Reading Revolutions: Ideas for Teaching
Learning Activities: Freedom in Different Countries
To understand the context of an essay or book students should investigate the zeitgeist or spirit of the times. Students should be given appropriate original sources to read. The length and complexity will depend on the age of the students and the difficulty of the material. It's better to read five pages of Machiavelli than to read a summary in a textbook. Students will remember the concepts better and the author can be brought to life for them so they can hear his or her voice. The assignment is to find out what was happening in
the author's country at the time he or she lived and to investigate what
was happening in other countries at the same time.
When John Adams was writing A
Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America
what were the ideas of freedom and government in Spain, Russia, India, Africa,
or South America? What was life like for the ordinary person?
What types of government were common at this time? For the more advanced
student, a consideration of the differences between John Adam's culture
and the culture of another country and the role that difference played
would provide quite a challenge. Students with different interests can look at culture in unique ways. How did people dress? How many lived on farms? What were the farming practices? What kind of entertainment was popular in different countries? What could you buy in a store? How many people in the country could read the text?
When using a text devoted to discussions of freedom, you can consider slavery. Many authors while passionately defending freedom were silent on the subject. What different countries have practiced
slavery? What process led to the cessation of the practice in each
country? Did the different countries have different laws to protect
the slaves? Did slaves have rights?
Have the students collect the constitutions
from as many different countries as possible. Assign four constitutions
to each subgroup of students. The students should analyze the constitutions,
compare the provisions, research how the constitution is used in law and
by the legislature, and see if there are ideas that would work well in this
Are the ideas of freedom different
in different cultures? How? Here you might start out with the
idea of freedom on the basketball court and then bring it into the school
setting before you talk about freedom within and between countries.
The students should begin to discover that there are differences between
individual freedom and the freedom of the individual within a group.
You can talk about different kinds
of freedom...freedom from hunger, freedom from fear, freedom of choice.
Is political freedom worth giving up the freedom from fear or freedom from
How have these concepts changed over
time? Did the people in the 14th century have the same ideas about
themselves as we do?
Professor of Psychology
University of Maine at Farmington