Founders Month: Sons of Liberty

Check out the National Constitution Center’s biographies of the Founding Fathers!

It’s Founders Month here in Florida! According to the Florida Department of Education,

Section (s.) 683.1455, Florida Statutes (F.S.), designates the month of September as American Founders‘ Month and s. 1003.421, F.S., recognizes the last full week of classes in September in public schools as Celebrate Freedom Week.

So what does this mean for our schools and kids and teachers? Basically, it’s time to do some learning about the men and women who have helped shape this state and this country. Here on our Florida Citizens blog, we’ll be doing posts with a brief overview of a particular Founder, Framer, thinker, or shaper of this nation and how they made an impact.
Sept 14 Sons of Liberty

Let’s look at the Sons of Liberty. The Sons of Liberty were a sometimes controversial secret society devoted to combating what it perceived as British oppression by any means necessary.

While they may be most famous for organizing boycotts of British goods and dumping tea into Boston Harbor, they also took sometimes-violent action against people seen as serving British interests. We all recall, for example, those images from the era that illustrate Sons of Liberty tarring and feathering British tax collectors.Philip_Dawe_(attributed),_The_Bostonians_Paying_the_Excise-man,_or_Tarring_and_Feathering_(1774)_-_02

The Bostonian Paying the Excise-Man, 1774 British propaganda print, referring to the tarring and feathering, of Boston Commissioner of Customs John Malcolm four weeks after the Boston Tea Party. The men also poured hot tea down Malcolm’s throat.

The Sons of Liberty were sometimes extreme in their pursuit of liberty; was that extremism always justified? How can we really say, from our own vantage point today? What a fascinating discussion we can have! You can learn more about the fascinating Sons of Liberty and its role in the Boston Tea Party from the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured in this post: Sons of Liberty AFM

Resources for Freedom Week!


Here in Florida, we are required by state statute to teach about the important documents of this country during Freedom Week at the end of September. This is in addition to what is expected for Constitution Day. The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship at the Lou Frey Institute has a number of lessons that target grades 2-12 that can be connected to Freedom Week and Constitution Day!   You do, of course, need to register on our main site in order to access these new free resources. You can visit each lesson directly from the links below. Each one is intended to give students some hands on experience with primary sources and everything you need for instruction is provided for you (though you do need to use your own technology!). These were developed in collaboration with the wonderful folks at the National Archives’ Center for Legislative Archives and currently practicing K-12 educators.

Thinking Through Timelines: Inching Toward Independence

A Short Activity for Second Grade

Question: Why do we celebrate Independence Day?

Thinking Through Timelines: Creating the Constitution

A Short Activity for Third Grade

Question: Why do we celebrate Constitution Day?

Guidance on Government: State Edition

A Short Activity for Fourth Grade

Question: How does the Florida Constitution organize the government?

Guidance on Government: Federal Edition

A Short Activity for Fifth Grade

Question: How does the U.S. Constitution organize the government?

Decoding the Declaration, Celebrate Freedom Week Part I

A Short Activity for High School and Middle School

Question: What did declaring independence say about the importance of rights?

Intentions for Independence, Celebrate Freedom Week Part II

A Short Activity for High School and Middle School

Question: Were the colonists justified in declaring independence?

Rhetoric of Revolution, Celebrate Freedom Week Part III

A Short Activity for High School and Middle School

Question: How does language intensify the message of the Declaration of Independence?

Forward to the Future, Celebrate Freedom Week Part IV

A Short Activity for High School and Middle School

Question: How are the ideas from the Declaration of Independence connected to our government today?

Arguing Arkansas: Analyzing the Impact of Eisenhower’s Little Rock Speech

A short activity for High School U.S. History and U.S. Government Courses

Question: How did civil rights conflicts affect American society during the Eisenhower era?

Pestering With a Purpose: Arguing Women’s Right to Vote

A Short Activity for the U.S. Government Course

Question: How is this document an illustration of civic and political participation?

Suffering Through Suffrage: Arguing Women’s Right to Vote

A Short Activity for the U.S. History Course

Question: Why do the authors oppose woman suffrage?

In addition to our original lessons, we have also created lessons that feature the work of legendary cartoonist Clifford Berryman! These are intended to be used at the 6-12 level. 

Anyone Home?

A Short Activity for High School and Middle School

Question: How does this political cartoon illustrate the lawmaking process?

Picturing Separation of Powers

A Short Activity for High School and Middle School

Question: How do the political cartoons relate to the concept of separation of powers?

Suiting Up

A Short Activity for High School and Middle School

Question: How does this political cartoon illustrate the concept of checks and balances?

Big Civics Ideas Through Political Cartoons

A Short Activity for Middle School Civics

Question: How do the political cartoons illustrate big civics ideas?

These are just some of the resources available on our Students Investigating Primary Sources page. All of these are in addition to our Civics in Real Life resources, many of which address concepts issues that have been around since the Founding. And don’t forget Civics360 for all of your civics content needs!

make the Supreme Court much bigger

The Supreme Court of Spain has 79 judges. The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany has 16 members. The Constitutional Court of Italy has 15, but Italy is like many countries that also has a final appeals court for regular cases, and that tribunal is staffed by 350 judges.

I mention these examples in the context of arguments for “packing” our Supreme Court. Franklin Roosevelt’s effort to expand the court is usually presented as an example of executive overreach and a partisan ploy that backfired. But the problem with the current court is now critical.

Who would imagine that the following system could work? 1) One court has final jurisdiction over many fundamental issues that confront the society. 2) The public is divided over those issues. 3) There are two political parties, which hold incompatible views on those issues. 4) Justices appointed by each party regularly and predictably vote to decide cases in line with their respective party’s position. 5) Justices serve for life terms. 6) The president can nominate anyone he wants to be a justice. 7) A majority of the Senate must confirm. 8) The president and the Senate may be controlled by the same or by different parties.

Once those eight conditions are in place, it’s more or less inevitable that presidents will be unable to replace Supreme Court vacancies unless their party controls the Senate, but when it does, they will be able to confirm virtually anyone they like to a life term. The defeats of Bork and Garland simply reflected opposition parties making rational decisions in the system they were given, and we should expect tit-for-tat from now on.

As I showed in a previous post, there have been periods when Supreme Court nominations have been uncontroversial. Those have been times of bipartisan elite consensus about constitutional questions. When that consensus has broken down, confirmations have been deeply contentious and the outcomes have been determined, to a large extent, by the luck of who controls which branch at which time.

If I could wave a magic wand, I would establish staggered terms for Supreme Court justices so that replacements become frequent. The stakes of each nomination would fall, and every president would be expected to have a strong but temporary impact on the court–as presidents influence the FCC. But this reform would require a constitutional amendment, since Article III, Sec. 1 decrees life terms.

An alternative is to change the number of justices. That is constitutional, since the number is set by a statute. But I’d change it a lot–to something like 25. Then turnover would be frequent, and the stakes of each appointment would be fairly low. I’d complement that change with a Senate rule that allows nominations to go through unless blocked by a super-majority.

In a large court, most cases are assigned to smaller panels–sometimes by lottery. There are reasonable processes for doing that. A larger court also has a much better chance of representing the diversity of the American people.

Letting the next president name 16 new justices seems a bit much (even if that president’s name turns out to be Joe), so I’d increase the size of the court by one seat every year for the next 16 years.

See also: reforms for a broken Supreme Court;  is our constitutional order doomed?are we seeing the fatal flaw of a presidential constitution?,  two perspectives on our political paralysis,  and the changing norms for Supreme Court nominations.

Apply for a Nevins Fellow through October 15th!

NCDD Member Organization the McCourtney Institute for Democracy is offering the incredible opportunity for D&D organizations to take advantage of their Nevins Democracy Leaders Program. The 2021 application is open now through Thursday, October 15th, for organizations who want to host a bright, motivated, D&D-trained student at no-cost!

Read below for all the details and watch their video for more info on this great program.

Nevins Fellowship Applications due Oct 15th

We are ready to start receiving applications for sponsoring organizations for our 2021 Nevins Fellows program.  

For those of you unfamiliar, here are some key points:

Nevins Fellows are Penn State students who are selected for a summer internship program with organizations doing innovative work in democracy. Students complete a course in democratic leadership and then apply for fellowships. Stipends and living expenses are provided to the students through the program so there are no costs for the organizations. This video provides a good overview of the program and its benefits:

To make things easier for you this year, we have placed the application for organizations on the McCourtney Institute website:

As you may know, this past summer all of our fellows worked virtually at  their placements. Students and organizations worked hard to make this experience as useful and productive as possible, but of course, it was not ideal.  Our hope is that by the summer of 2021, we will be able to return to a normal fellowship experience. But of course, that might not happen.  We would suggest that you plan for both contingencies.

One more thing: Students select their fellowship organizations. Please keep that in mind as you write up your application. 

Applications are due Thursday, October 15. 

If you have any questions about the program or the application, please email Chris Beem at


Friends, some exciting news! As part of the AFT Share My Lesson Webinar Series: Civic Education and the 2020 Election, your friends here at FJCC/The Lou Frey Institute will be delivering a session on our Civics in Real Life series and Civics360!

Join Christopher Spinale, Val McVey and Steve Masyada, all of the Lou Frey Institute and Share My Lesson for a conversation on virtual resources for civics and current events.

Thursday, October 15, 2020
5:00PM EDT

Some of the most difficult topics for educators to address in the classroom are current events. How do we approach current events in a way that connects to our content while also allowing opportunities for both discussion and engagement?

This webinar will share virtual resources that can be used to address current events from a civics lens. The Lou Frey Institute will discuss its Civics in Real Life series, a weekly series which uses civics concepts to explore current events in a one page, student friendly, image rich text. This includes hyperlinks to related content and a closing activity that encourages reflection and engagement.

The webinar session will discuss ways in which this resource can be integrated into both face to face and virtual instruction while also discussing the use of the free Civics360 content platform as a means of building foundational knowledge through a virtual resource.

Email Steve!

Founders Month: A Student Essay about James Armistead Lafayette

We have been doing posts on various Founders, and I thought it might be nice to feature a post written by a middle school student about someone important to the founding of this country. So today, I ask that you please read this post about a Founder by the name of James Armistead Lafayette, brought to us by a young lady named Hannah, in Marion County, Florida.

Facsimile of the Marquis de Lafayette’s certificate of commendation of James Armistead Lafayette, 1784

James Armistead Lafayette: The Forgotten Founder

As the British generals discussed their war plans, they had no idea of the traitor in their midst.  After all, they believed him to be one of their own.  Little did they know, that their spy, a slave, was a double agent for the colonists.  There should be no reason for the officers to have been suspicious, in all likelihood the slave could not read or write.  He spied on the colonies and gave good information.  He took the crucial information learned in the British camp back to General Marquis de Lafayette himself.  Those acts are an important reason why America prevailed in the Battle of Yorktown and won our independence.  How could a man of such low status have gained the trust of General Lafayette?  Why is the impact of such a vital character in the story of American independence often omitted?  This American patriot, James Armistead Lafayette, was born into slavery and died a free man after his service in the Revolutionary War.  Armistead Lafayette infiltrated the British forces as an American spy, provided information that helped America win the Battle of Yorktown, and went on to take Lafayette’s name when he gained his freedom.  Based on these historical events, James Armistead Lafayette is the most important American founder.

James Armistead was employed by Lafayette as a spy because the general hoped to gain intelligence on British movements.  Posing as a runaway slave, he was able to infiltrate the British forces.  The double agent’s espionage resulted in the possession of the locations of British troops, arms and battle strategies by British Generals Benedict Arnold and Cornwallis.  The information he gathered would prove to be essential to the Founders’ victory at the Battle of Yorktown.

Leading up to the battle, Armistead obtained indispensable knowledge of British preparations.  In his time as a British agent, Armistead helped guide British troops through local roads.  While In camps, officers would openly speak about war strategies, which he then documented and turned over to other American spies.  Armistead had gained the trust of both the American and British war camps and could pass freely between the two.  In his reports back and forth, Armistead with the help of General Washington and General Lafayette, was able to prevent the British from sending 10,000 reinforcements to Yorktown.  Because of this the British military was crippled and eventually surrendered to the colonies on October 19, 1781, resulting in the birth of our nation.

After Armistead Lafayette helped America win her independence, he went on to gain his freedom and take Lafayette’s name.  Unfortunately, following the American victory, James Armistead was returned to slavery because a law freeing slaves who fought in the war did not apply to him.  However, he petitioned the Virginia Assembly to obtain his freedom.  His petition was supported by his owner and a letter from Marquis de Lafayette saying, “He properly acquitted himself with some important commissions I gave him and appears to me entitled to every reward his situation can admit of.”  This provides sufficient evidence that while in Lafayette’s service, Armistead deserved not only his freedom but every right that could be offered to him.  The words alone are empowering, but considering that the man behind them is a general makes them all the more credible.  After James gained his freedom, he took the name of the man who advocated for him when nobody else would.  There is an engraving from the 1780s on display in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Museum of Marquis de Lafayette standing next to a man believed to be James Armistead Lafayette.  The fact that Armistead, a slave, is depicted in the foreground with General Lafayette is so incredible due to the fact that artists rarely produced works with enslaved persons in the foreground of a picture, much less with a well esteemed general.  This gives further support for the status, contributions, and importance of James Armistead Lafayette.

After all of the information has been reviewed the question as to why James Armistead Lafayette is forgotten from the narrative of American history looms even larger. In the face of slavery and oppression, James Armistead Lafayette went on to help America gain their freedom in the face of tyranny and in turn, gained his own. In his life, James Armistead Lafayette infiltrated the British forces as an American spy, provided information that helped win the Battle of Yorktown, and went on to take Lafayette’s name when he gained his freedom to become the most important American founder.

Thanks so much, Hannah, for sharing this with us, and for teaching us about someone who deserves more attention for his contribution to American freedom. You can learn more about James Armistead Lafayette here. 

American Founders Month: Patrick Henry

Check out the National Constitution Center’s biographies of the Founding Fathers!

It’s Founders Month here in Florida! According to the Florida Department of Education,

Section (s.) 683.1455, Florida Statutes (F.S.), designates the month of September as American Founders‘ Month and s. 1003.421, F.S., recognizes the last full week of classes in September in public schools as Celebrate Freedom Week.

So what does this mean for our schools and kids and teachers? Basically, it’s time to do some learning about the men and women who have helped shape this state and this country. Here on our Florida Citizens blog, we’ll be doing at least two posts a week with a brief overview of a particular Founder, Framer, thinker, or shaper of this state or this nation and how they made an impact.

Sept 23 or 24 Henry

There may be no quote more famous in our nation’s history than Patrick Henry’s “…give me liberty or give me death!”

Patrick Henry, like many of his peers, was a man of many talents, beliefs, and contradictions. He was a brilliant orator, fiery and powerful, but few of his speeches survived him, as he rarely wrote anything down. Unlike his contemporaries, he did not write many letters, so we have few primary sources to consider him with. A passionate advocate for liberty, he was, like many of his elite contemporaries from the South, a slave holder. Like many of them (though not all!) he recognized the evils of slavery without necessarily choosing a path towards relief of his own complicity. A believer in strong bonds across the states, he was embittered by what he saw as New England’s reluctance to contribute fairly to the national project under the Articles of Confederation.

His passion for liberty led Henry initially to the Anti-Federalist camp; he did not trust those working in Philadelphia at the constitutional convention, and he did not trust the new Constitution.

 This Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, Sir, they appear to me horribly frightful: Among other deformities, it has an awful squinting; it squints towards monarchy: And does not this raise indignation in the breast of every American? Your President may easily become King: Your Senate is so imperfectly constructed that your dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority; and a very small minority may continue forever unchangeably this Government, although horridly defective: Where are your checks in this Government? Your strong holds will be in the hands of your enemies: It is on a supposition that our American Governors shall be honest, that all the good qualities of this Government are founded: But its defective, and imperfect construction, puts it in their power to perpetrate the worst of mischiefs, should they be bad men

Ultimately, however, he sided with the Federalists, in part because of rivalry with his fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson.  You can learn more about Patrick Henry’s famous ‘give me liberty’ speech with this great activity here!

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured in this post: Patrick Henry AFM

Civics in Real Life for Constitution Day!

The newest Civics in Real Life is now available! It’s Constitution Day! Let’s take a look at just what that wonderful document is about!

You can get this, and other Civics in Real Life resources, over at Florida Citizen! And don’t forget about the Preamble Challenge from the Civics Renewal Network!

As a reminder, so far our topics this fall have explored

Presidential Nominating Conventions

party conventions

Voter Registration


As a reminder, so far our topics this fall have explored

elections crlVoting Rights

These will be updated once a week throughout the school year, addressing or relating to current events and civic concepts, without necessarily directly connecting to any particular state standards and benchmarks. We hope you find these one page resources useful!
You can find an overview of the ones from spring here! These are all still available over on Florida Citizen.

game theory games meant to play well on Zoom

It makes sense to introduce game theory by playing some games. Many online and in-person games are available for that purpose. A useful list of reviews is here. I could not, however, find games that would play well in a large virtual course, especially without a significant registration fee. So I made some up, and they seemed to work well in a class of 62 students yesterday. I am making them available here.

The games simulate:

  1. A pandemic at a university. (How much does each student comply with social distancing?)
  2. Carbon policy. (How much does each country reduce its emissions?)
  3. Carbon policy with negotiations; and
  4. An iterated commons game involving fishing.

Instructions are provided in the first sheet. In brief, an instructor should …

  1. Show students each sheet of the spreadsheet in turn.
  2. Read or briefly explain the scenario at the top. Do not answer questions about what the students’ objectives should be or what defines winning. Let them just play.
  3. Field a survey–using Zoom or another platform–with the choices that are presented in each scenario. E.g., The response options for the first scenario (the college pandemic) should be 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4.
  4. Enter the data from the survey in the grey cells of the sheet (e.g., cells B14-B18 in the college pandemic scenario). The other cells are all locked.

(In the second climate game, students should talk in breakout groups before they take the survey individually. In the fishing game, there are three rounds.)

  1. Discuss the results shown in the rest of each table once the data are entered.

Here are some questions for discussion:

  • A game has parameters–for example, the number of players, the choices they can make, and whether players can talk. What other parameters can you think of that go into a game? How do you know whether the parameters are right for the situation?
  • What assumptions do we make by using a game to model/represent/explain the real world?
  • What kinds of situations–if any–can game theory help to explain? (You might think of other examples or general categories of situations that games seem useful for.)
  • What kinds of questions can game theory probably not answer?
  • When introducing his idea of the “Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin talks about the “solemnity of the relentless working of things,” “the inevitableness of destiny,” and “the futility of escape.” Did we see evidence today that disaster is inevitable when people try to coordinate their behavior? If not, is there anything valuable in Hardin’s idea?

You’re likely to get some intriguing specific results. For instance, when my students played the carbon-policy game, the global results were pretty good. (They’re a bunch of environmentalists.) I then put them in small groups to simulate negotiations before surveying them again. After their discussions, the global impact on carbon worsened. It appears that some of the groups became small conspiracies against the common good. Specifically, some students persuaded each other that they could get away with emitting more carbon.

To test whether this result generalizes, you would have to repeat it with controls. Maybe the result worsened just because it was the second try. In any case, it is fun to discuss the concrete results, form hypotheses, and connect the games to the real world.

See also: why learn game theory? (a lesson plan that includes a game) and these posts about game theory.

3 Tools for Having Your Computer or Phone Read to You – Text-to-Speech

Every semester, I mention several tools in my classes that I get asked about time and again, so I decided to make a quick video about them. I explain that in the last 5 years, text-to-speech programs have revolutionized how I consume text and how I edit documents. Programs that can read to you allow you to listen to those long emails or that article a friend emailed you while you’re tidying up, walking from A to B, or driving. Here’s a 5 minute video showing what I use and how.

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

In short, I use the “Read Aloud” function in MS Word most. I love it. The reader can be found under the “Review” tab. The text it reads is highlighted as it moves along. You can easily start, pause, or stop it. You can speed it up, slow it down, or change the voice. You can listen quickly to things you need to skim, and then slow it down for passages that you need to attend to carefully. It’s my favorite and is amazing.

Next, I use Adobe PDF’s reading function under “View” (which is funny, right?), then “Read Out Loud,” then “Activate Read Out Loud,” and then choose the length you want read to you. It’s clunkier and less easily manipulable a function in Adobe, but it works and I use it too. I prefer MS Word’s greater functionality, so when I can, I save PDFs as Word files to have them read to me. One thing to note is that not all PDF files are prepared for text-to-speech, such as when someone embeds text in a photo, without leaving it readable. You can often have Adobe scan & OCR the text (optical character recognition), but not always.

Finally, I talk about @Voice, the program on my Android phone that is amazing, allowing me to listen to text on the go. I listen while walking, exercising, doing chores, or driving. It’s amazing. From a long email, I can select the text and click “share,” or I can share files from Word, Adobe, or text from Web sites. That article I’ve been meaning to read, I share to my phone and listen to it on the drive home. It’s amazing and I love it.

Most of all, I love listening to text when I’m editing or reviewing work in MS Word files. It’s a game changer for me, not only because I don’t have to stare at the screen, but also because I love to listen. It’s for me a preferred way to take in the material.

Bonus for people reading this page: I didn’t put this in the video, but I also use Read Aloud for Chrome, to have my laptop read passages from Web sites to me. It’s not as powerful and smooth as Word, but it’s better than having to copy and paste material for just short passages.

Try some of these tools out. Also, notice that the resources we develop for persons with disabilities empower us all. That’s a vital message we should keep in mind, especially when unfeeling people undervalue all the amazing people around the world with disabilities. We should make our world accessible to all, and when we do, we’ll all benefit.

The post 3 Tools for Having Your Computer or Phone Read to You - Text-to-Speech first appeared on Eric Thomas Weber.