Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Second Fiddle to Fear

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Second Fiddle to Fear

Article excerpt

Most of us believe that by learning about the past, students can better prepare for the future. As a teacher of U.S. history, I certainly believed it, and for seven years I enthusiastically led my students on an exploration of the American past--until history caught up with me.

I taught at a private secondary school for girls in a town that had lost a disproportionately high number of people in the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. Perhaps as a consequence, I found that even two years later, student attitudes toward government policy, patriotism, and historical events in general were hampering my ability to create citizens who understood and would protect their rights.

Each year I had been teaching about the Alien and Sedition Acts to show that the Founders were political creatures who struggled to find a balance between individual rights and national security. During the 1790s, the Federalists labeled the Democratic-Republicans traitors and gleefully passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which are remembered today for their condemnation of dissent and their draconian immigration policies. These acts aroused intense controversy at the time. But in the end, the Founders earned their laurels: John Adams wisely avoided a fullblown war with France, though historians have argued that doing so cost him a second term. With Thomas Jefferson as President, the Alien and Sedition Acts ignominiously expired.

In 2003, in order to bring the issue of balancing rights against security concerns into sharper focus for my students, I taught the Alien and Sedition Acts in conjunction with the Patriot Act. …

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