In Pursuit of Freedom and Democracy: A US History Inquiry | Facing History & Ourselves
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In Pursuit of Democracy and Freedom: A US History Inquiry

This 5–7 day C3-aligned inquiry explores the compelling question, “How can we make real the ideals of democracy and freedom?”


At a Glance

inquiry copy


English — US


  • History




Multiple weeks
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement


About This Inquiry

This C3-style inquiry introduces students to the ideals of democracy and freedom through the use of students’ lived experiences as well as examples of those who have used democratic tools to fight for their freedoms.

By the end of the inquiry, students will have a deeper understanding of the complexities of democracy and freedom in US history as well as in their own lives. 

This inquiry is part of Facing History's US History Curriculum Collection: Democracy & Freedom. Use the flexible units, C3-style inquiries, and case studies in this collection to explore themes of democracy and freedom throughout your US history course.

How can we make real the ideals of democracy and freedom?

  1. What can freedom mean in the United States? 
  2. What can democracy mean in the United States?
  3. How have people used the tools of democracy to fight for their freedoms in the United States?

Students will be able to:

  • Analyze the multiple ways in which freedom and democracy are defined in the United States.
  • Reflect on their own understanding of democracy and freedom.
  • Explain how people have used democratic tools in pursuit of their freedom.

In this inquiry, students explore the compelling question, “How can we make real the ideals of democracy and freedom?” This resource engages students in an exploration of the ideals of democracy and freedom, the central theme of Facing History’s US history program. While this inquiry provides a snapshot of the voices and stories students will encounter in a US history course, it is not designed to be a comprehensive study of one historical era or event. Students will further explore the meanings of democracy and freedom as they go deeper into the resources aligned with our US history program, including inquiries and units on the history of the US founding, the era of Reconstruction, and Asian exclusion through our nation’s earliest immigration laws. 

This inquiry draws from students’ lived experiences by asking them to think critically about what democracy and freedom mean in US history and in their own lives. Students reflect on complexities within the concept of freedom, exploring how meanings of freedom have evolved and the differences between positive and negative freedom. They also consider the meaning of democracy both inside and outside of the government, examining government actions along with the ways their schools and communities function as microcosms of democracy.  

As political philosopher Danielle Allen points out, “‘Democracy’ refers to a set of procedures; it doesn’t ‘govern’ anything or anybody. Democratic citizens govern. The question is, are American citizens up to the task of governing themselves democratically?” Allen’s question emphasizes an understanding of democracy as among the most fragile of human enterprises, one that could only be achieved and maintained through the active, thoughtful, and responsible participation of its citizens. 

For this reason, this inquiry highlights individuals and groups struggling for freedom and self-determination as pillars for achieving and expanding a healthy democracy. Students examine, for instance, the story of Mary Tape, a Chinese American who fought in court for her children to go to school with white children. They also explore the activism of Fannie Lou Hamer and farmworkers from the California farmworkers movement, both of whom used the tools of democracy in pursuit of their own freedoms and rights to “life, liberty, and happiness.” 

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

In addressing the compelling question (“How can we make real the ideals of democracy and freedom?”), students work through a series of supporting questions, formative performance tasks, and featured sources in order to construct an argument supported by a variety of evidence.

Download the Inquiry Blueprint for an at-a-glance view of all inquiry materials.

This inquiry is expected to take five to seven 50-minute class periods. The inquiry time frame could expand if teachers think their students need additional instructional experiences or historical background information.

Teachers may adapt the inquiry​ and resources in order to meet the needs and interests of their students.

This inquiry is intended to introduce students to the ideals of freedom and democracy in US history. Therefore, no background knowledge is required, and it is expected that students will be learning this material in the beginning of the year. If taught within Facing History’s US history program, the inquiry will come after students have completed the Back to School toolkit and My Part of the Story unit.

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