Footnotes for NCSS Bulletin
Teaching Resources Index
Appendix A: Sample Three-Week Unit Plan
Unit Issue: "What, if anything, should we do about cults?"
Lesson 1: DAY ONE
Students watch a videotape (5 minutes) of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, turn into a fiery inferno when raided by Federal agents and watch excerpts of a made-for-T.V. movie on the Jonestown Massacre (10 minutes). Students then share their understanding of the events leading up to the two disasters. The teacher provides supporting information. Next, the teacher poses the following questions for student response: Might the Jonestown Massacre have been avoided? Could the Branch Davidian firestorm have been avoided? Both questions are addressed. Indirectly, students have already begun to consider the unit's central question: What, if anything, should we do about cults? Students are introduced to the central question. The class agrees that more needs to be known about cults—their beliefs, activities, etc. The class then brainstorms a list of images and ideas about cults drawn from their personal knowledge.
INTRODUCE CULMINATING ACTIVITIES
Near the end of class students are informed that a round table scored discussion of the central issue will occur at the end of the unit and that 4-5 person teams will produce half-hour video-taped "special reports" or in-class presentations that explain what they believe should be done about cults.
Lesson 2: DAY TWO
What exactly is a cult?
As a class they read a newspaper article describing the history of the Jonestown cult and its leader, Jim Jones. Then in their 4-5 person teams, students attempt to construct a working definition of cults based upon yesterday's work and today's reading. The class reconvenes, each group reports the fundamental characteristics or attributes of cults they have identified, and the whole class then develops a working definition of cults. At the end of the lesson, students are given two articles to read and a writing task for homework (see Lesson 3 for details).
Lesson 3: DAYS THREE & FOUR
Are the two organizations we read about last night cults?
Students come to class prepared to state whether or not they think the two organizations (the Mormons and the Nazi Party) they read about for homework are cults. The purpose of the lesson is to further develop a working definition of cults and to show students that one must think of cults on a "more or less" continuum rather than in discrete "yes or no" terms. The teacher leads a whole class discussion in which students share their analyses. Teacher questions include the following: Do either of these organizations have similarities with the Jonestown group or the Branch Davidians? Does either organization reflect your working definition of a cult? For homework, students are given an article by an expert on cults who attempts to identify essential features of cults. Students are asked to determine if their working definition of cults should be modified in light of this article.
Lesson 4: DAY FIVE
Does our definition of a cult match that of the expert?
In a whole class discussion, students summarize the expert's definition and compare it to their working definition. Students then determine if they want to modify their working definition. (The definition that emerges typically includes the following characteristics: charismatic leader, physical and psychological isolation, apocalyptic vision of the future, controllers of the new order following the apocalypse, manipulation and mind control, and so on). For homework they read about two more organizations (a drug rehab center called Marathon House and a notorious cult of the late 1970's/early 80's called Synanon) and decide whether or not they are cults.
Lesson 5: DAYS SIX & SEVEN
Does our working definition help us identify cults?
Over two days students discuss whether or not the two organizations described in the homework readings are cults and whether or not their working definition helped them in their assessments. Through discussion students discover that their definition has discriminating power and that they now possess a clear enough understanding of cults to return to the central issue.
Lesson 6: DAY EIGHT
What can be done to stop cults?
In today's whole class, teacher-directed discussion, students brainstorm and discuss possible actions to stop cults, regardless of whether or not they personally think such actions should be used. A variety of ideas are generated. Typically, at least five kinds of interventions are suggested (see Lesson 7 for details).
Lesson 7: DAYS NINE & TEN
Students search for information and arguments to determine whether or not the following approaches to stop cults should be advocated: (a) kidnap and deprogram; (b) limit a cult's right to free speech and expression; (c) identify in advance the kind of person likely to join a cult and intervene before it happens; (d) shut down the cult (using physical means if necessary); or (e) nothing. Questions that are typically pursued with respect to the above five approaches are: Is it legal to kidnap a cult member? Does deprogramming work? Is it a good idea to curb the speech of some members of society? Is it constitutional to do so? Are there effective ways to identify personality types likely to join cults? Should the government step in and shut them down, including the use of force if necessary? Why is doing nothing the best course of action?
Lesson 8: DAYS ELEVEN & TWELVE
How does our research inform our perspectives?
For two days in large and small group formats, the class discusses and continues to research the questions listed in Lesson 7 above. Students share important information and ideas and take notes. For homework, students continue to review their research materials in preparation for tomorrow's team meetings.
Lesson 9: DAY THIRTEEN
PREPARING FOR THE SCORED DISCUSSION:
Teams meet to formulate an agreed-upon response to the central issue in preparation for the scored discussion activity on Day 14.
Lesson 10: DAY FOURTEEN
Students engage in a roundtable discussion of the central unit issue: What, if anything, should we do about cults? The teacher will score the discussion (see Harris, Chapter 31).
Lesson 11: DAYS FIFTEEN & SIXTEEN
Videotaped "special reports" are shown or live presentations are given by each team that reveals their response to the central issue. If time remains, students individually begin to organize and write a position paper that addresses the central unit issue.
Lesson 12: DAY SEVENTEEN
Students are given one class period to outline and begin to write their position paper. The essay is due in two days. Students will be given an opportunity to rewrite their essay. Outstanding essays will be read aloud next week in class and all essays will be displayed for classmates to read.
Footnotes for NCSS Bulletin
Teaching Resources Index