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Civil Disobedience across Time

90 min
  • Students will be able to identify how natural law can be interpreted as the citizen’s duty to correct injustice by comparing Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech as practical interpretations of the natural law ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
  • Students will analyze primary source documents by answering comprehension questions to guide them to conclusions about the arguments presented in the documents.

This lesson assumes a level of familiarity with the principles of the U.S. Founding, particularly the idea of the natural rights of man.

Students will read the excerpt from the opening of the Declaration of Independence and answer some questions to analyze what the document says is the duty of people in the face of a violation of natural rights. After allowing time for the students to read the document and brainstorm responses with a partner, the teacher will lead a discussion. The discussion should allow students to share their interpretations.

In pairs, students will read two primary source documents, in Handouts B and C. Each student will read and analyze one of the documents. The students will then take turns sharing what they have learned about the document with each other. After the presentation, each student will then read the second document to see if they agree with the conclusions their partner has reached. In this stage, the teacher should move about the classroom to confirm that students are analyzing the documents correctly. This observation and questioning will serve as formative assessments for the lesson.

Each student will write an individual reflection essay responding to the prompt: Is injustice most effectively corrected by resistance to the system, or action using the tools the system provides? The essay must make specific citations to the texts to support each claim made in the essay.

Option 1: Student will conduct a peer review of the reflection essay written by the partner they worked with on this assignment.

  1. What claims has the writer made about the document?
  2. What evidence is cited to support each claim?
  3. Whether you agree with them or not, does the evidence cited provide a basis for each claim?

Option 2: Collect and assess each student’s essay using a classroom rubric.