- How Should Society Balance the Need for Tolerance with the Need to Protect Itself?
- How Powerful Should the National Government Be?
- Who Should Be Allowed to Vote?
- Should Women Have Equal Treatment Under the Law?
- How Should Americans Treat the Land?
- Has Industrialization Produced More Benefits or More Problems for the Nation?
- Should the United States Pursue a Foreign Policy of Isolationism or Interventionism?
- What Should the Nation’s Immigration Policy Be?
- To What Extent Is the Federal Government Responsible for the Welfare and Security of the Individual?
- Is Civil Disobedience Ever Justified as a Method of Political Change?
- What Are the Limits of a Free Press?
- How Much Should the Nation Invest in Defense?
Clearly, powerful, enduring questions help students learn. What I’ve been wondering about is key questions that might be asked about episodes that occur across American history – that address episodes typically taught in the elementary (Contact through the Revolution), middle (New Nation through Reconstruction, and high school (Reconstruction to the Recent Past.) It seems to me, for example, that:
- A question like How should society balance the need for tolerance with the need to protect itself? could guide a study of the Salem Witch Trials, the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the Red Scare.
- How should Americans treat the land? could draw attention to early contact, Westward Expansion, and 20th Century conservation issues (the Muir/Pinchot debate, for example, or the Endangered Species Act, or dams.)
- How powerful should national government be? could look at Federalist/Anti-Federalist debates, Dred Scott and the Fugitive Slave Acts, and the New Deal and the modern Conservative movement.
What questions can you see being asked across the survey? I think this would be a promising approach for a future Teaching American History grant – if the competition is offered again.