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What Do You Believe?

  John LeFeber  
The political life of this nation runs on the attitudes and sense of identification that its citizens develop with parties and ideologies. The process of choosing or discovering those attitudes is often long and involved. This lesson explores political attitudes and beliefs and uses an innovative "foldable" tool to involve students who may be kinesthetic learners.

Lesson Plan by John LeFeber, Curriculum & Instructional Developer, National Council on Economic Education.


Objectives



StandardsSuggested grade level: 9th-12th. The student will:
  • define political terms that label the ideological spectrum in American politics;
  • determine the position of political parties and ideologies on key issues.


Introduction

  Democratic headquarters in Omaha  
Do you consider yourself a Democrat? Or are you a Republican? Are you an Independent, or a member of the Libertarians or Natural Law parties? Do you care?

We all live in a political world, and the decisions that policy makers take can change our lives. But the process of deciding your own political identity is a complicated one. What influences the way you think and vote?


The Resources

Links from within the Wessels Living History Farm site. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you'll be back to this page.] Direct the students to these pages to learn more about migration and immigration.

Other links.


The Process

PART 1
Have your students develop a graphic organizer that would demonstrate their understanding of political attitudes and the characteristics that make up those attitudes.

Using your student's graphic organizer discussion about political attitudes. Consider using the following questions:
  • What do you think the political terms Democrat and Republican mean?
  • What does it mean to be an independent?
  • What are some of the hot-button issues on which Republicans and Democrats differ?
  • What are the characteristics of a person who has been labeled a conservative or a liberal?
  • How do these two political positions differ in respect to social issues such as race relations, abortion, the environment, or education?
  • How are they different on fiscal policies such as taxation and government spending?

PART 2
Review with your students the broad spectrum of political ideologies that exists in American politics. Discuss with your students the following terms: conservative, liberal, moderate, radical, and reactionary. Consider using the following definitions in your discussion:

  • Conservative: People who hold conservative ideals favor keeping things the way they are or maintaining the status quo if it is what they desire. Conservatives are usually hesitant or cautious about adopting new policies, especially if they involve government activism in some way. They feel that the less government there is, the better. They agree with Jefferson's view that "the best government governs least."
  • Liberal: Liberals believe that the government should be actively involved in the promotion of social welfare of a nation's citizens. Liberals usually call for peaceful, gradual change within the existing political system. They reject violent revolution as a way of changing the way things are, often called the status quo.
  • Moderate: Moderates may share viewpoints with both liberals and conservatives. They are seen as tolerant of other people's views, and they do not hold extreme views of their own. They advocate a "go-slow" or "wait-and-see" approach to social or political change.
  • Radical: Seen as being on the far left of the political spectrum, radicals call for wide-sweeping rapid change in the basic structure of the political, social, or economic system. They may be willing to resort to extreme methods to bring about change, including the use of violence and revolution.
  • Reactionary: Sitting on the far right of the ideological spectrum, reactionaries want to go back to the way things were – the "good ol' days." Often reactionaries are willing to use extreme methods, such as repressive use of government power, to achieve their goals.

  Foldable on political attitudes  

Have your students create a four panel foldable per the instructions on this PDF file. Your students should then select four of the five ideologies and put one on each panel. Then, based on their knowledge and classroom discussion, have them illustrate each listed ideology on the respective panel.

PART 3
Explain to your students that political parties are loosely formed around broad political ideologies. Of the two major political parties, for example, Democrats are generally seen as liberal because they support government regulation of the economy. Republicans are generally seen as conservative because they advocate a reduction in government. Within parties, there are people who hold a variety of opinions on social and economic issues that fall along the spectrum of political ideologies, such as moderate Democrats, liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans, and moderate Republicans.

Have your students discuss current issues that impact their community. Have them develop consensus and select four issues and enter them on this worksheet. Then have your students work individually to determine and record the position that each one of the "ideologies" would take on the current issue identified.

Finish with a discussion about how positions are taken based on political ideologies and help the students develop and understanding on what they use to base their political positions.


Learning Advice

This might be a good opportunity to bring in some community members and have them discuss their political views.

Have some community political members come to class and have them debate questions that have been created by your students.


Conclusion

You have examined several factors that contribute to the develop of political attitudes. Now the challenge is to look at your political opinions and explore what has contributed to the development of these opinions. It has been said that "anyone can make a difference a positive difference, everyone should try."


Assessment Activity

  • Have your students research the political stand of their individual state representatives. After they have done their research have them develop a political position paper capturing the ideologies of their state representatives.
  • Use the Political Attitudes Form as an assessment tool, evaluating their completion and thoroughness.

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