Thursday, January 10, 2013

Building a New Nation

My 7th graders just started a unit on building a new nation. Their key vocabulary words are citizen, democracy, representation, crown, liberty, taxes and government. The students are given a brief history of the reasons behind the American Revolution which is then enforced through excerpts of speeches from Abigail Adams (supporting the colonists) and Nathan Powell (supporting the king). For one of my classes this abstract vocabulary is way too difficult and they are really not interested.(I don't really blame them..after all they will only have Turkish history for 12 years and they have their hero in Ataturk)..But for the other class one student spent her entire recess trying to understand why we would through a bunch of tea into the sea. She was genuinely interested, and when I explained it in terms of the cost one glass of chai plus some taxes for the King in England, she really understood and we had a great discussion.

I think the ultimate goal of this unit is not necessarily to understand American history but rather to have each student write and give a speech. The idea of speech writing is reinforced by the fact that on the pages directly following Abigail's and Nathan's speeches is as two page spread of "great" speeches in American history. Here's the list:

Abraham Lincoln - Gettysburg Address
Cesar Chavez- Political Activist but no speech referenced
Frederick Douglas - What to the Slave is the 4th of July?
Maya Angelou - On the Pulse of the Morning - not a speech but a poem..
Soujourner Truth - Ain't I a Woman
John F. Kennedy - Ask not what....but what you can do for your country.
Eleanor Roosevelt - Human Rights for UN but no speech referenced.
Barack Obama - No speech referenced but he "gave a good speech" before he became President.

This got me to wondering...Are there any "great" speeches given by conservatives to give balance to this list...some speeches that may have even influenced history? A quick Google search yielded many  positive results but here are just a few:

Ronald Reagan - A Time for Choosing
Milton Friedman - The Role of Government in our Society
Dinesh D'Souza - Why America is So Great

Coincidentally, I'm currently reading Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham which is an excellent refresher on the thinking, courage, risks, and doubts before, during and after the American Revolution. I'm sure there are numerous Jefferson speeches that could be referenced regarding Building a New Nation that would much better fit the theme and title of the unit and illustrate the goal of delivering a good speech than a poem by Maya Angelou or a political activist with no speech mentioned.

But then I ask myself why I care what a book is teaching across the Atlantic...and the answer is simple...I miss America...not the foreign view of America where were are the "bad guys" that "consume the most, fight the most, pollute the most, cause of most of the world's problems, and (oh, by the way, thanks for the billions in aid) donate the most." I miss the America where we work hard, do great things, change the world for better, and  to give just one small example make great, functional toilets.

So, to have some fun, I will locate a good speech...I'm open for suggestions here..and create a listening exercise of a "great" American speech by someone of my own choosing.

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