Curriculum Spotlight: Democracy: What Is It, and What Should It Be?

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Fredrick Douglass

Curriculum Spotlight

Democracy: What Is It, and What Should It Be?

In Marianne Kabir's social studies class, 8th graders worked through a unit called "Democracy: What Is It, and What Should It Be?" The class began by reading Jefferson's inaugural address, and the students answered questions about Jefferson's view of government. Students then outlined the inaugural address to see what parts it included: 1) thanking people, 2) call to unity, and 3) plans for the future of the country.

Later, after the 8th graders had read works by Frederick Douglass, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and Thomas Paine, Marianne instructed them to write their own inaugural addresses using the voice and beliefs of one of those authors, but responding to the issues of 2020. They had to include all of the pieces of an inaugural address as outlined above.

Lastly, as the class listened to Biden's inaugural address, the students outlined how President Biden covered these three important parts of an inaugural address and compared it to their plans for the future in their own speeches. 

This project was an extended, multi-part assignment that the students revisited as history unfolded. The results were really fantastic. Read three examples of the 8th graders' inaugural addresses below. 

One Great Nation

Thomas Jefferson's Inaugural Address, 2020 election

by Rebecca R

As I stand before this gathering of Americans, citizens of one vast nation, composed of all who wish to attend regardless of race, gender, or religion, I do admit it is only due to your tremendous support and wisdom I am here, in front of you at all; those gladdened by the sight of my rising to this honored appointment, a great responsibility, mingling amongst those disappointed by the choice of office, for we are all, truly, Americans, citizens of this great nation under God. I wish to express my eternal gratitude to all those who sustain my valid election, and to those who declare reproach at my representation, I send my deepest sympathies and indeed hope my time in this remarkable position and the decisions I will make thereof will be to your satisfaction. Preceding their undoubtable and invaluable assistance to my struggles as your guide (for I am not so much your “leader” as the figurehead holding our ever-growing, ever-changing nation together in times of challenge and guiding our country down the path to perfection), I give the deepest thanks to those in our government who will provide me with courage, sagacity, honor, and the strength to do what is right for each and every one of you in this crowd and every single other citizen of our nation. I thank all of you who will join us, and please have patience as I struggle under this burden, as I work to find the correct fork in the road on the path to the best union of states and collection of individual voices that we can be. 

Knowing some of you feel displeasure at my election, preferring instead my worthy opponent of a neighboring party, let me address all of you in specific by maintaining that I will represent you, Republican or Democrat, white or Black, male or female, to the best of my abilities, with unbiased and affiliation blind proceedings. The majority will always win out, as it did with my selection, but the minorities will not be ignored, nor will they be neglected. Let us unite under this great star-spangled banner, beneath God, whose instruction has led us from the chains of the old nation to this powerful country we are today and will continue to guide us into the future until we are the greatest nation on this planet, and even then let his lessons be remembered: we must be one nation, accepting of each other regardless, if we are ever want to take another step along the path to perfection. As Americans, we are brave, strong, and wise and this must show in all proceedings conducted by our citizens, and under our glorious constitution, the framework for our society from which we must never stray, we will unite and be prosperous. Let us meet under this law of the land and bring harmony throughout our nation as we strive to better ourselves, for God, for our country, and for each other, disputes notwithstanding. 

As I strive under this onerous burden of leadership, my heart is lifted knowing that this government is the people’s government, controlled and following the will of the people of this nation. For under the Constitution, the national government which I represent is weak, and individual states strong. The people deserve to have a voice, which I will give them, for this government today has deviated from the original plan and grown far too strong, separated from the population, and politically divided. For at the end of the day, are we not all Americans to follow a single goal: to better ourselves and our country? Let all speak freely and opinions be heard, indifferent to who you are, to be shared with your country without fear of oppression or punishment thereafter. This government will preside over the people in a minimalistic way, letting each do as they please provided that their actions do conform to the constitution and therefore the ideals of our nation. The people’s voice shall be the countries voice, and your decisions my decisions, for I serve only to represent and hold us together in times of need. 

However strong our nation may be, conflicts from inside may still tear us apart, and the work to bring unity to this nation becomes more strenuous than ever. Now, even, our country is beset not only by doubts and fears of the election season but a deadly plague that contaminates all it touches, and so while I beseech you to stay inside the boundaries of our home, I will not infringe upon your rights as a citizen of America. Proceedings will be left up to the states, but your government begs of you, stay inside to protect your loved ones and this country, for it is only through your sacrifice that we can vanquish the disease and bring our country back to the busting nation it once was. Only then will we be able to revive our economy and everyday lives, and only then will we be free of fear every time we step outside, but once more, if you wish to pretend this virus doesn’t exist and withhold your help to our country, you will have every right to. If you have the urge, like previous leaders of this country, to dismiss my warning for falsities, be warned before you ignorantly contribute to the spread of this epidemic that it is in your hands how the fate of this country will follow. 

I will not assert my opinions onto you, for that would only lead to a monarchy, and even a remote resemblance to such a system anywhere in our country will be effaced for it has no place in our country of freedom, but I will tell this nation that the long avoided topic of race must be examined moreover, and proceedingly shall not be evaded but addressed directly and openly, a discussion for all who wish to partake. Though we have come far since the years of slavery, when people would toil like animals, unjustly treated like property and persecuted, but now are all ostensibly equal, some do seem increasingly agitated by the issue known as “systemic racism”. I do not see much of a problem myself, but if the people are unsatisfied with the government, then I will relent, for is it truly a people’s government if the people hold no power for decision-making? Racism in our country, authentic or fraudulent, will be addressed nonetheless and expunged until our country shines with equality and justice for all, as stated and given in our great Declaration of Independence, written by the founders so long ago, in order to form a more perfect union. 

And so follows the impending occasion of which I will step into the shoes the former president has so kindly vacated, but before I officially accept the presidency, let me declare one final time to all: no matter your opinions or person, if you support my leadership or find it fallible, blind of who you are, I promise to be a benevolent leader for the position I was given, and to grant each state and individual the all-knowing freedom the United States is renowned for. Under the omnipresent eye of God, I swear I shall designate my decisions to all and every one of you, humble myself in front of you and yield my station for you, for at the end of time, we shall not be remembered as a gathering of states, a coalition of parties, a government and its citizens, but a collection, a family of people united under one great nation, America, our home. 

Fredrick Douglas Inaugural Speech
by Zoe O

Fellow citizens, I have to say I am quite surprised that you have elected me as the will of the people. Honestly, I had not known if I was going to run. I would hereon thank my good friend and helpful advisor, former President Barack Obama. His presidency has given me hope, but I believe we can move forward and do more with America as this nation grows. I would like to thank my wife who bolsters me and freed me from a world without purpose. Lastly, I thank my many advisors and campaign crew who have astonished me every day with their hard work to get me here.

I have to ask out of inquiry, why is it that you have chosen me as your president? I am thoroughly grateful, but why after so much time are you now voting for another Black president? Is it because you like to see how well you’re following your constitution? The wishes of your founders are not assimilated with the act of me standing up here, giving a speech to you, the people, but here I stand in spite of it.

We unite under the ideals of freedom and justice, and the hope of a nation, under God, that is wealthy and prosperous. Yet while your ancestors were celebrating their freedom, mine were put in chains. While you were putting your lives back together, you tore ours apart. Do you elect me in a notion for forgiveness because if so I have none. I will not forgive you, but I will also not blame you for the actions of your ancestors because I trust in God that there is hope left for this beautiful country. My ancestors were slaves, yours were not. Simple and true facts need to be acknowledged for there to be any chance for us, the new generation, to move on. Notice the blackness of my skin because not doing so is ignoring my being alive. See the color of your skin because it is your identity. It is not what defines you, but it is a part of you just the same. To progress, you must understand that you are no less than I and that I am no less than you. This mindset is how we grow, and this is how we will thrive. 

Many of you are thinking of recent events, the spread of a new virus, COVID-19. I will do what our last president, President Trump, hasn’t. What we need is a global lockdown to suppress this virus and put it to an end. What your last president has done is unacceptable and my mission will be to fix what he broke and improve what he hasn’t. COVID-19 is not a joke, it is real, and it can kill you, but I pray to the heavens that we can stop it from taking any more precious lives. Safety measures need to be taken and we as a country need to be serious about this virus or else it won’t cease to take lives at a whim.

Everyone deserves healthcare without having to worry about the cost and how they will have to pay for it. This is why I’m working to fund a new project called Green Health. This gives people in need or who can’t afford healthcare the opportunity to come in and get checked upon or take any shots and/or vaccinations they need. They can come for medical emergencies, and not have to worry about the bill they are going to have to pay for it. My sole job is to serve you, the people who give power to this country and choose to let me help us develop into a most robust nation. This idea is called green health because while it also is a new healthcare movement, every time someone comes in and gets help, we plant a new tree. Our plan is to help the people and protect our world who has given us so much. This links to my plan on how we will go forth will global warming, but for now, what should be known is what I plan to do, and how I plan to let this country flourish into something we can all be proud of. 

I respect the vote of all, and if you did not vote for me I understand. I do not discriminate and will respect all minorities big or small. I had a worthy opponent, but you chose me and I will protect and serve all of you to my highest caliber possible. I am the president of the people, so guide me and help me, shout and I will listen, ask and I will respond, I would rather be powered by your voice than my own. 

Obama's Inaugural Speech
by Lucas L

Each time we name a new president we make a promise, to uphold our Constitution and to defend democracy. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for this opportunity you have given me, and for trusting me with the future of America. I promise to take America in the right direction. The direction of change. I may be the winner of this election, but the real winner is the American people. The real winner is our Constitution and all that this country stands for. The real winner is justice.

When faced with the question of what this country is to do about the BLM movement, I say the answer is in our divine Constitution that this country has been built upon. And this document has also bestowed upon us the ideals of liberty, justice, and equality. But just as our divine constitution could not grant slaves rights two hundred years ago, it does not grant justice to those unrightfully killed by the police today. As Americans and followers of this holy constitution, we should be able to see that this is not equal and this is not just. What these police officers are doing to people is sin and one that we as Americans must not tolerate. As any community that allows this kind of brutality is an unholy one. We the people must unite, those who agree with me, and those who don’t, to make these changes.

America needs to change. Plain and simple. We need affordable health care, we need to fight COVID, we need to emphasize the importance of BLM, and we need police reform. We are going to raise taxes on the wealthiest percentages of Americans to fund these services for our communities. This money will be allocated to important services our country is in desperate need of, affordable health care, COVID relief, and fixing other maladies affecting our communities. We are also going to spend more resources on fighting climate change with renewable energy and re-enter the Paris Climate Accord. The creation of renewable energy will create jobs, boosting our economy. While we are cursed with the inequality brought forth by our ancestors by the sin of slavery and of segregation, we are blessed with the opportunity to make changes in these coming years and to make our country a better, more equal, place.


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