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Freedom in the Modern World

Unit Summary

High school students explore the issues of personal freedoms in our modern world. Through the examination of documents and ideas of the past, students look at the influences upon our modern codes of law. Finally, students research limits and freedoms in our modern society and assess to what lengths a government should go to in order to maintain an environment that protects the state as well as the rights of the people. They use the Showing Evidence Tool to create claims and organize evidence to support those claims. As a culminating activity, students use their project work as an outline to write an essay.


Curriculum-Framing Questions

  • Essential Question
    What is freedom?
  • Unit Questions
    How have ancient peoples and their thoughts affected our modern government?
    How do governments balance the rights of individuals with the common good?
  • Content Questions
    What are the similarities and differences between the values of the ancient Athenians and modern Americans?
    What influence do we see from Enlightenment thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau?
    How did the ancient Hebrews develop their written code of law and how has that influenced our modern laws?
    What are some historical reasons for placing limits upon the people of a given nation?


Instructional Procedures

Students begin the unit by meeting in small groups to discuss the Essential Question: What is freedom? After providing some time for discussion, the teacher writes the following questions on the board: How do governments balance the rights of individuals with the common good? When does government have the right to restrict the freedoms of people? More time is given for small groups to discuss. The teacher then brings the class back together and each group member shares thoughts from the discussion.

To extend the dialogue students began during their initial discussion, they explore primary and secondary sources*. Student begin looking at the enduring effects that ancient peoples and their works have had on the modern world. They complete a variety of tasks which involve exploring historical documents, and then begin interpreting reasons for placing limits upon people’s freedoms. Some of these tasks are described below:

  • Students brainstorm a list of values that are important to Americans and then read from Pericles’ Funeral Oration* to learn about the values Athenians held dear. Next, students create a Venn diagram comparing the two sets of values, one ancient and one modern.
  • Students become experts on the Enlightenment philosopher assigned to them—Baron de Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes, or John Locke—and write a short speech introducing their philosopher’s main ideas and beliefs in government.
  • Students read and discuss The Hebrews and the Foundations of Western Law* from the Bill of Rights in Action newsletter.
  • After reading The Twelve Tables*, the earliest attempt by the Romans to create a code of law, students discuss the economic and social implications of this work.
  • Students read an excerpt from The People's Democratic Dictatorship* then discuss the lessons and limitations of Chinese governmental reform.

The teacher reviews and discusses documents already explored in class by having students complete a graphic organizer showing key ideas and relationships between historical documents and thinkers to the modern world. Students explain their visual representation to a small group of peers.

Student teams synthesize their research from their activities and readings to make a claim around the question: Should a government place limits on the freedoms of its citizens? Students support their claim with evidence using the Showing Evidence Tool. Once students complete the initial stage of building their case, the teacher assigns a student group to peer review evidence and claims. Using the feedback from the review, student teams continue their research, then revise their claims, evidence, and conclusion to make a more solid argument.

Students print their project work and use the outline to create a persuasive essay. After the essay is completed, students reflect on the unit by writing a journal piece about how limits and freedoms in modern society affect their personal freedom.


Examine the Showing Evidence Activity

The Showing Evidence Tool space below represents one team's investigation in this project. You can double-click on the evidence to read the team's descriptions.

Project Name: Freedom vs. Security in the Modern World (Click here to set up this project in your workspace)

Prompt: Should a government place limits on the freedoms of its citizens?

Explore an interactive demo.

Freedom vs. Security in the Modern World
Freedom in the Modern World

At a Glance

Grade Level: 10-12

Subjects: World History, U.S. History, U.S. Government

Key Learnings: Self-Government, Historical Interpretation, Modern Laws

Time Needed: Two weeks

Background: California, United States