This unit was created by Educators in New Brunswick Public Schools, part of the 2021 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across 7-9 80 minute class periods and was implemented in a Grade 8 US History I and Government course.
Students will be able to:
- Evaluate the fundamental principles found in the Constitution and explain why the ideals put forth have been denied to different groups of people throughout time.
- Demonstrate the ways that the Constitution provided direct and indirect protection to slavery and imbued enslavers and slave states with increased political power.
- Read and interpret primary & secondary sources in order to explain the legacy of slavery in the United States.
- Explain how laws are written to protect privilege and power.
- Cite evidence to explain how early enslaved Africans and free Black people used the legal system to fight for justice and freedom.
The U.S Constitution sets forth ideals that act as the guiding principles of our democracy. The Constitution itself is the nation’s fundamental law, and the ideals and values found within are protected by the democratic principle of Rule of Law. Due to the economic importance of the institution of slavery in the 13 colonies, the founders wrote legal protections for slavery into the Constitution that founded the nation. Not only are these protections contradictory to democratic ideals and values, they set in motion a legal system that would establish systematic racism as the rule of law in the United States.
In this introduction to the concept of laws and justice, students will evaluate the ideals put forth in the Constitution, and analyze to which extent they have been accorded to all people of the United States. Students will analyze various primary sources in order to understand how the protection of slavery was the primary impetus for creating laws that protected the rights of land owning white males while denying rights to enslaved and free Black people. Students will also follow the development of laws after the abolishment of slavery, in order to understand how laws continued to protect the privileges of wealthy white people. Students will use this history to evaluate whether or not all laws are just and to explain the systemic racism that permeates all aspects of American life.
Explanatory Writing - Throughout American history, various groups of people have been denied rights, power and access to wealth. Choose one group of marginalized people and explain, through examples, how they used the justice system in their fight to gain rights, power and access to wealth. Were they successful?
This unit focuses mainly on the history of laws that have restricted the rights of African Americans in the United States. This performance task requires students to apply their knowledge in order to identify and research other marginalized groups that have been subjected to unfair laws in this country. Students will choose one group from a list (including, but not limited to, Native Americans, Asians, Muslims, LGBTQ+, Women), students will follow the same format from class to research the history of laws concerning this group. From their research, students will be able to evaluate the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence and explain why these ideals have been denied to certain groups. Student research will be presented in the form of a research paper, documentary or display.
Introductory Grade 8 US History & Government unit plan for teachers, including pacing, texts and multimedia resources, and student work prompts. Download below, or scroll down to read the complete unit plan.
State of New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies
A. Civics, Government, and Human Rights
- 6.3.12.A.2 Compare current case studies involving slavery, child labor, or other unfair labor practices in the United States with those of other nations, and evaluate the extent to which such problems are universal.
- 6.1.8.CivicsPI.3.a: Cite evidence to evaluate the extent to which the leadership and decisions of early administrations of the national government met the goals established in the Constitution.
- 6.1.8.CivicsHR.3.b: Evaluate the impact of the institution of slavery on the political and economic expansion of the United States.
- 6.1.8.CivicsHR.3.c: Construct an argument to explain how the expansion of slavery violated human rights and contradicted American ideals.
- 6.1.12.A.3.h Examine multiple perspectives on slavery and evaluate the claims used to justify the arguments.
D. History, Culture, and Perspectives
- 6.1.12.D.2.b Explain why American ideals put forth in the Constitution (i.e., due process, rule of law, and individual rights) have been denied to different groups of people throughout time.
- 6.3.12.D.1 Analyze the impact of current governmental practices and laws affecting national security, and/or individual civil rights/privacy
- 6.1.12.D.3.a Determine how expansion created opportunities for some and hardships for others by considering multiple perspectives.
Common Core ELA Standards
Key Ideas and Details
- RH.6-8.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
- RH.6-8.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinion
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
- RH.6-8.7: Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
Text Types and Purposes: Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content
- WHST.6-8.1.A: Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
- WHST.6-8.1.B: Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
- WHST.6-8.1.E: Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
- Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
- WHST.6-8.2.A: Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories as appropriate to achieving purpose; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
- WHST.6-8.2.B: Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
- WHST.6-8.2.F: Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.
Production and Distribution of Writing
- WHST.6-8.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Comprehension and Collaboration
- SL.8.1.A: Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
Formative Assessment 1: Analyzing the Preamble
After studying the Revolutionary Period and examining the the stated goals of the Constitution in the preamble, students of teachers on the New Brunswick Public Schools team were prompted to improve the preamble by adding words or purposes they believed would make the Constitution more fair.
Summative Assessment 1: Defining the Characteristics of Slavery
After studying the laws and societal structures put in place to create and maintain the institution of slavery, students of teachers on the New Brunswick Public Schools team were prompted to produce a written response to the essential question, "How was the institution of slavery an economic, social and political issue?" The document below includes two 8th Grade student responses to the prompt.