The Common Good in Times of Crisis | Facing History & Ourselves
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The Common Good in Times of Crisis

This mini-lesson invites students to explore how their actions and the actions of their leaders can help promote the common good in a time of crisis.


  • Advisory
  • Social Studies




English — US




About This Mini-Lesson

We live in a time when our lives are impacted by complex global crises. We are continuing to grapple with the loss and changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Extreme weather events—from floods to wildfires—are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity. Economic challenges, climate change, and violence are pushing people to cross borders. Changes that impact communities around the world can easily feel overwhelming. But they also present us with an opportunity to consider the notion of the “common good,” and how even seemingly small actions can make a difference. 

This mini-lesson invites students to explore how their actions and the actions of leaders can help to promote the common good in a time of crisis. These activities can be used to discuss any complex global issue. Each can be used on its own or taught in any combination best suited to your students.

This mini-lesson is designed to be adaptable. You can use the activities in sequence or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

  • 4 activities
  • Student-facing slides

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In March 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights strategist Eric Ward wrote:

The truth of our interconnectedness has never been more apparent. 1

Share this quote with your students, and ask them to reflect on the following questions, first in small groups and then as a full class:

  • How would you define the term interconnected?
  • Eric Ward was moved to make this observation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could be applied to many current issues or experiences in the world. Brainstorm an issue that you believe demonstrates the interconnectedness of our world. How does this issue impact people living in different communities?

As a class, look at the headlines on the front page of a reputable news source (such as the AP or NPR), and then discuss together:

  • How do the stories in the news reflect our interconnectedness?
  • What are some other examples of how people are interconnected in the world today?

Note: You can also use the Text-to-Text, Text-to-Self, Text-to-World teaching strategy to guide your students to analyze a news story and explore further connections.

Share with your students that some philosophers have proposed that since individuals’ well-beings are often interconnected, we should focus on finding collective solutions to problems in society. This “common good approach” is found in multiple philosophical traditions around the world.

Share the following two explanations of the term common good with your students:

From Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel:

The common good is about how we live together in community. It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, the sacrifices we make for one another. It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life. 1

From the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University:

Appeals to the common good urge us to view ourselves as members of the same community, reflecting on broad questions concerning the kind of society we want to become and how we are to achieve that society. While respecting and valuing the freedom of individuals to pursue their own goals, the common-good approach challenges us also to recognize and further those goals we share in common. 2

Then, ask your students to choose one of the following prompts to reflect on in the journals:

  • What does it look like when someone is acting to promote the common good? 
  • Think of a time someone in your school or community acted to promote the common good. What did they do and how did their actions impact others?

When students have finished writing, ask them to choose one word or phrase from their reflection and share it with the class using the Wraparound teaching strategy.

For this activity, choose one crisis to focus on, such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty, or global migration.

Begin by sharing a brief overview of the issue with your students or by asking your students to collectively brainstorm what they already know about this issue. Then, ask your students to use Project Zero’s 3 Ys thinking routine to help them reflect on how the issue you are examining impacts both individuals and communities:

  • Why does this issue matter to me?
  • Why does this issue matter to my community?
  • Why does this issue matter to the world?

Then, write the following questions on your board where students can see them:

  • What actions can I take to help others related to this issue?
  • What actions can other individuals in my community take?
  • What actions can leaders or politicians take?

Ask students to share their answers to the questions. You can assign one student to be a designated note-taker who writes their classmate’s responses on the board, or you can give students sticky notes and allow them to write their own responses and post them on the board under the corresponding question. Students can choose to focus on just one question or answer multiple.

Once students have finished sharing, use the following questions to guide a reflective discussion:

  • What patterns do you notice between the responses? Were there any responses that surprised you? Why?
  • Why might the actions that elected leaders take be different from other individuals? How does the responsibility to act change when someone has a leadership role?
  • How could the actions listed here help to promote the common good? 

Ask your students to reflect on the following prompts in their journals or on an exit tickets:

  • I came in thinking . . .
    (What did you think about this issue before?)
  • Now I think . . .
    (How has your thinking changed or deepened?)
  • Next I want to . . .
    (What actions can you take in the future to promote the common good around this issue?) 

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