The Declaration of Independence contains extremely important American ideals and helped create the modern world we live in today, but the words did not write themselves. Who were the folks who wrote it and what do we need to know about them?
This lesson had two parts:
Part 1: The Signers – Small groups/pairs of students will use a table of information about the signers to answer questions & discuss. They should discover that the signers were all men, mostly wealthy, mostly of English/European descent and mostly older. Are all men created equal?
Part 2: Deleted Scenes– Students/pairs will read a paragraph that was in Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration that was cut out of the final document. Students will grapple with the fact that Jefferson owned slaves, yet condemned it in this draft of the Declaration. My 9th grade students’ responses to the homework questions were sophisticated and enlightening.
Positives: It is a good way to promote critical thinking and get students to think about the ambiguity of history. The Declaration of Independence isn’t perfect, nor were the people who wrote it, but it doesn’t mean we should discount it completely. Exploring this gray area is an important part of growing up and understanding the world.
Negatives: For some, this might seem like an attack on the Founding Fathers. I don’t mean it to be. I do believe it is important for students to think about authorship and feel comfortable digging deeper into history.
The worksheets I used can be found below.