School Improvement in Maryland

Lesson Seeds: The lesson seeds are ideas for the indicator/objective that can be used to build a lesson. Lesson seeds are not meant to be all-inclusive, nor are they substitutes for instruction.

Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic B. Individual and Group Participation in the Political System

Indicator 1. Analyze the influence of individuals and groups on shaping public policy

Objective a. Analyze the influence of the media on political life

The influence of the media in early U.S. history can be taught in a wide variety of historical contexts. In general, teachers can select an event or an issue and have students analyze and compare different media accounts of the selected topic. Then teachers can engage students in a discussion about how media coverage of the topic might have influenced public opinion and the government’s responses to the topic. In this lesson seed, it will be applied to student analysis of how different newspapers in the largely subjective 19th century media covered the Amistad case.

The full lesson plan and primary sources for the following suggested activity may be found at http://academic.sun.ac.za/forlang/bergman/real/amistad/cinque.htm.

Be sure that students understand the difference between the terms subjective and objective. As needed, provide students with examples of modern day news stories and commentaries that have been written both subjectively and objectively. It also might be helpful to have students read a brief news article and differentiate between facts and opinions expressed in the article.

Provide students with background information on the Amistad case from a secondary source (an overview can be found at http://academic.sun.ac.za/forlang/bergman/real/amistad/history/msp/site_wel.htm). To engage student interest, teachers may also choose to show a brief excerpt from the 1997 motion picture, directed by Steven Spielberg. Then tell the students that they will examine several newspaper accounts describing Cinque, the leader of the Amistad revolt.

Provide students with conflicting newspaper accounts from the Web page referenced above. Direct students to complete a primary source analysis worksheet such as the Maryland Historical Society’s “How to interpret a newspaper article” sheet at http://50-56-84-248.static.cloud-ips.com/education/teachers/primary-source-worksheets. After this initial analysis is completed, engage students in a discussion around several key questions, including, “How did the newspaper accounts of Cinque and the revolt differ?”; “Why do you think this is case?”; “What perspective do you think each paper was writing from?”; “How do you think citizens would have responded to each account, if this was their only source of news?”; and finally, “How does this activity illustrate problems created by a subjective (rather than objective) press?” “Are there any advantages presented by a subjective press?”

As a concluding activity, have the students select one of the newspaper accounts of the Amistad case and write a letter to the editor of that newspaper critiquing their coverage of this event.

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Resources for Objective 1.B.1.a:
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