Agents of Change
Teaching American Elections
Standards and Skills
Standards of Learning: VUS.5; GOVT.9; GOVT.5; GOVT.16
Synthesizing Evidence; Comparing and Contrasting; Identifying the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship; Evaluating Critically the Quality, Accuracy and Validity of Information to Determine Misconceptions, Fact and Opinion, and Bias; Taking Knowledgeable, Constructive Action to Address Issues
Presidential elections mark the path for the future of the United States. It is as true today as it was during the Election of 1800, a controversial presidential election between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and only the fourth presidential election under the U.S. Constitution. Agents of Change videos and lesson plans help to teach students the importance of voting, both now and in the future from the backdrop of the Election of 1800, and will inspire students to use their vote to be the change they want to see in their communities and in their country.
- How can readers take an active role in evaluating content they read for accuracy and bias?
- How and why have voting rights expanded throughout United States history?
- How can factual information be spun to persuade audiences of an author’s opinion?
THE MEDIA & OPINIONS
Evaluating Publications from 1800
Opinions are formed when we absorb, evaluate and synthesize information. Even without thinking actively about it, we are constantly doing these three things—and thus, forming opinions. If, however, the information that we are absorbing contains slanted, biased or incorrect statements, this can lead to a slanted, biased or unsupported opinion. This means that, as we take in information, we must be critical thinkers and take an active role in evaluating that content for accuracy and bias.
How do we take an active role in evaluating the information that we consume? In this activity, we will highlight some easy strategies that can help students critically assess gathered information. We will do this through looking at newspaper articles from the Election of 1800.
Here are some parts of writing that we can look at to help find bias:
- Adjectives (i.e. immortal Washington, wise man, British citizen, etc.)
- Emotional or Loaded Words (i.e. destroy, enemy, insufferable, etc.)
- Interaction with the Reader (i.e. you can see, you must be able to, etc.)
- Unifying Statements (i.e. we are, fellow citizens, like me, etc.)
- Imperatives (i.e. must, ought, should, etc.)
Once we identify these words, we can then evaluate the publication by answering the following questions:
- Who is the author?
- Who does the author consider to be “we” or “us”?
- How does the author characterize people or events? Who are “the good”? Who are “the bad”?
- How should “we” think of “the good” and “the bad”?
- What should/ought/must we do according to the author?
- If the author makes any statements, how can I verify these statements?
After we have answered these questions, we can synthesize what we have learned from the article and form a more critical opinion based on our analysis.
At the “Newspaper Articles” link below you will find two separate articles and guided questions. Use the steps above and answer the accompanying questions to help analyze point of view and bias for each.
You can move through the articles and questions in whatever manner you find best for annotating and taking notes. For students, it can sometimes be best to first read it through once for comprehension, then analyze the text for purpose and bias.
Persuasion in Advertisements
Media advertisements can have a massive impact on any given voter and, in the Digital Age, when we are overloaded with information, it can be daunting to recognize the effect that advertising has on us.
Sometimes the same fact can be portrayed in one advertisement as a positive fact about an issue or candidate and in the very next advertisement it can be framed in a negative light. Skilled advertisers can take the very same information and twist it to be positive or negative through persuasive techniques.
The activity below can start to help students identify persuasion in advertisements and use that to identify bias. For this activity, we will create an advertisement for a selected candidate and either portray that candidate in a positive or negative way using the same information.
VOTE FOR ME
Remembering Voting Rights Movements
When we are faced with the responsibility of voting, sometimes the burdensome weight of researching candidates, revising views, reading amendments and issues, etc., can become overwhelming. Or sometimes it can seem as though one individual vote does not matter in a sea of other people voting.
It can help motivate us to cast our ballot if we remember who fought for our rights to vote. Whether it was a Patriot from the American Revolution who helped overthrow the ruling monarchy to create our Constitutional Republic, or a Senator or Representative who authored an amendment, or a participant in a movement who spent their free time protesting, there were people who fought long and hard for the rights that we have today.
Research someone from history who was involved in expanding suffrage. Think of them when you submit your vote on Election Day and tell those around you about their work and legacy with those around. You can choose from the list below or choose someone not on this list:
- Molly Pitcher
- James Armistead Lafayette
- John Jay
- Susan B. Anthony
- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
- Ida B. Wells
- John Elk
- Mike Mansfield
- Frederick Douglass
- Ted Kennedy
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Alice Paul
ELECTION OF 1800: MEET THE CANDIDATES
In this video you will be introduced to the four candidates of the election of 1800 – John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Aaron Burr. Their comments are inspired by speeches, writings and general themes of the Federalist and Republican parties of the day. You will also see some short commentary that will be continued in the second video.
ELECTION OF 1800: DEMOCRACY DEBATE
In this video you will watch a fictionalized final debate between main candidates, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Their comments are based on actual events, words and ideals involving the two men. Following the debate, two of our educators will model bad communications skills vs. good communication skills and share ideas on how to incorporate these videos into your lesson plans.