PS/IS 686 | Brooklyn, NY

Give me Liberty or Give me Death!

-Patrick Henry


Dear Parents,

The unit we are currently in, “Freedom-What does it mean to be free: An analysis Across Past and Present,” will address several big questions.  For example our students will be asked, “How Does Our Government Protect our Rights? Or takes them away?”  

Inquiry questions:

  • Are we born free?
  • Are we given freedom?
  • If so, how?
  • Can freedom be taken away?
  • If so, how?

Terry Golway from Kean University wrote these words that express the very essence of why we are teaching this unit.

“Washington D.C. is the place where America makes great decisions about laws and governance. But New York is the place where we decide what it means to be an American. And that debate, I’ve found, is just as interesting, passionate, and important as any speech on the floor of Congress or any legal brief filed with the Supreme Court. From the Federalist Papers to the Seneca Falls Convention, from the Factory Investigating Committee to the Harlem Renaissance, New York is the place where political figures, activists, intellectuals, writers, and artists have come together to argue about rights, identity, reform, and ever-changing notions of freedom, liberty, and justice. …New Yorkers have been arguing about ideas and ideals, about inclusion and exclusion, and about individual rights and collective responsibilities from the very birth of the American Republic. And those arguments have been enriched because they have not been limited to elected or appointed officials. They have included men and women who sought to make their voices heard in the public square even though they held no office, even though, in some cases, they did not even have the right to vote. And so women from across the nation assembled in Seneca Falls in 1848 to demand equal rights and to plot a political strategy to achieve those rights. On July 4, 1852, the former slave Frederick Douglass delivered a stirring speech in Rochester reminding white Americans that African-Americans had no reason to celebrate the nation’s birth. Working people, many of them immigrants, rallied to demand greater government supervision of the workplace—and, ultimately, a greater role for government in the marketplace—in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911. A conservative intellectual, William Buckley, ran for mayor of New York City in 1965 to help circulate his critiques of government and society. Four years later, liberal novelist Norman Mailer did the same, for the same reasons. The study of government and political history can be, and perhaps at times should be, deeply earnest exercises designed to inform students about the very basics of their governmental structures.

New York students certainly ought to know all about the three branches of state government, about the relationship between the city’s mayor and its city council, and how a bill becomes law, whether in Albany or in City Hall. (Mind you, the latter topic may at times require an instructor to bite his or her tongue.) All of this is important. But it hardly does justice to the flesh-and-blood arguments that are at the heart of New York politics and government. Yes, the process is important to know. Significant milestones and important laws ought to be part of the vocabulary of any educated citizen. But it is just as important, if not more so, to understand that New York has been home to men and women who, for more than 200 years, have thought about and argued about how best to make the union more perfect, how best to deliver on the promise of liberty and equality.

When I think of New York politics, I think of other public figures like Smith, who believed in and expanded on the ideals codified in the federal and state constitutions. I think of Shirley Chisholm, the member of Congress from Brooklyn who became the first African-American woman to run, albeit briefly, for the nation’s highest office in 1972. I think of the Yiddish-speaking Italian-American reformer Fiorello LaGuardia, creating a space in civic affairs for people of color and disenfranchised immigrant groups. I think of Herbert Lehman, creating his own “Little New Deal” in New York after succeeding Franklin Roosevelt as governor. I think of Melissa Mark-Viverito, the first Latino leader of the New York City Council. But the genius of New York’s political culture is the space given to those who bear no titles of elected office. It has allowed prominent clergymen, from Archbishop John Hughes, the feisty leader of the city’s Roman Catholics in the mid-19th century, to William Sloan Coffin, the anti-war activist of the 1960s, to Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist, to claim a role in New York’s civic conversation. It has inspired politically active writers and intellectuals, from Gloria Steinem to James Baldwin, Dorothy Day to Norman Podhoretz. And it has been and remains the place where groups on the margins—from the immigrants of the Ellis Island generation to today’s Asians, Latinos, and members of the LGBT community— challenge and redefine American law, culture, and identity. Alexander Hamilton and John Jay surely would not recognize the debates and ideas that are part of New York’s political culture in the 21st century. But they surely would recognize the passion and sense of civic engagement. After all, they started it.”

Here are the standards and content that will be covered in this unit.   We hope that the opportunity to learn about “freedom fighters,” might build better inclusion within our world.


Tensions that caused Revolutionary War.

The colonists resist British Parliament’s taxes (Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Townshend Acts, Tea Act) and restrictions, (Proclamation of 1763) Boston Massacre.

Declaration of Independence as a key document of the American Revolution


There are different levels of government within the United States and New York State. The purpose of government is to protect the rights of citizens and to promote the common good.

The government of New York State establishes rights, freedoms, and responsibilities for its citizens. (Standards 1, 5) Independence

■ Foundations for a new government/ideals of American democracy (Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, the United States and New York State Constitutions)

The Development of the Constitution

■ The Constitution as a framework for organizing government.  It is a living document.  Changes and amendments

■ The Bill of Rights and individual liberties

■ Checks and balances of the Government.  

■ A living document

■ The structure of the federal government including the president, Congress, and the courts ■ Changes and amendments


Different groups of people did not have equal rights and freedoms. People worked to bring about change. How has the government over time(Supreme Court rulings, Legislative branch- writing laws, and Executive Branch-writing executive orders or Constitutional amendment) protect or take away the rights or people?  

■ The Peter Zenger Trial

■ Lack of inclusiveness (enslaved and free African Americans, women, the poor)

■ Black Codes-Laws to take away rights of blacks.

Constitutional Amendment to abolish slavery (Samuel Cornish, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, Albro Lyons, Charles Reason, Henry Highland Garnet, or Harriet Tubman)

■ Constitutional amendment 24.  Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but years of action and court challenges were needed to unravel numerous means of institutional discrimination.

■ Segregation in schools Supreme Court ruling against it.  

Amendment 19 Women get the right to vote.  People who took action to bring about change for women’s rights (Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Elizabeth Blackwell)

Court ruling.  The Peter Zenger Trial.

■ Civil Rights movement and anti war movement. Newly elected President Richard M. Nixon declared in 1969 that he would continue the American involvement in the Vietnam War in order to end the conflict and secure “peace with honor” for the United States and for its ally, South Vietnam.

■  Migrant Workers rights. Cesar Chavez

■ Formation of Black Lives Matter.  People fight against police brutality

Supreme Court Ruling.  Fight for gay marriage

Supreme Court Ruling.  Fight against President Trump’s immigration ban on muslim countries

■ Women’s march.  Women’s continued right to be respected and given the same liberties as men.  

Executive orders of President Trump on immigration and travel ban and the Supreme court ruling against it.

Executive orders of President Trump on Mexico wall.

The Indian Removal Act resulted in the transplantation of several Native American tribes and the Trail of Tears. The Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress on May 28, 1830, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, who signed it into law two days later.

Obama’s ruling to stop to it and Trump executive order allowing it.  Present day fight over native land and the Dakota pipeline.


Here is a sampling of some of our work, so far. More to come!!!!