American Founders’ Month (and Freedom Week) in Florida: George Mason

Sept 29 Mason
It’s American Founders’ Month (and Freedom Week!) in Florida. Today, on the last day of Freedom Week, we have one of the most important, but perhaps least remembered, Founders: George Mason.

Why does George Mason matter? After all, he was one of only three delegates to the Convention of 1787 who refused to sign the Constitution. But it is, indeed, that very refusal that tells us why George Mason matters: He is the Father of the Bill of Rights. It was Mason’s vocal objections, and his work on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, that led to the drafting and incorporation of the Bill of Rights into our Constitution.

Even with the promise from the Federalists to include a Bill of Rights, Mason fought hard against ratification of the Constitution; his arguments failed to persuade enough Virginians to vote against ratification however. And his fervent and sometimes angry opposition to the Constitution in some ways destroyed his relationships with those who he fought beside for independence. In a letter to his son, he wrote that

You know the friendship which has long existed (indeed from our early youth) between General Washington and myself. I believe there are few men in whom he placed greater confidence; but it is possible my opposition to the new government, both as a member of the national and of the Virginia Convention, may have altered the case.

Indeed, Washington himself was bitter about Mason’s opposition, and they never reconciled before Mason’s death in 1792. Despite his opposition to the Constitution, however, is to George Mason that most Americans owed their first tastes of liberty under the new government and his Bill of Rights. You can learn more about George Mason from this excellent lesson provided by the Bill of Rights Institute. 

Grab the PowerPoint slide featured at the top of this post: George Mason AFM

Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series:
Introduction to the Founding Fathers
Who Was George Washington?
Abigail Adams: Founding Mother and so much more
John Adams: A Hero of Liberty
James Madison: Father of the Constitution
The Sons of Liberty: The Tea Party and More
Mercy Otis Warren: Antifederalist and Advocate for Liberty
Alexander Hamilton: More Than a Musical
George Middleton: An Early Leader for Civil Rights and Equality
Patrick Henry: Liberty or Death
Thomas Jefferson: A Complex Man
Phillis Wheatley: Poet
Judith Sargent Murray: Fighter for Women

Reflections on Jury Duty

So, as you may recall, your intrepid blogger got called for jury duty this week. This was my first time being called in all my years, and I was excited to serve. It was, without a doubt, an interesting day, and it really was a wonderful experience seeing the process in action. That being said, however, there was a significant surprise and slight frustration to me, and I want to discuss what that might mean for our own work in civic education.

Arriving at 8am, I was at the jury location until almost 7:30 at night. What was wonderful to see, in the two jury selection call ups that I ended up in, was that so many of my fellow citizens were so excited to be there. Consistently, I heard from them, as they were interrogated by the prosecution and defense counsel, that they believed it was their civic responsibility. And you know what, that made me incredibly happy to hear! Because, really, isn’t it more than just a responsibility? Shouldn’t we see it as a right? The right to serve our fellow citizens in the most important of tasks: the administration of justice?

I actually made it ‘into the box’ at the end of the day, and it was engaging and interesting in being questioned about my own views on certain elements of justice, decision making, and the Constitution. Unfortunately, it was ultimately decided (after 7pm that night) that they would in fact select NONE of us for the jury. I admit that I was really not surprised at that point, because of something that I observed during the process: most of the folks that sat in that jury box with me did not really grasp the importance of the 5th Amendment. What do I mean by this?

The Fifth Amendment states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The most important element of that Fifth Amendment, for this discussion, is this one: nor shall [any person] be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.   Unfortunately, when polled by the opposing counsels, the majority of potential jury members suggested that they would possibly be biased against the defendant if they did not testify. This is an understandable perspective, and a human one, really. We want to hear from those we are making a decision about. Our Constitution, however, expects that we will put aside that desire, that bias, and judge the case on the merits put forward by the prosecution, not the testimony of the defendant. As pointed out during the process, the burden of proof is NOT on the defense. Always, it is on the prosecution, and the defense is under no obligation to smooth the path for them.
To me, this suggests that as civic educators, we may need to overcome what folks have picked up from Law and Order all these years: the idea that the defendant testimony is what will decide guilty or not guilty. We must ensure that our teachers, and our fellow citizens, emphasize and understand the meaning of the Fifth Amendment, and how it protects us all. No citizen should ever be faced with a jury that cannot make a decision, a fair decision, without hearing from the defendant.

There are some good resources for teaching about this most important of amendments out there. Please note that while these are not necessarily aligned with the 7th grade Florida Civics Benchmarks, they remain good resources for instruction. Just, as always, be sure to adapt them to meet your own state standards or benchmarks! Three quality resources are below.

The Five Parts of the Fifth: This, from North Carolina, introduces students to the 5 elements of the Fifth Amendment and engages them in acting out each of the rights therein.

Pleading the Fifth: This, from the Law Related Education folks, is an in depth look at just what this phrase means.

Dickerson V. United States (2000): This lesson, from the Bill of Rights Institute, explores the importance of that right to remain silent.

I would LOVE to hear how you approach the Fifth Amendment with YOUR students! Of course, I also encourage you to check out the resources that we here at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship have available, gratis!

And oh yes..I cannot wait until the next time I get called to serve! :)

Welcome Back! Resources for Civics Teachers

As we go into the new school year, I just want to take a few minutes and welcome folks back, and to welcome those that might be new to teaching civics here in Florida. This post will share with you some of the resources that are available for teaching civics in this state. Some of these might help those of you teaching civics and social studies in other states as well. An overview of some excellent primary sources for social studies and civics education is also available! Certainly, this is only a very small list; throughout the year, we will continue sharing new resources, spotlighting excellent resources, and discussing ways in which they may be used in your classroom.

The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship
fjccFor obvious reasons, we start with the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship. As an organization, the FJCC offers free resources and professional development to teachers, schools, and districts, centered around civic education. Most recently, we worked in collaboration with Miami-Dade county teachers to create elementary civics lessons (‘Civics in a Snap’), which will be shared with you as soon as our NEW site goes live later this week! Our most accessed resource, the 7th grade Applied Civics Resources, provides lesson plans, content background videos, benchmark specifications, and assessment items that teachers can use to teach the benchmarks. Please note that in order to access most resources on the site, a free registration is required.


icivicsiCivics is perhaps one of the most well known and loved civics resources in the nation. The site provides games, writing tools such as Drafting Board, lesson plans, and other resources for teachers to better teach that next generation of citizens. The FJCC has worked closely with iCivics in developing resources aligned with the Florida Benchmarks, which we have integrated into our lesson plans, though their curriculum and resources are intended for a national audience. Free registration is required, but it is well with your time, and I have never known a teacher to say a negative word about iCivics. Just be sure that you make sure whatever resource you are using fits your state’s standards! Here in Florida, folks from the Florida Law Related Education Association lead the iCivics effort across the state, and are themselves worth a look.

The Center for Civic Education
center for civic edThe Center for Civic Education is perhaps one of the most well known and important national civic education organizations. Their ‘We the People’ and ‘Project Citizen‘ materials are incredibly popular, and they do an excellent job in helping students understand the foundations of citizenship and to start them on the path toward civic engagement.

The United States Youth Senate Program
youth senateThe United States Youth Senate Program is a unique educational experience for outstanding high school students interested in pursuing careers in public service. The 54th annual program will be held in Washington, D.C., from March 5 – 12, 2016. Two student leaders from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity will spend a week in Washington experiencing their national government in action. Student delegates will hear major policy addresses by Senators, cabinet members, officials from the Departments of State and Defense and directors of other federal agencies, as well as participate in a meeting with a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. All transportation, hotel and meal expenses will be provided by The Hearst Foundations. In addition, each delegate will also be awarded a $5,000 College Scholarship for undergraduate studies, with encouragement to pursue coursework in history and political science.To apply, please contact your state selection contact. Here in Florida, the contact is Annette Boyd-Pitts of FLREA.

The Ashbrook Center 
ashbrookThe Ashbrook Center is an excellent resource for both primary sources and teacher professional development. Perhaps more well known for the materials it provides through TeachingAmericanHistory.Org, Ashbrook has some nice resources for civic education as well, and their seminars on aspects of American government, civics, and history are excellent. I had the opportunity to attend one myself, and it was very well done, though reading-intensive. They are expanding more into Florida. Please keep an eye on this blog for information on upcoming seminar opportunities with Ashbrook.

The Bill of Rights Institute 
billofrghtsintPutting aside, for now at least, the somewhat controversial background of the Bill of Rights Institute , the resources provided by the BORI are worth taking a look at, especially the primary sources that are provided.

The National Archives and the Library of Congress
NARAThe National Archives and the Library of Congress have a wonderful collection of resources that any and every social studies and civics teacher should want to use. We have written about the new mobile app before, and the FJCC has worked closely with the National Archives in providing professional development to teachers at all levels of education.

Mock Elections 

Screen capture from

The FJCC/Lou Frey Institute Student Voting Election Simulation, while aligned with Florida’s Civic Benchmarks SS.7.C.2.9 and SS.7.C.2.7, can be used by anyone in any state as a way to have students engage in the process of voting. It is easy to use and pretty flexible in how you choose to use it. Registration IS required, but is as always free.

Civics Tutorials

tutorialThis Civics Tutorial site is aligned with the Florida Civics Benchmarks, and provides some excellent guided tutorial pieces for students to use within a flipped classroom model, as a remediation tool, or in preparation for 7th grade Civics EOC. An overview of the site can be found here. 

Escambia Civics Review Site

escambia aaThe Escambia Civics Review site is just what the name implies: a review site intended to prepare students for success on Florida’s Civics EOCA. However, it contains additional resources that can be used throughout the year. These resources include vocabulary games, connections to Discovery Ed (if you have an account with that specific resource), assessment items, a practice test, and, most significantly, student friendly readings. These readings are about a page long and are intended to be used by teachers to supplement instruction in the benchmarks. They have been rewritten recently to ensure consistency in the vocabulary and that all of the readings are appropriate for middle school students!

The C3 Framework
24250bbf-0fb5-4750-bded-853014aa88fdThe C3 Framework is a relatively new resource provided by the National Council for the Social Studies (and you should be a member; talk about resources!). It’s Four Dimensions lend themselves well to civics, especially the focus on asking questions and taking action. An overview of the C3 can be found here, and I encourage you to check it out, even if your state is not using it.

Florida Civic Health
civic healthThe Lou Frey Institute’s Florida Civic Health site allows you to compare Florida to every other state in a number of measures of civic health. While it is obviously using Florida as a starting point, you CAN use it to compare your own state to Florida, or to compare metropolitan areas within the state of Florida. Simply select your state on the map, as you see in the screenshot below.



countable clipCountable is a FANTASTIC new resource for teachers in social studies, and especially civics. It would be an injustice to summarize it in just a few words, so please take a look at the post we did on it here, or simply visit it yourself to explore it! The current topic for discussion? Birthright citizenship. Check it out!

The Civil Debate Wall 
the wallFrom the site: The Bob Graham Center’s Civil Debate Wall is a unique, innovative social media tool created by Local Projects for The Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida and funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation. The Wall creates constructive dialogue by providing a physical social media tool that connects large touch screens, a texting system, and a website. These three synchronized components create a single, seamless interactive experience for the broader University of Florida community to actively engage in local, national and international issues. The website component of the Wall closely mirrors the physical Wall. The website attracts users who are not physically on campus. Providing the same features, the website gathers users from a broader population and allows users to keep track of debates.

These are just a few of the resources that are available for civic education in Florida and across the nation. If you have additional ones, please feel free to share them with me at, or leave a comment on this post. Please do the same if you would like professional development or any other help or support! Don’t forget to take a look at the overview of primary resource tools here, and be sure to check out the Florida Civics Teacher’s Facebook Page and the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship Facebook Page! Good luck in the new year, and thank you for the work that you do!