Social Studies

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Power to the People: Grassroots Struggles for Social Justice in the U.S.

Despite being founded on the lofty Enlightenment principles of natural rights, individual freedoms, and equality, our country made sure to exclude as many groups as possible from the material manefestation of these ideals. African Americans, women, Native Americans, and the poor were examples of such groups. Consequently, collective struggle was necessary in order to force necessary concessions from the exclusionary grip of elite power. As Frederick Douglas famously said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand.

Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader (Ed. Clayborne Carson)
My Sould Lokos Back in Wonder (By Juan Williams)
Oh, Freedom! by Casey King and Linda B> Osborne
Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman
To Be a Slave, ed. Julius Lester
Uncle Tom's Cabin, By. Harriet B. Stowe
The Civil War, Moments in History, by Shirley Jordan
Women's Right to Vote, by Elaine Landau
The Underground Railroad, by R. Conrad Stein
If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights by Anne Kamma
Media Used: 
"Iron Jawed Angels" HBO film
Malcolm X Spike Lee movie
Eyes on the Prize PBS series
documentary on William Tecumseh Sherman (and others on PowerMedia Plus website)
Uncle Tom's Cabin (original ca. 1920 silent film)
Significant Assignments: 

Choose a single state, complete research on its geography and history and make connections to current politics and economy, culminating in a museum exhibit.

Uncle Tom's Cabin: reading and writing assignments, including reflections, journal entries, Venn Diagrams, Character logs, and visual characterizations, performed individually and in small group activities.

Essay on the effectiveness of one aspect of nonviolent protest used during the Civil Rights movement. (Eg, sit-ins, freedom rides, boycotts, and multi-ethnic marches.)

Presentations regarding one aspect of 1850s U.S. culture. Students must read and critique primary documents, such as Ladies Home Journal, and explain to the class the significance of such cultural norms as the antebellum "women's sphere."

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Articles of Confederation vs. U.S. Constitution: Experiential activity demonstrating the futility of one-state, one-vote.

Presentation on antebellum societal and cultural trends, for instance "women's sphere", "Biblically-based pro-slavery arguments", "abolition", and the Fugitive Slave Act.

Culminating PBAT, as described above, including a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation on a major line of inquiry pertaining to social justice movements in the U.S.


Major research project. See above.

Sample PBATs: 
How did non-violence contribute to the success of the Civil Rights Movement?
What were the competing women's suffrage groups; how did they differ; whose strategy was ultimately successful in gaining suffrage, and why?
Why did Lincoln support abolition? Did his views change over time, and why?
Should violent abolitionists like John Brown or Nat Turner be revered as heroes?

Issues of the American Empire--Humanities Course

Issues of the American Empire includes an in-depth study of the Vietnam War through two of the important literary works that have resulted from that war:
"The Things They Carried" by Tim O’Brien and "The Sorrow of War" by Bao Ninh. These novels will form the basis of a comparative analytic essay that may qualify for the English PBAT. The critique that students develop based on these readings may help them form further areas of research and study in American history.

"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien
"The Sorrow of War" by Bao Ninh
Significant Assignments: 

Comparative literary essay (PBAT)


Research is based on the topic chosen by student to develop into social studies PBAT. Below are some of the topics recently selected.

Sample PBATs: 
Does Sex Discrimination Against Women Still Occur in the Workplace?
What Is Being Done to Address Reform of the US Healthcare—Crisis and Reform
Homeless Children and Families—A Sad Epidemic
Does Racism Exist in the Criminal Justice System?
What Does the Resurgence of Gangs Tell Us About the Youth of America?
Fatherless America--Is This a Family Problem Or a National Problem?
Illegal Dominican Immigration—Does the Immigration Policy Need Reform?
Subprime Mortgage Lending and the Recession--What Are the Lasting Implications?
Police Brutality—Why and What Can Be Done to Reduce It?

Facing Today: Urban Identity and Change

The focus of this course will be on social justice issues, both broadly defined as well as focused on NYC. The course is part of the Senior Institute and prepares students to choose a significant and compelling topic for their social studies PBAT paper and presentation.

Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology by Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins
Excerpts from: A Different Mirror – R. Takaki
American in My Heart – C. Balusan
House on Mango Street – S. Cisneros
Excerpts from: “Desis In The House”By Sunaina Maira
City Journal article: Youth Culture's Lament By Roger Scruton Autumn 1998
The Creation of Youth Culture. By Jon Savage
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith
Media Used: 
Various including: Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith
HBO Film: "Walk Out"
Significant Assignments: 

Essay Prompt: Facing Today: Urban Identity and Change
Choose one of the four social justice topics (Health Care, Affordable Housing, Immigration or Education) and research the impact of that challenge in New York City and specifically your community.

In an essay, critically examine how that issue affects New York City and your community and analyze how the city has addressed this issue. You must also include a proposal of what the community and the city can do to make change (your thesis). You should examine more than one point of view, including opposing arguments. Your essay should incorporate our assigned readings, but should also reflect your own serious academic research.

What to think about?
• Identify the difference between “social” problems as opposed to “individual” problems.
• Define “social justice”
• Identify historic examples of injustice as well as contemporary problems in schools, communities and our city. You can then be specific to your topic.
• Do your actions or the actions of others effect any change?
• What will be the consequences to society of not solving this problem?

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Choosing to Participate: Social Justice in Action Art Integration Exhibition (Based on student research - PBAT paper)


Required for PBAT topic

Sample PBATs: 
The Effects of Gentrification--see explanation above

Democratizing Twentieth Century America

At the dawn of the Twentieth Century African Americans were regularly lynched, doctors were legally forbidden to share information about birth-control with women, striking workers were routinely accosted by hired enforcers and young men could be drafted to fight in wars, though they were not old enough to vote.

A People’s History of the Twentieth Century, by Howard Zinn
Numerous primary source materials

Several independent research papers related to topics focused on during the course.

Sample PBATs: 
In-depth reseach into one of the social movements studied in class and in response to the three questions that guide the course:
Why then? Why did this endeavor for reform [relating to a particular group] get underway when it did?
What gains were won? What gains were sought but not won?
If the reform was only partially achieved, what limited its attainment?
For example: Why did the New Left Social Justice Movements get underway the way they did?


This course will explore the rise of right-wing dictators in the twentieth century in Central America as well as the Caribbean. Students will examine documents that have encouraged as well as challenged the phenomena. Students will examine the overthrow of President Arbenz in Guatemala and the legacy of the dictators who followed him, and the rise of Papa Doc in Haiti and the effect of his rule on the country. Students will write two four-page papers and a series of one-page papers.

The Declaration of Rights of Man
Le Code Noir
The Monroe Doctrine
Corrolary to the Monroe Doctrine "The Big Stick Policy"
Central Intelligence Agency Mission Statement
Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
The Fifties by David Haleberstam
Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change by Stephen Kinzer
Papa Doc, Baby Doc by James Ferguson
The Haitian Americans by Flore Zephir
Media Used: 
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers. House of Un-American Activities
United Fruit Company
Foreign Policy in Focus
Central Intelligence Agency
David Halberstam's The Fifties (1997) Directed by Tracy Dahlby
Divine Horseman Directed by Maya Deren
Significant Assignments: 

Write 2 analytical papers throughout the semester arguing or refuting the following:
America has the right to interfere in the political and economic affairs of our neighbors in
Central America and the Caribbean.
The Central Intelligence Agency's work in Central America and the Caribbean helps to
preserve America's security.

Revise papers to meet PBAT standards for written work.

Analyze and compare and contrast the texts of the Declaration of Rights of Man and Le Code Noir.

Discuss and evaluate the 1950's as a time of "happy days" versus the days of witch hunting.

A series of arguments and debates from multiple point of views concerning: America's paternalistic role in Latin America versus a country's right to self-determinism; the role of the CIA; the reason for the fall of President Arbenz and the rise of of President Duvalier; whether capitalism and democracy can co-exist with a healthy tension.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Create a dialogue between the right and left concerning support for Duvalier.

Enact monologues and dialogues between historical characters: Duvalier, Napoleon, Dessalines, President Monroe, President Roosevelt, President Arbenz, George Tenet, President Obama.

Panel discussion and questions with Haitians of three generations.

Display selection of human rights artifacts gathered from websites, human rights organizations, and newspaper clippings on dictators that have been supported by the American government.


Research and present a dictator of your choice discussing the political and economic legacy of the leader and rate the leader based on their imprint.

What right-wing and left-wing dictators do you hear of in the media today? Do they pose a threat to our security and/or to the population that they rule over? Does America's use of the CIA to overthrow some leaders of other countries contradict our country's commitment to democracy?

Sample PBATs: 
What gives America the right to interfere in the governments of countries in the Western Hemisphere?
How does a country change under a left wing dictatorship versus a right-wing dictatorship?
Which Haiti was worse for the people: the pre- or post- Papa Doc regime ? How does the role of Cenral Intelligence Agency affect democracies in Latin America?

U.S. Moral Dilemmas

History is more than mere memorization of names and dates. Have you heard how Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm's 1972 Presidential campaign paved the path toward Barack Obama's electoral success? Did you know that Jackie Robinson was a civil rights leader after his Dodger playing career and was even arrested for keeping his seat on a bus eleven years before Rosa Parks? That Abraham Lincoln, never a slaveowner, publicly opposed "the peculiar institution" as a first-term Congressman in 1846, seventeen years before Emancipation?

Thomas Jefferson, "Declaration of Independence"
Thomas Paine, "African Slavery in America"
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Letter From Birmingham Jail"
Abraham Lincoln, "Gettysburg Address"
Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, "On Women's Rights"
President John F. Kennedy, "Inaugural Address"
Frederick Douglass, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass"
Bayard Rustin, "Down the Line: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin"
Media Used: 
"The Jackie Robinson Story," Hollywood Film, 1950
"Jackie Robinson," A&E Documentary
"Lincoln: 1863, The Pivotal Year," PBS Video
"Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed," PBS Documentary
Significant Assignments: 

8-10 page research paper comparing historical figures from different time periods who faced moral dilemmas and impacted modern society

Group and individual podium presentations to gain public speaking skills while sharing earned knowledge and insight as model for formal Roundtable panels

Daily reflective writing, submitted twice-weekly, to analyze artifacts including films, portraits or maps; interpret primary source readings, develop profile biographies or "place yourself in history" by relating personal stories to seminal historical events

Group work with poetry, drama or mapping

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Please see above


Choose two historical figures who faced moral dilemmas. Then, like a detective, investigate: Who were these people and where did they come from? How did environment, education and early career exploration prepare them for leadership roles? What factors influenced their decisions? What common themes link your two figures? What can we learn from their contrasts? How do their stories affect us today?

Sample PBATs: 
"The Changes We Wanted, They Made"
"From Religious Conversion to Inspiration"
"The Roman Roots of George Washington's Beliefs"

11th Grade History Research Project

In 11th grade U.S. history, students will be expected to write an historical thesis research paper on a topic in American history of their choosing. Through these project students should be able to use the research process by finding and evaluating valid primary and secondary sources, quoting and paraphrasing from original sources, and using note cards to collect and organize information. In this research project students should be able to develop a cohesive argument, organize ideas, and include analysis of specific examples and evidence, citing all sources.

Analysis and application of "historical lenses"
Interpreting/analyzing documentary film
Understanding character and motivation of individuals and world figures and leaders as historical agents
Significant Assignments: 

--Bill of Rights & Current Event Project
--Civil War Essay
--Outline & Rough Draft of Historical Research Paper
--Final Draft of Historical Thesis Research Paper & Panel Presentation

Significant Activities or Projects: 

• Expressing your thoughts clearly, concisely, and accurately through writing in multiple projects
• Connecting current events to history
• Evaluating bias and point of view in primary and secondary sources
• Evaluating competing historical perspectives
• Drawing conclusions and making connections from trends/patterns based on class discussion, homework, and/or independent research
• Creating outlines and using them to organize ideas


• Evaluating sources, using note cards to collect information, quoting and paraphrasing, analysis and synthesis of research, organization of information, citing sources
• Conducting research on a topic chosen by students
• Documenting sources

Sample PBATs: 
Historical Thesis--Students must complete a 12-15 page historical thesis research paper on a 20th Century American History topic of their choice. Students are also expected to defend their paper before a panel of their peers, and external evaluators.

Supersize Us: America’s Foreign Policy as a Superpower (12th Grade History)

This class uses an inquiry seminar model to focus on how the United States became a “superpower” and how wisely and effectively American power has been used internationally. The goal is for students to answer these questions by exploring and analyzing past foreign policy decisions and, using this analysis, to draw conclusions about when and how this American power should be used today.

Gary Nash, American Odyssey
William Chafe, Unfinished Journey
Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (and A Young People’s History of the United States)
Jesus Garcia, et al., Creating America
Marilyn Young, The Vietnam War: A Primary Source Reader
Christian Appy, Patriots
Media Used: 
CNN, The Cold War
WBGH, Vietnam: A Television History
Dear America: Letter’s Home from Vietnam; Frontline
The War Briefing
Significant Assignments: 

Analytical essay on the Spanish-American War

Test on the Mexican-American War

Test on the Vietnam War

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Cuban Missile Crisis simulation and analytical essay

Document-based debate on the causes of the Mexican-American War

Document-based debate on multiple interpretations of what motivated American foreign policy in the Spanish-American War

Simulated debate of Johnson’s 1965 decision to escalate American war in Vietnam


Research and PBAT: To fulfill their graduation requirement for history, students must complete a PBAT consisting of a 10+ page historical research paper on a topic growing out of this class. Most students choose a topic related to the Vietnam War. Students must do independent research, develop a thesis that answers an authentic historical question (i.e. the paper must be more than a report), support their thesis with a well-developed analysis based on historical evidence from both primary and secondary sources, and examine and respond to alternative arguments. To fulfill the PBAT graduation requirement, students must present and defend their paper to a committee composed of East Side teachers and outside evaluators.

Sample PBATs: 
“Why did the United States lose the Vietnam War?”
“Was the American media biased during the Vietnam War?”
"Who or what was responsible for the My Lai Massacre?”
“What role did the anti-war movement play in ending the Vietnam War?”
“What was the significance of the Pentagon Papers and why?”

History through Conflict

They say that if one does not know history, then a person is condemned to repeat it.
Can cycles truly be broken? Is there such a thing as “evil vs. good”? If a person is a merely a spectator, is he or she, in fact, a participator?

The White Man’s Burden by Rudyard Kipling
The Black Man’s Burden by Edward Morel
Excerpts from Bhagavad-Gita
Satyahgraha by M. Gandhi
Hind Swaraj by M. Gandhi
Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler
The Napoleonic Code
excerpts from The Lost Boys of Sudan
Media Used: 
Film exerpts:
Alexander the Great
Gandhi; Slumdog Millionaire
Schindler’s List; Paradise Now
Significant Assignments: 

Research paper constructing a thesis and supporting evidence analyzing Britain’s influence on India and the consequences.

Comparative analysis of excerpts from major religious texts such as, the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Quran, Torah and the New Testament.

Reading and analysis of primary sources such as “Hammarabi’s Code”, “Hind Swaraj”, “Satyagraha”, “Mein Kampf”, and the “Treaty of Versailles"

Assess statistics by analyzing and interpreting various graphs, including Line Graphs, Pie Charts and Bar Graphs.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Africa Portfolio Project: diary entries from the perspective of one Lost Boy, describing his experience in Sudan and in the United States.

Photo essay that depicts Nigeria’s economic and environmental crisis.

Middle East Portfolio Project consists of a written analysis of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. Who owns the land?


British Imperialism in India: Research Paper
Constructing a thesis explaining how India responded to the problems and/or benefits created by Great Britain. The essay includes supporting evidence of said thesis as well as providing the counter perspective.

Sample PBATs: 
Did humans shape their environment or did the environment shape humans?
Does religion unite or divide?
What causes a society to rise and fall?

The Geneva Conventions and the Iraq War

This course examined several large parts of the Geneva Conventions, tracking them from the First Geneva Convention in 1864 through their current application (most notably the treatment of prisoners of war under Common Article Three, which received a great deal of attention in the media because the George W. Bush administration argued that they did not apply to US prisoners at Guantanamo, while the Supreme Court disagreed).

The Geneva Conventions
The Warrior's Honor, by Michael Ignatieff
Torture at Abu Ghraib, by Seymour Hersh (article the The New Yorker)
Generation Kill, by Evan Wright
International Convention Against Torture
The Truth about Torture, by Marc Bowden(article in The Atlantic Monthly
Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court
US Army Report on Psychological Health of Combat Soldiers in Iraq
Media Used: 
Frontline Documentaries, on-line
Films, including The Battle of Algiers and Full Metal Jacket
Power Point Presentation/interview with Captain Allan Sputz, JAG
Significant Assignments: 

Students were asked to apply the Geneva Conventions (specifically those that govern the conduct of soldiers in combat) to several accounts of battles in the Iraq War, including Haditha, Fallujah, and several smaller incidents recounted in Generation Kill.

Students were asked to evaluate whether the actions of soldiers during those incidents violated the Geneva Conventions, and, if so, to write a short essay on whether or not they should be prosecuted

Students wrote a short essay on whether or not the US should join the International Criminal Court.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Research Paper on one of five offered topics, or design their own topic


Students chose one of five topics or designed their own, conducted research including interviews (often of veterans of the Iraq War), on the internet and in libraries.

Sample PBATs: 
Who should be held accountable for the abuses that occured at Abu Ghraib?
Under what circumstances, if any, can torture be justified, and how can limits be enforced?
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