Lesson Plan August 16, 2022

The Fragility of American Democracy in the Past, Present, and Future


This unit was created by Patrick Sprinkle, a high school Government teacher in New York, NY, as part of the 2021-2022 Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellowship program. It is designed for facilitation across three-four weeks, or approximately 17 lessons.

For more units created by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellows in this cohort, click here.


Students will be able to…

  1. Identify ways that voting has been abridged in the past and present United States.
  2. Critically evaluate and highlight how members of their own community have resisted attempts to deny participation in our democracy.
  3. Explore the concept of an underreported story and examine the factors that cause it to be underreported.
  4. Learn the critical skills of questioning, presenting, and interviewing in the context of identifying and exploring an underreported story in their own community.

Essential Questions:

  1. How have citizens been denied their role in our democracy as voters in the past and today?
  2. How has our community resisted attempts from institutions to thwart our democracy?
  3. What is an underreported story and how can I find them in my community?
  4. How do I practice the reporting skills of identifying a subject, writing clear questions, and asking them?

Unit Overview:

In the U.S.’s complex and messy democracy, students may be understandably frustrated and cynical about the rate of change. Our public sphere is a hotly contested space in which the battle for the hearts and minds of voters takes center stage. Sadly, access to this sphere has been limited for many on the outskirts of the American dream. This unit seeks to explore the historical underpinnings of this contested space by examining how, in the past and the present, U.S. citizens have been denied the right to participate in this arena. As a means of celebrating and acknowledging the precarious path forward, students will highlight a story of resistance in their own community in a narrative format. The process of identifying a subject, developing a line of questioning and interviewing a subject, and composing a narrative to showcase academic work will be emphasized. 

Prior to this unit, students should be familiar with the broader arc of U.S. history, including the long and impactful battles of those most marginalized to obtain the franchise. Generally, most students will have already taken 20th Century American History.

This unit will cover some of the earliest ways in which disenfranchisement occurred during Reconstruction and will bring us to the present day. Ultimately, students will be able to see a threadline to the present day while critically examining underreported stories of the past and present. As a means of resistance and liberation, students will compose an underreported story on their own of an activist in their community whose work they want to highlight.

Performance Task:

Students will identify, interview, and compose a narrative about a freedom fighter in their community who is resisting the subversion of American democracy in the present. The interviewed subject, likely an underreported actor, can be an activist, a voter or future voter, an educator, or anyone committed to democracy in their community. This task will highlight and draw a bridge between the skills of interviewing and formulating good questions with our school’s emphasized learning habits of reflecting and making authentic connections. Students will be asked to present their final work product in an academic showcase that provides an authentic moment to come together as a community to celebrate their shared learnings.

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