Declaration Statesmanship is a focused study of U.S. Government based on the principles within the Declaration of Independence. Clearly, this is an unusual approach, but it works very well in my opinion. The goal is to help students understand the rationale and background for the creation of the United States and our form of government. The course incorporates readings from primary sources, discussion, writing, and independent research.
The course is designed with three components: a student text, a teacher’s manual, and a Declaration Statesmanship Book of Readings. The text provides the background and context along with discussion questions, reading assignments, and research and writing assignments. The Book of Readings contains excerpts from books such as Nichomachean Ethics, The Federalist Papers, Democracy in America, and The Second Treatise of Civil Government, along with the entire text of or excerpts from a number of historic speeches and documents such as the Articles of Confederation, The U.S. Constitution, the transcript of the Dread Scott decision, the Gettysburg Address, and the sixth Lincoln-Douglas Debate. While students can find all of these readings elsewhere, having them already gathered in one place with the specific readings pre-selected is a big time-saver. Some of the readings are followed by a series of questions within the Book of Readings, but the teacher’s manual has reproducible pages with those questions that can be given to students who do not have that book. In addition, students should be reading and researching other books and documents as well as those within the Book of Readings, so it makes sense to lighten the load by having this book already on hand.
The course is designed for 14 weeks to cover the required, one-semester government credit for high school. However, you might consider using it the same year you study U.S. History, stretching it out over a full year, making connections to the historical timeline. The course incorporates a substantial amount of history, particularly in relation to the founding of our country and to slavery and the Civil War. It will reinforce a history course but not replace it.
The teacher’s manual has lesson plans at the front so you can quickly see what should be accomplished each day. Following these are Teaching Strategies. For each chapter, this includes a chapter outline, background notes summarizing or developing the main themes, comments on the Questions for Reflection that appear within each chapter, an answer key for the chapter review questions, questions on some of the assigned readings and their answer keys, quizzes, and tests.
The text can be taught in a group setting or used by a student working with a teacher or parent but doing most work independently. However, discussing some of the questions and sharing “discoveries” will definitely make this course much more valuable, so I would recommend trying to gather two or more students to complete it together, meeting at least once a week.
As part of the course, students will also memorize some key documents such as The Declaration of Independence (at least parts of it), the Preamble to the Constitution, and The Gettysburg Address. Recitations of these are scheduled in the lesson plans.
The text is written from a Christian perspective common to all denominations, but it also teaches students about the concept of “natural law” that many non-Christians throughout history have recognized as a source or moral principles. It begins with “A Look Backward” to the formation of eighteenth century views about government and the rights of people. With that context in mind, students explore the Declaration of Independence and the rationale used by the colonists in their revolt against England. Quite a bit of time is dedicated to the principles involved since these underlie the rest of the course. Students study the influential ideas of that time period and the tensions between them that resulted in the eventual writing of our Constitution. Further study of the Constitution itself flows naturally from this foundation. Students learn the basics regarding our federal form of government in this course, but the focus is not so much on minutiae but rather on principles.
Three of the book’s nine chapters are devoted to slavery, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War, and then the subsequent treatment of blacks, Jim Crow laws, and the Civil Rights movement. All of this is discussed with the “Declaration Principles” in mind.
The Questions for Reflection within the chapters sometimes provide additional information with no assignment. Other Questions for Reflection might be used for discussion or short essay responses, but many of them require students to read and research in the Book of Readings and other written works. Some research will almost certainly be done on the internet. The authors occasionally suggest a number of possible readings, but students are unlikely to complete all of them in a semester. Students will sometimes write essays or papers. Because of the amount of reading and writing required, a parent or teacher will sometimes need to select from among the sources and assignments. Sometimes, the authors clearly identify optional work such as on p. 88 where they say, “The inquiring student is urged to read and meditate on Federalist 39, 40 and 43, especially the end of 43, and to read Daniel Webster’s Second Reply to Hayne, written in1830. For the position contrary to Webster’s, consult Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.”
On the other hand, the question immediately preceding this is one that all students would probably answer: “The Convention took great pains to choose the exact words that would convey their meaning. In the light of this consideration, go back and find the verbs in each of the clauses of the Preamble. ‘Form, establish, etc.’ Why did the convention choose the verbs they did for the various ends ‘union, justice, etc.?’” I expect that parents and teachers will get a feel for the amount of reading their students can handle as they get into the course, and those decisions will become easier as you proceed.
The teacher’s manual’s section on the Questions for Reflection includes valuable notes for the teacher as well as some predictable answers, but students will be learning to think and reason, and arrive at their own conclusions regarding many of these topics. It should make for some lively discussions!
This is a government course with a much larger purpose than simply conveying the mechanics of our form of government. Toward the end of the course, the authors raise the issue of freedom versus license, pointing out that in our modern culture license leads people to indulge their desires without rationally considering the end result—professing a false idea of freedom. They point out how this denies natural law and leads to relativity and loss of true morality. They tie this to the breakdown of marriage and the family, the reduction of education to “education for the workforce,” and removal of God from public life. All of this is to demonstrate that adherence to the Declaration Principles offers a blueprint for civic renewal if we so choose.