Public Criticisms of Congress

Analyzing Political Cartoons


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Please select your state to view the corresponding standards:

Introduction

The purpose of this activity is to facilitate students’ understanding how the well-being of constitutional democracy depends upon informed and effective participation of citizens. Students will explore public criticisms of Congress by analyzing visual and language clues to determine the meaning of contemporary and historical political cartoons. Students will also begin to formulate and support their own views about how Congress works.

Focusing on Library of Congress Collections:

Recommended Grade Level

Grades 8-12

Course/Subject

Civics/Government, Media Studies

Standards

Generally, this lesson connects to standards on civic ideals and practices and historical and social studies analysis skills.

National Standard: Time Continuity and Change

Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ways human beings view themselves in and over time, so that the learner can:

Middle Grades:

  1. identify and describe selected historical periods and patterns of change within and across cultures, such as the rise of civilizations, the development of transportation systems, the growth and breakdown of colonial systems, and others;
  2. identify and use processes important to reconstructing and reinterpreting the past, such as using a variety of sources; providing, validating, and weighing evidence for claims; checking credibility of sources; and searching for causality;
  3. use knowledge of facts and concepts drawn from history, along with methods of historical inquiry, to inform decision-making about and action-taking on public issues.

High School:

  1. identify and describe significant historical periods and patterns of change within and across cultures, such as the development of ancient cultures and civilizations, the rise of nation-states, and social, economic, and political revolutions;
  2. systematically employ processes of critical historical inquiry to reconstruct and reinterpret the past, such as using a variety of sources and checking their credibility, validating and weighing evidence for claims, and searching for causality;
  3. apply ideas, theories, and modes of historical inquiry to analyze historical and contemporary developments, and to inform and evaluate actions concerning public policy issues.

National Standard: Power, Authority, & Governance

Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance, so that the learner can:

Middle Grades:

  1. examine persistent issues involving the rights, roles, and status of the individual in relation to the general welfare;
  2. describe the purpose of government and how its powers are acquired, used, and justified.

High School:

  1. examine persistent issues involving the rights, roles, and status of the individual in relation to the general welfare;
  2. explain the purpose of government and analyze how its powers are acquired, used, and justified.

National Standard: Civic Ideals & Practices

Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic, so that the learner can:

Middle Grades:

  1. examine the origins and continuing influence of key ideals of the democratic republican form of government, such as individual human dignity, liberty, justice, equality, and the rule of law;
  2. identify and interpret sources and examples of the rights and responsibilities of citizens;
  3. locate, access, analyze, organize, and apply information about selected public issues-recognizing and explaining multiple points of view.

High School:

  1. explain the origins and continuing influence of key ideals of the democratic republican form of government, such as individual human dignity, liberty, justice, equality, and the rule of law;
  2. identify, analyze, interpret, and evaluate sources and examples of the citizens’ rights and responsibilities;
  3. locate, access, analyze, organize, synthesize, evaluate, and apply information about selected public issues-identifying, describing, and evaluating multiple points of view.

Time

This activity should take two 60- class periods in addition to homework time.

Activity Objectives

Understanding Objectives: WHAT students will understand

Students will understand:

  • that citizens are guaranteed specific rights in the U.S. Constitution and Amendments;
  • how Congress and its role in major historical events has been portrayed in political cartoons, and how these cartoons influenced Congress and the public;
  • ways for citizens to express views and why it is important;
  • long-standing criticisms of Congress and determine the validity of these criticisms; and
  • how to use resources available through the Library of Congress to study issues relating to public perceptions of Congress.

Process Objectives: HOW students will learn

Students will actively:

  • identify artistic and persuasive techniques used in political cartoons;
  • explain ways that people can become informed before developing views about issues and institutions; and
  • analyze issues addressed in political cartoons.

Activity Materials

NOTE: Teachers should preview all sites to ensure they are age-appropriate for their students. At the time of publication, all URLs were valid.

Digital Resources from the Library of Congress

Prepare for projection

Resources from the Center on Congress at Indiana University

Prepare for Projection or Viewing in an Internet-Ready Computer Lab

Other Resources

Equipment and Other Supplies

Vocabulary

analogy*
An analogy is a comparison between two unlike things that share some characteristics.
civil rights
Rights of personal liberty guaranteed in the Constitution.
critique
Citizens and cartoonists often analyze, review, study, assess, or criticize-- offering a critique of an issue or political action.
exaggerate*
Sometimes cartoonists overdo, or exaggerate, the physical characteristics of people or things in order to make a point.
irony*
Irony is the difference between the ways things are and the way things should be, or the way things are expected to be. Cartoonists often use irony to express their opinions on issues.
label*
Cartoonists often label objects or people to make it clear exactly what they stand for.
political cartoon
A political cartoon is a drawing that makes a statement about a political event or issue.
public policy
A decision, law, or other action of government that addresses problems and issues. Some policies are passed into laws, and some policies are contained in rules and regulations.
rights
In this lesson, a right refers to the powers and privileges granted to citizens.
responsibilities
Duties or obligations.
symbol*
Cartoonists use simple objects, or symbols, to stand for larger concepts or ideas.

*Definition from the Cartoon Analysis Guide: http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/activities/political-cartoon/

Procedures and Learning Experiences

I. Exploring How Citizens Can Stay Informed

  1. Explain to students that our representative democracy is based on the notion that ordinary people have the right and responsibility to be involved in their governance. If we want our representatives to do their job well, we must keep informed of current issues, analyze what is being presented by the media, and form and support our own opinions.
  2. As a class, brainstorm ways citizens can become more informed about issues before committing to a viewpoint. Students may say that citizens can gather information from newspapers, the Internet, television, or radio.
  3. Take a poll to find out how students prefer to learn about current issues. Have students explain why they prefer some sources of information over others.
  4. Guide students in considering the differences among resources. Discuss how the same issues or events could be presented in different ways.

II. Analyzing News Sources

  1. Write the following questions on the board:
    • What is at issue?
    • Who are the participants on different sides of the issue or conflict? What are their different proposals in attempting to resolve the issue or conflict?
    • Where is the issue or conflict taking place?
    • For how long has this been an issue?
    • Why do the different sides have different ways of solving the issue or conflict? Do the different sides want to use different means of arriving at the same result, or are their goals different?
  2. Tell students that when reading or analyzing news sources, it is helpful to answer these questions.
  3. Divide students into groups of four. Duplicate or distribute The Moorpark Enterprise. Explain to students that this newspaper was published during the Dust Bowl. Have students quickly explain what they know about the Dust Bowl. If needed, have them skim a history textbook to get some background information about the Dust Bowl.
  4. Ask each group to read, “The Farmer’s Corner” from The Moorpark Enterprise and answer the questions written on the board. Invite groups to share their answers with the class.
  5. Tell students that every source is biased in some way. News sources tell us only what the creator of the document thought happened, or perhaps only what the creator wants us to think happened. Guide students in considering how to detect bias in news sources by exploring the following online resources with them:
  6. Have groups examine The Moorpark Enterprise for bias.
  7. As a class, generate a list of issues students are interested in. Have each group choose one issue and learn more about this issue by examining four different news sources. Students should examine news sources for several days.
  8. Have groups write a paper in which they explain the issue they examined, discuss the opposing viewpoints about the issue, describe any factual discrepancies among the news sources, and discuss whether a particular source influenced their opinion.

III. Evaluating Differing Opinions in Political Cartoons

  1. Explain to students that one way to learn about differing sides of an issue is to examine political cartoons. Political cartoons can show opposing viewpoints of the same issue.
  2. Quickly review the persuasive techniques that political cartoonists often use by going over The Cartoon Analysis Guide with students. Then show students “Election Day!” and “Uncle Sam (as "Public Opinion") Embracing Nurse. . .
  3. Tell students that both of these cartoons were created during the women’s suffrage movement.
  4. As a class, analyze each cartoon. Ask:
    • What is the cartoon saying?
    • What persuasive techniques did the cartoonist use?
    • What, if any, action is being advocated?
    • How well did the cartoonist portray the main point of the cartoon?
    • Which cartoon did you find more persuasive? Why?
  5. Divide the class into small groups of four, and give each group a copy of two to four different newspapers. Have each group find the political cartoons located in the opinion or editorial section of the newspaper.
  6. Ask each group to analyze two cartoons about the same issue and summarize the cartoonists’ opinions about the issue. Then have students formulate their own opinion about the issue and raise questions that they might need to research in order to develop a more fully-informed view.
  7. Invite groups to share their analysis of the cartoon, discuss what their current views are on the topic, and share questions they need to research to become more fully-informed.
  8. Have each student research the issues depicted in the group’s political cartoon and write one paragraph explaining how background information caused them to confirm or modify their initial view, and why. Ask students to make a list of the sources they used to help them become informed.
  9. Ask students to share the results of their research and discuss various ways that people can become more informed about issues before committing to a viewpoint.

IV. Understanding Political Cartoons

  1. [ONLINE] Tell students that political cartoons often create cartoons about how Congress works. These cartoons often influence people’s opinions about the legislative branch. Have students analyze cartoons that address some common criticisms of Congress and begin to formulate their own views about Congress. Ask students to complete the online activity: Analyzing Political Cartoons.
  2. Before students begin, introduce the process to them. Tell students they must first select one cartoon. Then read the prompts listed in each bubble aloud and make sure students understand what is being asked. Explain that in order to enter their answers to the prompt, they must first click on the bubble. Another box will appear. Students can then type their response. When they are done, they must click on the “Save and Close” button. After students respond to all the prompts, they should click on the “Save” button located at the top of the screen.

Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies, 1994.