The Vocabulary of Freedom
By Douglas E. Miller


This exercise (which takes 1-2 class periods) allows students to explore some of the abstract vocabulary of democracy through the concrete examples presented in The American Promise. It helps them develop a definition of freedom in several different contexts.

Ask students to explore their attitudes about their personal freedoms, graffiti, the environment, and the tragedy of the commons. Survey them about their reaction to the following statements. Do they strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, or strongly disagree? (For a printable copy of the survey, go to The American Promise Web site.)

1. We should have the freedom to do anything we want.

2. The oceans belong to everyone.

3. Genuine heroes and heroines can best be found in our own communities.

4. People in the United States have too many freedoms.

5. If we just wait, improvements in technology will save the environment.

6. Passing laws against graffiti restricts our freedom to express public views.

After the survey, show the students three segments from “Freedom” – Yosemite, Anti-Graffiti Network, and Lobster Wars. Ask students to look for examples of personal freedom and the common good. After viewing the film, students should take the survey again and discuss any changes in their personal values.

Conclude the exercise by exploring the concept of freedom in historical events, trends, or concepts. Ask students to consider what freedom means in the following: freedom of the seas, free trade, New Freedom vs. New Nationalism, student unrest in the 1960s, etc.

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