How the Why America Is Free Curriculum
Addresses Slavery While Promoting Good Citizenship, Equality, and Unity
The Why America Is Free Curriculum addresses slavery during the American Revolution and Founding period directly, as an integral part of the early history of this nation. At the same time, the theme that every citizen owns this nation and its history equally and is due all rights and responsibilities of citizenship in equal measure pervades the study. The contrasts between realities of life in late 18th century America and the world-changing, noble civic values they chose for the new nation are woven into the unfolding study.
First, in Science in an interactive and dramatic multimedia experience, students learn what these world-changing Enlightenment values are: natural rights, equality before the law, the duty of governments to serve the governed and protect their natural rights, and others. They learn how these ideas developed and both how and why they took root in America and became the foundational values of the United States.
In Social Studies before beginning the Why America Is Free Curriculum, students spend many weeks studying Native Americans, colonization, and slavery in the American colonies. Building on what they know from these units, the study expands their knowledge of the historical context of mid to late 18th Century America. Students find that the Enlightenment ideal of equality under the law was understood and applied much more restrictively then. Native Americans, African-American slaves, freedmen, and freemen, women, and children were markedly "less equal" before the law and in social standing in varying degrees than the leading White men of property or church in the social order of the time. Radical ideals like justice for all and natural rights were newer, and were also narrowly understood and applied. Nonetheless, when the privileged leaders of the Patriots risked all they had to fight for independence, they chose these noble civic ideals that would benefit everyone as the foundation of this new nation, and the ideals resounded profoundly within all people.
Blacks who learned of the words of the Declaration of Independence hoped for freedom. The war itself had an impact on enslaved people, and likewise enslaved and free Blacks had an impact on both the war and on widely held opinions about them and slavery. Because personal nonfiction stories help students understand, the Curriculum has a wealth of them. One story reveals that during the winter at Valley Forge, Lafayette, appalled by slavery in the country that was fighting under the credo "... that all men are created equal, ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, ... Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" opened the eyes of slave owner John Laurens to the utter wrongness of enslavement, with far-reaching results. Getting to know Black soldiers personally influenced far more soldiers, including Washington himself. But it was the civic ideals of the Declaration, read and discussed all over the 13 states and beyond, that awakened far more people to the need to abolish slavery.
Students see that from the very beginning, though light years ahead of other countries in self-governance and protection under the law, we have been a nation striving to reach ideals stated in our founding documents. Understanding historical context helps them make sense of the challenges and struggle toward equality then and since, so that they are inspired to take part in it responsibly while loving their country.
Day after day, through lessons in any different subjects, they discuss, debate, role-play, model, and journal about these issues both in 18th century historical context and in their lives today. The experiences they have leading up to and during the Patriots Day make the fight to win independence so real and so personal that when they get to the challenges of creating a government based on these new ideas, they care. They want to understand the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the way government is supposed to function. Because they do understand the historical context, they take in the reasons the Founders did not stop slavery with the Constitution, and they see that the debates at the Constitutional Convention over abolition as a provision created the impetus with northern states to abolish the institution. They want to learn how the nation moved forward in expanding freedoms and rights more equitably, and very much want to work together responsibly to help our nation continue its progress toward its ideals.
Learning about and from the lives of outstanding 18th Century men, women, and children of diverse ethnicities and points of view is another unifying element in the Curriculum. Students compile a book of role models and identify those strengths of character they admire and intend to develop in themselves.
The Curriculum also creates habits of civility: respectful behavior toward all others, self-respect, and self-control, as well as critical thinking and principle-based decision-making techniques that hold everyone to the same standards of behavior that are equally fair to all and good for society. These are among the tools of good citizenship that are taught early in the Curriculum and thereafter consistently practiced.
The Why America Is Free Curriculum uses all these integrated and experiential teaching methods to plant the feet of every student in the soil of this nation. It does so by teaching accurately, without glossing over wrongs, while grounding them in their ownership of our nation whose extraordinary civic ideals are the foundation of government and the evolving goals of our society. It also gives them social and intellectual tools, preparing and inspiring them to become good citizens who understand, embrace, and responsibly work to achieve EQUALITY, SOCIAL JUSTICE and other CIVIC IDEALS upon which our nation was founded.
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