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The debate over the proper size and role of the federal government is a distinctly American one. In no other country has that question been argued for so long and with such intensity, going all the way back to Alexander Hamilton (who wanted a powerful central authority) and Thomas Jefferson (who feared one).
Virtually every political battle that rages today has roots in the federal expansion and experimentation that began in the 1960s. It set terms of engagement for ideological warfare over how to grapple with income inequality, whether to encourage a common curriculum in schools, affirmative action, and immigration. Poverty remains with us, with the two parties in deep disagreement over whether government has alleviated it or made it harder to escape.
Video Task: Overview of the Great Society: Worksheet | Video 1 (8m) | Video 2 (10m)
Students start by watching two video documentary extracts to start making notes under the most important headings for various policies (e.g. What was the problem? What was LBJs solution? Praise / Success? Criticism / Failure?). The areas under consideration are War on Poverty; Education; Health and Welfare; Arts, Media and Culture; Environment; Housing, Urban and Rural Development, Transportation; Consumer Protection, Workers' rights. This leads directly into the Discussion Task ("What was the GREATEST aspect of the Great Society programme?"): each student will be given ONE policy area to research and write about, aiming to persuade the rest of the class SUPPORTING the viewpoint that it deserves to be regarded as the greatest achievement of the Great Society programme. In addition, they will be required to construct a case UNDERMINING the claims of the next issue in the list (if their name is at the end of the list, they construct a case against the first issue in the list).
Feedback Phase: Teacher Notes
I find it's a good idea to set up a Google Form so that students can collate their findings collaboratively. Here's a sample Google Doc on the Great Society that my students completed. In this sense the feedback session becomes more about talking through the issues in a 'for or against' format to reach agreement on a synthesis and topic statement for each policy area - an approach described in more detail on the blogpost "Ditch Debates, Adopt Arbitration!" on Tarr's Toolbox.
Task 1 (starter): Watch the video clip of Paul Ryan criticising the War on Poverty e.g. search YouTube for “Rethinking the war on poverty | Paul Ryan | TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue”. How would Johnson perhaps respond to these criticisms?
Births (400 years ago today): 1617 - Elias Ashmole, English astrologer and politician (d. 1692)
Births (100 years ago today): 1917 - Edward Norton Lorenz, American mathematician and meteorologist (d. 2008)
Births (50 years ago today): 1967 - Luis Roberto Alves, Mexican footballer
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