Tagged: Civics

Cap’n Sam Asks; How do we ‘Form a more perfect union?’

Got a question for ya; Who are “We the people?” Who’s government is it? Who IS the government? Was it the 55 rich white guys at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787? Is it the people we’ve voted for who represent us in Washington D.C.? Is it the people who are hired to work in all to government agencies and departments and bureaus in national, state and local governments? Or is it you? Is it me? Is it us, U-S? If it is, what’s that mean? Are you prepared to govern? What do we need to be equipped to govern our America? 75 years later in his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln called for a new birth of freedom so that government “OF the people, BY the people and FOR the people might not perish from this Earth.” What if it does? What would life be like? What’s it mean for life to be of, by, and for the people? I’ll as you again; who are “We the people?” What’s that mean to you? What’s it mean for all of us? I dunno, you tell me. YOU tell me.

Another Assignment; Two Heroes of Character

Using an essay format, research and report on 2 heroes (real or fictional, living or dead, local or world renowned) related to your curriculum & the Touchstone you created in Assignment #1. Your report should include the heroes’ names, a brief summary of their deeds, an explanation of what they overcame, and the connection between the traits that made them successful and your class touchstone of traits. Also, include a general plan of how you can integrate them into the curriculum/lesson(s) (e.g. video, literature, posted photo, as a guest speaker) and finally a brief summary as to how learning about these heroes can model character and be inspirations to your students and deepen critical thinking and problem solving skills.

HERO #1: Art Hero Edvard Munch

EdvardM1Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian painter whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes greatly influenced an early twentieth century art movement known as German Expressionism. He is most famous for his 1893 painting, the Scream, which is thought to represent what it feels like to suffer a panic attack. This painting is so well known as to be considered iconic, like DaVinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It is one of the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction, fetching more than $100 million.

Munch is believed to have suffered from both depression and anxiety. Munch’s mother died of tuberculosis when he was only five. His sister Johanne Sophie, to whom he was very close, died from the same disease when he was 14. Their father passed away when Edvard was 25 and attending college, leaving him destitute and forcing him to return home to take care of his younger siblings. In his 40’s, Munch had the courage to seek medical and psychiatric help. He believed that his treatments were successful and his work became brighter, more colorful. and had more optimistic themes.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labeled Munch’s work “degenerate art” (along with many other modern artists) and removed 82 of his works from German museums and either destroyed, put into warehouses, or smuggled out to the Netherlands. In 1940, the Germans invaded Norway and the Nazi party took over the government. Munch was 76 years old and with the help of underground smugglers and art collectors gathered and protected as many of his paintings as he could on the second floor of his home, putting himself at great risk. Today those works and many by Dutch painter Vincent VanGogh are preserved at the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Munch exhibited character traits which were uncommon among commercially successful painters of his time. He demonstrated his imagination in paintings that engaged viewers as if they were participating in scenes from a play. He showed his curiosity and adaptability first by delving beyond just subject matter into content and meaning and then by exploring new forms incorporating new philosophies into his works such as symbolism and synthetism. He showed enormous amounts of passion and self-awareness by making himself vulnerable in his work by constantly exploring his own personal pain and experiences. And he showed perseverance and courage by remaining true to his vision even in the face of enormous political and social pressure.

Much’s example shows us that everyone has inherent dignity and deserves to be treated equally with respect, because we never know what others have had to suffer through. Much didn’t settle for being just another post-impressionist painting the same pretty flowers and street scenes as the rest of his contemporaries- he challenged himself to learn and apply new ideas and explore new horizons, and we should also keep pushing ourselves to get better. Munch created several different versions of his composition the Scream between 1893 and 1910 with paint, pastel, etchings and engravings. That’s an example for us to never be satisfied, but to constantly work to improve and learn, even from what we think of as mistakes.


Boyer Valley Art Room Touchstone Creed:

We respect each other as artists
We push ourselves
We learn from mistakes
and celebrate each other’s successes


One of the National Art Education Standards is Personal Expression: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas (content). Art History and Art Criticism are also among these standards. One of the critical thinking skills integral to Art Criticism is being able to interpret the content and meaning of artworks. Munch is discussed within one of the major 20th century art movements taught in Eighth Grade Art.

I introduced Munch by first having students perform “aesthetic scans” of a small number of his paintings in the series he called “the frieze of life.” These include one of a child at her mother’s death bed, one called “Jealousy,” and one called “Self-portrait in Hell.” I have students come up with possible narratives about what’s happening in the paintings and discuss the points of view of the various subjects in the paintings and speculate as to the possible frame of mind of the artist when he/she created them. We also discuss how and why artists attempt to invoke moods, evoke associations and provoke reactions from their viewers. Then I briefly share Munch’s biography with them before having them create their own expressionist paintings.

Instead of painting attractive impressionistic landscapes and flowers, Munch to paint his experiences and his feelings. By doing so he pioneered a whole new genre of painting which was more personal and unique. Today many people use painting as a form of art-therapy and most people tend to believe that art should be intensely personal and expressive, utilizing unique systems of personal symbolism and embedding meaning into color choice and stylistic decisions.

One of the most cliche axioms out there is “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” One of my favorite quotes from the WWII period which marked the end of Munch’s life is from British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, “when you’re going through Hell, keep on going.” Both of these quotes represent the Munch’s character to me. Instead of giving up a career in art when faced with having to become responsible for his family, he used his pain and struggle as the very subject of his painting. Van Gogh chose to escape his mental illness by suicide. Jackson Pollack succumb to his addictions. Munch had enough self-awareness, humility and courage to seek professional help for both his addictions and his mental illness.

At a public school I may not be able to directly quote 2 Corinthians 1:4 and tell students that “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” However, I can use Edvard Munch as an example of how we can derive meaning from our suffering and create purpose from our hardships. Munch shows me how just like steel is stronger than iron because it has gone through the fire, we can all become stronger from the challenges we have to face.


HERO #2: Civics Hero Senator James Grimes

200px-james_wilson_grimesOriginally from New Hampshire, James Grimes moved West to practice law in what would become Burlington, Iowa. He served first in the Territorial and later State House of Representatives as well as as one of Iowa’s earliest Governors. He helped revise Iowa’s state constitution. As a member of the Whig party, he helped establish the fledgling Republican Party in Iowa in the 1850’s. As a member of the U.S. Senate, he served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Perhaps his greatest demonstration of character was as Iowa’s Senator, just after the Civil War. Grimes broke party ranks to oppose the removal from office of President Andrew Johnson after he was impeached. Johnson was a slave owning Democrat from Tennessee appointed Vice President by Lincoln in a symbolic demonstration that his administration represented the entire nation. Johnson sought to quickly reintegrate the Southern states back into the Union but faced fierce opposition from the radical wing of the Republican party who wanted to punish the secessionists.

Congress impeached Johnson for firing his Secretary of War. The Constitution requires that Presidential appointments be confirmed by the senate, but Congressional Republicans hastily passed a law requiring that he also seek approval before removing Cabinet members as well. Grimes saw the impeachment for what it was, an unprecedented abuse of Constitutional process for in a play for power in a political fight. He didn’t believe that Johnson, no matter how arrogant or inept, had not committed high crimes or misdemeanors.

Not only did he go against his own party, but at the expense of his own health Grimes tirelessly negotiated between Johnson and Senate members for a narrow acquittal vote. Grimes suffered a stroke two days before the final Senate vote and fell before reaching his desk as he entered the Senate the day the vote was taken. Even though the Supreme Court Justice gave him special permission to remain seated, Grimes mustered the strength to stand up and announce his “not guilty” vote. A year later, poor health forced him to resign his office and he passed away at home in Iowa at the age of only 55.


Grimes is an incredible example of integrity and commitment. He demonstrated enormous amounts of judgement, responsibility, courage and temperance. Grimes put the Nation’s well being before the goals of his party and sacrificed his potential re-election, not to mention his personal health and well being to preserve the Constitutionality and balance of power between the branches of government.

Grimes took responsibility for the integrity of our Constitutionally established system of government even though it meant standing up to peer pressure and standing up to prevent an unpopular person from being bullied. Even though he may have disagreed with the President on a variety of issues and even disliked him personally, he thought it was important to respect the dignity of his office and his right to due process of law and the protections provided by the law.

MS Civics Class Touchstone Creed:

We’re all responsible making this a learning space
We respect everyone’s rights & dignity
We show grit to grow & to try again when we fail
Everyone matters, everyone’s voice should be heard


Each year at Boyer Valley, we include a unit on Iowa History as part of our Civics class. Perhaps the greatest emphasis of the class is on the U.S. Constitution. In the Iowa unit, we also examine the Iowa Constitution. Some people describe Grimes as the James Madison of the Iowa Constitution. Talking about checks and balances between the three branches of government goes hand in hand with talking about Constitutional government. Not only are the Johnson, Nixon and Clinton impeachment attempts all part of history, but the impeachment/removal from office process is analogous to the Grand Jury/Trial Jury process in the criminal justice system.

Once we reach the Civil War/Politics portion ot the article on Iowa History written by an ISU professor which we use for the unit, I have students read and discuss an article from Iowa History magazine on Senator Grimes. This has been a terrific resource for launching discussions that Ryan & Bohlin might consider “moral discourses.” Students are asked to compare Grimes’ actions with Republican Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s negotiating with Richard Nixon and Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s address to the Senate in the wake of the Clinton impeachment.

I personally think that the 14th Amendment, which Grimes helped to craft, refocused the law on principles of equality and justice which the Constitution itself was intended to provide in the first place. I think that Grime’s example shows students that these aspects of our democratic republic require vigilance, commitment and sometimes sacrifice. To selfishly deny the rights of due process and equal protection to others for the sake of expedience endangers the equality, protection and processes for everyone, including ourselves.

Likewise a lack of integrity, judgement, responsibility, courage and temperance on our parts degrades those virtues in our collective community. When we contribute our character to the general welfare, we nurture these same traits in others. We repeat tales of Washington’s courage and Lincoln’s honesty in an effort to instill those virtues in our young. We regale kids with tales of Franklin’s ingenuity, Sam Adam’s aversion to tyranny and Patrick Henry’s audacity both to make kids proud of our moral heritage as Americans and to inspire a desire to belong to that heritage.

I’d hope that James Grime’s example would encourage students to become critical thinkers and readers so that they could scrutinize people’s motives and make choices which align more with their own principles than with objectives of parties or special interests. Better yet, to consider what’s in the best interest in the majority of the community, and not just what’s in their own personal interest or those of the subgroups with which they identify. In other words, stand up for what’s right, not just fight over who gets to be right in an argument.

Classroom Touchstone Creed Assignment

ASSIGNMENT:  Now that we have looked at the different positive character traits and virtues, and reflected on the qualities found in a community of virtue, decide on a Touchstone Creed for your classroom that will be the vision that will frame everything that happens inside your classroom.

In general, a Touchstone is a basis of comparison, a reference point against which other things can be evaluated. It sets the measure for all subsequent worth.

A Character Touchstone is a concise, memorable guide to right behavior. It is not a complete moral system, but a summary that is easy to remember and to teach. It is a short list of rules to which you can refer automatically in moments of stress or indecision.  In a classroom (or school-wide) a Touchstone provides resonance, sets expectations and unifies.


I’ve had a lot of experience composing something like these touchstone creeds over the years, but I have to admit that I still found it intimidating.

Here’s the personal mission statement after reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits in 1994, while teaching at LA Lutheran Jr/Sr HS:

to be God’s clay pot
to refresh students with living water
to have a growing faith

Mission statement that our faculty developed at Los Angeles Lutheran Jr/Sr High in ’96:

We share Christ
disciple Christian believers,
and prepare students for college and life

Mission statement created for Boyer Valley Cheer Squad in 2002:

Positive, Committed Leaders
stirring-up spirit,
building excellence & character

Although, now that I’ve been using John Wooden’s 15 brick “Pyramid of Success,” I think it may be high time to revise and update that one.

I chaired the mission statement committee for St. John Lutheran Church in 2005:

Offering with open arms the love of Jesus

I created this for my teaching blog in 2007

Helping students be seen, not just heard &…
Challenging all students to meet their full potential

Perhaps my all time favorite touchstone is Henry Wallace’s
“Good Farming, Clear Thinking, Clean Living.”
If I taught FFA I think I’d have it painted on my classroom wall.

My wife frequently recites a slogan for her students from Jim Fay’s book ‘Teaching with Love & Logic,’
“Responsible, Respectful, and Fun to be around.”

One of the concepts I try to stress in Civics class is that we always need to consider that Civic Virtue = General Welfare = Common Good. Some of the principles I spend the most time teaching in Civics include Equality, Rights,Social Contract, Liberty, Justice, and Unity. Some of the things that my middle school colleagues and I at Boyer Valley have discussed that we hope to instill in our students are Respect, Responsibility, Empathy & Compassion (Caring).

I REALLY want to just adopt this quote from Teddy Roosevelt-
“Look up, not down- Look out, not in- Look forward, not backward- and lend a hand.”

Here’s one of the 2 final “Touchstone Creeds” I came up with-


We’re all responsible making this a learning space
We respect everyone’s rights & dignity
We show grit to grow & to try again when we fail
Everyone matters, everyone’s voice should be heard

I’ve always used structural frameworks to teach visual art. Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) consists of Art History, Design/Aesthetics, of course actual Art Making and Art Criticism. Art Criticism involves critical thinking skills such as description, analysis, interpretation and evaluation. It’s always a challenge to get students to talk about each other’s work in a positive, supportive atmosphere. You always imagine a “creative community,” almost like a miniature artists’ colony in your classroom. Unfortunately immaturity and social dynamics don’t always permit that. Just a few of the virtues that I hope to have my Art students adopt are Respect, Responsibility, Caring, Expression, Vision, Curiosity, Creativity, Aesthetics. Those and keeping your hands off of other people’s projects and cleaning up after themselves!

So here is the other Creed I developed-

BV ART STUDENTS (7th-12th Grades):

We respect each other as artists
We push ourselves
We learn from mistakes
and celebrate each other’s successes


Socio-Political Dynamic Tension Graph

Here is a graph I created that illustrates my theory on political systems being effected by human desires to 1) restrict or relax control and 2) be individuals and yet be part of a collective group.

Here is a graph I created that illustrates my theory on political systems being effected by human desires to 1) restrict or relax control and 2) be individuals and yet be part of a collective group. Click on the graphic to enlarge.

Obviously the visual and analytical part is derived from the basic supply & demand graph. The political power aspect is based on Psychologist/Educationist William Glasser’s “choice theory” where we either try to control others or try to connect with others. The social participation aspect was inspired by Philosopher/Theologian Paul Tillich’s assertion that we all have equally powerful drives to individuate (“be ourselves”) and at the same time belong to a collective community which is bigger than ourselves.

I’ve written about this on this blog before.See previous post on Sociological/Political Theory. I was frustrated by the traditional Liberal/Conservative continuum that most Social Studies & Civics/History teachers ascribe to. I felt like something was missing. It was too limiting. I felt like Soviet Communism and Fascist dictatorships had more in common than they had different, but on the traditional continuum, they were supposed to be polar opposites. I believe what they have in common is control.

Also, I think of myself as fairly “Liberal/Progressive” but I’ve got a truckload of friends who consider themselves “Libertarian/Tea-Party” conservatives, one Army Special Forces veteran who is a self-described “Anarchist,” and what I’ve found listening to these folks is that in some cases, they actually had more in common with “Occupy Wall Street” style Liberals than other Republicans. This threw me and I wanted to try to develop a schema which would help make sense of these discrepancies.

My hope is that this graphing model will help analyze, understand, visualize, and discuss these concepts with a little more flexibility and depth than the old fashioned Right/Left line model.

What do you think? I’d love to get a discussion going for once. Please leave your questions or contributions in the comments below.

Sociological/Political Theory Based on Spiritual/Psychological Needs

Hyped up on coffee & beer last night, I threw together these two mind- maps. One could be an axis for plotting types of governments or political preferences. The other charts the pull (tension) of out three major democratic principles. The two could be superimposed. Neither is perfect, but I was pretty excited about them at 3:00 this morning. Too bad I’m not working on a degree, I wonder if they’d be a decent basis for a thesis or dice rotation.



3 Core Democratic Principles

TEACHING; Final Destination

I had them take a pre-test at the beginning of the year. I distributed a review sheet last week. It’s been on the board. We’ve talked about it. I’ve drummed facts and concepts into their heads every way I know how for the past 36 weeks. now its up to them.

Typically- some of them have been fretting all night as if their whole grade and their entire future depend on these these 27 questions (they don’t). Meanwhile some of them looked at me with a vacant expression asking “Test? What test? There’s a test tomorrow?” And a few others won’t bother answering even one question, convinced they don’t know any of it despite participating in class discussions and (albeit reluctanltly) sitting through 48 minutes of Civics every morning this year. They’ve resigned themselves to the reality of summer school, so why even bother.

So how important are should tests be? Are formative assessments more valuable than summative ones? How can we get some kids to take tests more seriously while easing other kids’ irrational anxiety?

What tests & trials do we still have to face as adults? What’s the best attitude to have for any tests and trials?