Shared Symbols and Values

Middle school and high school
Subject: U.S. history and government
Time: One class period
Preparation: Have class view "Baptismal Font" (Tape 2, Act 9. 1:13:37) before or after completing the suggested activity.

Ask students to discuss their heritage with their families. Have each student interview older members of his or her family about family traits, characteristics, and values.

One or two days later, introduce the Iroquois Confederacy, which was a community of six Indian nations. To preserve order among six distinct and warlike peoples, the Iroquois created symbols and ceremonies to provide common ground (as well as laws and a constitution to guide their unity).
  • Great Tree of Peace: Seen from a distance, this was believed to provide protection under its boughs.
  • Bundle of arrows: Show how easy it is to break one arrow and how difficult it is to break six arrows.
  • Eagle: Far seeing, considered an early warning system.

In groups, have students discuss the symbols that may reflect their cultures. (Depending on ethnic variety, students could discuss their common values in homogenous groups.)

Ask each group to identify and list common characteristics among their values and symbols. Ask students if they can name people who best represent their symbols.

Conclude the exercise by asking students to compare their symbols to those of the Iroquois. Do students believe that it's possible to find a common identity in a diverse society? Did the students' distinct traditions unite or divide them?

Douglas E. Miller
Fremont High School
Sunnyvale, Calif.

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