Lesson
Duration:
One 50-minute class period

Working Together to Realize Our Shared Ideals

Essential Questions

  • What ideals unite us as a nation?
  • What factors divide us despite our shared ideals?
  • How can we work together to overcome the divisions in our society?

Overview

In this lesson, students will watch and respond to two video clips from the film American Creed in which Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and writer and advocate for civic education Eric Liu reflect on their family histories and the responsibility they feel to participate in and strengthen America’s democracy.

Before hearing Maddon’s and Liu’s American Creed stories, students will first reflect on the ideals they think we share in common as a nation, as well as what barriers get in the way of the realization of these ideals. Then, in the spirit of these activists’ efforts to engage people across difference in shared conversations and experiences, students will discuss the film clips using a strategy that promotes active listening and intellectual engagement. In the end, students will consider how they might choose to participate in the face of today’s many challenges by bringing the ideals they feel we share in common as a nation to realization.

Context

In the full-length version of American Creed, politicians, activists, veterans, and first-generation college students at Stanford University draw connections between their family stories and identities, reflect on what it means to be American, and share their ideas about what we aspire to as a nation. Diplomat Condoleezza Rice, historian David Kennedy, Major League Baseball manager Joe Maddon, and civic entrepreneur Eric Liu are just some of the individuals featured in the film who reflect on the notion of the “American dream” and challenge the viewer to engage in conversations across difference—to really listen to what others have to say and to hear their stories—in order to be reminded of the ideals that we share in common as a nation. The film poses a number of thought-provoking questions: “What is our common aspiration in the United States?” “What does it mean to be American?” and “In a fractured nation, what ideals do we hold in common?” While American Creed does not offer any definitive answers to these questions, the men and women featured in this film—through their commitment to service and fostering civil discourse—offer viewers a glimpse of what working together, in the words of David Kennedy, “to build and sustain healthy communities and not just individual lives” might look like.

Notes to Teacher

  1. Creating a Reflective and Respectful Community of Learners
    Because this lesson asks students to consider what it means to be American and the ideals that we share as a nation, it is important that your classroom is one that fosters mutual respect and an appreciation for different points of views and values. If you have not created a classroom contract, consider taking the time to do so before teaching this lesson. You might also consult the Facing History’ Fostering Civil Discourse: A Guide for Classroom Conversations for additional strategies and resources to help promote active listening, intellectual engagement, and thoughtful reflection in your classroom.
  2. Defining Citizenship
    As Eric Liu describes in American Creed, his Citizen University project provides opportunities for leaders from across the political spectrum to engage in conversation, learn from one another, and problem solve together. The word citizen, which Liu uses throughout his section of the film, can raise issues of identity, belonging, and membership for many students in today’s classroom. For this reason, you might remind students that citizen has multiple definitions, and for this lesson, we are referring to Webster-Merriam’s first definition: “an inhabitant of a particular town or city.”1 This definition does not imply American citizenship, and as Eric Liu’s states in American Creed, his work and vision focus on “renewing a sense of civic inheritance and values” so people are reminded of what connects us and can feel empowered to participate in civic life as active members of their communities.

Citations

  • 1 : "Citizen," OxfordReference.com, accessed February 6, 2018.

Materials

Activities

  1. Journal Response: Reflect on American Ideals
    • Before viewing Joe Maddon’s and Eric Liu’s American Creed clips, ask students to respond to the following questions in their journals. Tell students that they will have an opportunity to volunteer to share their ideas in a class discussion.
      • What ideals do you think are American ideals?
      • What do you think gets in the way of us realizing these ideals?
    • Debrief with the class, recording students’ responses in a t-chart on the board or large paper with ideals on one side and barriers on the other. You can refer back to and add to the t-chart after students have watched the two American Creed clips.
  2. Share and Discuss Joe Maddon’s Story
    • Tell students that they will now hear Joe Maddon, the manager of the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs baseball team, share his story about growing up in the small town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and his efforts to strengthen the community there today.
    • Show the video Joe Maddon in Coal Country (7:18). You might ask students to record notes using the same t-chart format from the first activity. In the left-hand column, students could record Joe Maddon’s thoughts about the ideals he thinks are American ideals and in the right-hand column, his thoughts about what gets in the way of these ideals’ realization.
    • Ask students to share their notes in a Think-Pair-Share activity, adding any new ideas that emerge during their discussions. Time allowing, you might ask students if they would like to add any new ideas to the whole class t-chart.
  3. Share and Discuss Eric Liu’s Story
    • Tell students that they will now hear from Eric Liu, whose parents escaped war-torn China for Taiwan and then immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. Like Joe Maddon, Liu also discusses his family legacy, as well as his work as CEO of Citizen University, which he founded to help create opportunities for people to engage in conversations across difference with the goal of renewing their sense of civic engagement and responsibility.
    • Show the video Sworn Again: Eric Liu's Revival (7:57). Students could either draw a line under their final note from Joe Maddon’s video segment and then add notes for Eric Liu, or they might create a new t-chart for Eric Liu.
    • Ask students to share their t-charts in a Think-Pair-Share, adding to the charts any new ideas that emerge during their discussions. Time allowing, you might ask students if that they would like to add any new ideas to the whole class t-chart.
  4. Group Discussion: Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn
    • In American Creed, Joe Maddon and Eric Liu emphasize the importance of people listening and talking to each other, even if they don’t always agree, in order to develop as sense of respect and trust. To provide space for students to share their thoughts about the videos and to encourage active listening, consider using the Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn strategy for this discussion. Alternatively, you might also have a Fishbowl discussion if you would like the whole class to participate in a single conversation.
    • To prepare for the group discussions, start by providing time for quiet reflection by asking students to respond to the following questions in their journals:
      • How do Joe Maddon and/or Eric Liu connect to or extend your understanding about what ideals are American ideals and what can get in the way of realizing those ideals?
      • What examples do Maddon and Liu provide about how we can work together to overcome the divisions in our society?
    • Explain the Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn strategy and divide the class into groups of 4–5 students for a discussion of the two questions. Circulate to make sure the conversations remain respectful and that all students have the opportunity to contribute their ideas to the discussion.
    • Ask group leaders to summarize key points from their conversations and then facilitate class discussion of the two questions before moving to the final reflection activity.
  5. Final Reflection

    As a final reflection, ask students to respond to the following questions about Eric Liu’s closing remarks in their journals, as a homework assignment, or on an exit card that you collect at the end of class. His remarks have some challenging vocabulary, so you might want to read the quote below out loud and field any comprehension questions before presenting students with the reflection questions.

    At the end of his clip, Eric Liu offers a final reflection:

    It’s more about renewing our sense that we have a civic inheritance here and a set of values that are worth nurturing. That’s the spark of Americanness that I hope does not get subdued even in this age of cynicism about what’s possible in politics. Because when you stop showing up, you stop participating, you cede the field to the few who would like perfectly to command the field, and they usually don’t have your interests in mind.
    • What might Liu mean when he suggests that we have a “civic inheritance and a set of values that are worth nurturing”?
    • What values does he discuss in the film? What values does Maddon discuss in the film? What additional values do you feel are worth nurturing?
    • In what ways might you “show up” and “participate” in order to help realize the ideals that you value?

Extensions

  1. Living Room Conversations
    If you are interested in and have time for a third American Creed video clip, consider showing the video A Living Room Conversation: Mark Meckler and Joan Blades, Tea Party and Move On (10:45). In this clip, Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and Joan Blades, co-founder of Moveon.org, both invite two friends to engage in a Living Room Conversation at Blades’s home in Berkeley, California, with the goal of fostering understanding through civil discourse. After watching the video segment, students might discuss the following questions:

    • How do Meckler and Blades connect to or extend your understanding about what ideals are American ideals and what can get in the way of realizing those ideals?
    • What examples do Meckler and Blades provide about how can we work together to overcome the divisions in our society?

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