Language Arts, Social Studies
Preparation Required/Preliminary Discussion: Lesson plans should be done in the context of a course of study on American literature and/or history from the Revolution to the Civil War. The ship of state is an ancient metaphor in the western world, especially among seafaring people, but this figure of speech assumed a more widespread and literal significance in the English colonies of the New World. From the middle of the 17th century, after all, until revolution broke out in 1775, the dominant system of governance in the colonies was the Navigation Acts. The primary responsibility of colonial governors, according to both Parliament and the Crown, was the enforcement of the laws of trade, and the governors themselves appointed naval officers to ensure that the various provisions and regulations of the Navigation Acts were executed. England, in other words, governed her American colonies as if they were merchant ships. This metaphorical conception of the colonies as a naval enterprise not only survived the Revolution but also took on a deeper relevance following the construction of the Union. The United States of America had now become the ship of state, launched on July 4th 1776 and dedicated to the radical proposition that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights. This proposition is examined and tested in any number of ways during the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War. Novelists and poets, as well as politicians and statesmen, questioned its viability: Whither goes the ship of state? Is there a safe harbor somewhere up ahead or is the vessel doomed to ruin and wreckage? Is she well built and sturdy or is there some essential flaw in her structural frame?

Lesson Plan

Bicentennial Lesson Plan

Maine Statehood

Grade Level: 9-12 Content Area: Social Studies
Maine's quest for statehood began in the years immediately following the American Revolution. Though the state of Massachusetts consented to the separation in 1819 and Maine would ultimately achieve statehood in 1820, Maine’s split from Massachusetts was not without controversy and was not universally supported by people living in Maine. Using primary sources, students will explore the arguments for and against Maine statehood. Students will gather evidence and arguments to debate the statement: It is in the best interests of the people of Maine for Maine to become its own state.