Students determine what ideas and conditions were most influential in the development of classical liberalism.
These activities may be connected to understandings of liberalism or previous learnings about liberalism. You may wish to refer to Exploring Understandings of Liberalism (Critical Challenge).
- Identify principles of liberalism that have remained constant over time.
Examine vision statements to infer conditions in societies
Introduce students to an example of a document that describes a vision for a society or group. Examples could include primary documents from recent or contemporary societies, such as excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream,” the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Barack Obama’s speech on race or a vision statement from a school board (see References).
Ask students to consider why people and groups would make such statements. Students might suggest ideas such as to defend the status quo or to propose reforms or to explore a better way of being. Explain that by examining vision statements, inferences can be made about the nature of the society at that time. Guide students to use the document to develop inferences about the societal conditions that prompted the vision.
To structure this activity, you may wish to provide each student with retrieval charts for deciphering explicit and implicit messages. For examples, see charts in Interpreting and Reinterpreting Images (Modelling the Tools).
Questions such as the following could be used to guide the development of inferences:
- What societal values and conditions might have prompted the creation of this vision?
- What measures were in place to ensure security and well-being for citizens?
- How well did people get along?
- What were the most serious social concerns; e.g., crime, access to food, housing?
- What economic values and conditions might have prompted the creation of this vision?
- Who held economic power in this society?
- How were economic decisions made?
- What measures were in place to promote equality?
- What political values and conditions might have prompted the creation of this vision?
- Who held political power in this society?
- How were political decisions made?
- How were leaders held accountable?
- What rights did citizens have?
To meet diverse learning needs, consider using literacy strategies designed to help students interpret the texts. For example, a word-sort activity can be used to help students understand challenging terms. You may wish to refer to Word Sort (Support Material) to structure this activity.
Make inferences using primary documents
Introduce the idea that philosophers who contributed to the development of classical liberalism are similar to contemporary individuals and groups that articulate vision statements. Review the principles and values of classical liberalism and invite students to predict what 18th century European economic, political and social conditions might have prompted philosophers to search for alternative ways of organizing society.
As a prereading strategy, provide visual examples that students can readily analyze. For example, show clips from movies such as Marie Antoinette, Les Misérables (1998) or Hard Times (1994) to illustrate conditions in 18th century European society. Invite students to use the guiding questions from the previous activity to determine what conditions prompted philosophers to search for alternative ways of organizing society.
To structure this activity, you may wish to provide each student with retrieval charts on deciphering explicit and implicit messages. For examples, see charts in Interpreting and Reinterpreting Images (Modelling the Tools).
Provide students with excerpts from primary documents (see References). Examples may include the following:
- John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government
- Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
- John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty
- Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract
- John Stuart Mill’s “Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being” (in On Liberty).
Instruct students to read the documents and develop inferences about what conditions in society each writer may have been reacting to. Guide students to record quotes that reveal values and conditions of that society.
To meet diverse learning needs, provide each student with short excerpts or ask students to work in small groups to examine one document. Encourage students to highlight sections of the text that reveal values and conditions of that society.
Invite students to share their inferences. Ask students to provide adjectives that are plausible descriptors of life in 18th century Europe.
Validate inferences using secondary sources
Once students have developed inferences about life in 18th century Europe, provide each student with secondary sources, e.g., student textbooks, that briefly describe European society and politics in the 18th century. Invite students to determine the validity of the inferences by comparing their inferences with the details from secondary sources.
Identify criteria for significance
Ask each student to diagram the significant events in his or her family history. Use caution to ensure that student privacy is protected when discussing potentially sensitive issues and information. Encourage students to ask another family member to diagram his or her choices without viewing the choices made by the student.
Invite students to compare their diagrams with that of their family member to see what aspects of the histories are the same or different. Prompt students to consider why their choices of significant events differ with their family member’s and what might account for the differences.
You may wish to consider using the school context and experiences as an alternative approach for this activity.
Introduce the idea that criteria can be used to assess the historical significance of events. The following criteria can be used to judge historical significance:
- Prominence at the time
- Was the event, idea or person noticed at the time as having importance?
- How long did this recognition last?
- Consequences: the impacts of events, ideas and persons
- Magnitude of the impact: How deeply felt or profound was the impact?
- Scope of the impact: How widespread was the impact?
- Lasting nature of the impact: How long-lasting were the effects?
- Subsequent profile:the importance of the event, idea or person in popular history
- Remembered: Has the event, idea or person been memorialized?
- Revealing: Does it inform our understanding of history?
Apply criteria for significance to development of liberalism
Ask students to create a comparison chart. You may wish to adapt the chart and strategies in Comparing Significant Events, Ideas or People (Support Material) to structure this activity. Instruct students to consider the values and conditions explored earlier in this critical challenge. Using the chart, students should determine what values and conditions were most significant in influencing the development of liberalism.
- Create a traveler’s account describing the nature of a society that influenced the development of classical liberalism.
Create a plausible traveler’s account
Ask students to create a plausible traveler’s account describing political, economic and social conditions in the 18th century that were the most significant in promoting the development of classical liberalism. Encourage students to use the criteria for significance and the primary and secondary source material.
Provide an example of a contemporary or historical piece of travel writing (see References). Ask students to develop criteria for a plausible traveler’s account.
Criteria for a plausible traveler’s account could include the following:
- written in the first person
- historically accurate
- portrays a particular perspective
- describes the most significant aspects of a society.
The traveler’s account could be written from the point of view of a time traveler who has journeyed back in time from the present and who understands the principles and values of liberalism. The account should include the traveler’s opinion of whether the new ideas of liberalism will improve the society visited.
As an alternative activity, students might create a visual account; e.g., a drawing depicting a king’s court and its surroundings.