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Are you looking for a way to incorporate civics into your high school classroom? This learning resource connects the concept of informed civic agency to George Washington’s significance as a national symbol in rhetoric.  Through the analysis of primary sources and a creative civics activity, this learning resource empowers students to see themselves as citizens whose voices matter and who have agency to collaboratively confront problems in our world today.

Lesson Narrative (5Es)

This learning experience is inquiry-based and built on the 5E model. Students will be engaged by thinking about how historic events are used by public figures today. Students will explore and explain two sources from the early U.S. that reflect on Washington’s enslavement of people and relationship with the institution of slavery. Student understanding will be evaluated through debate about how Washington should be viewed. Finally, learning can extend by comparing Reverend Richard Allen's eulogy of Washington to others.


  • Have students write down or share an event from the past that is used by public figures to connect people to modern events.
  • Ask: do some examples divide? Do some unite?


  • Ask the students to read both Reverend Richard Allen's eulogy of Washington and Frederick Douglass's "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?".
  • Compare the two. How were their interpretations of Washington different? What did Washington's relationship with slavery mean for the future of the country?
  • Ask: were there any components that both Allen and Douglass agreed upon?


  • Have the students break into teams. Tell them to consider this question: Do we need national symbols (in the form of monuments, holidays, and patriotic sites) based on our history in order to lead successful civic lives and have a successful national community?
  • Have the teams develop at least five arguments in support of their position on the question
  • Tell the teams to identify three strong arguments that the other team might raise in order to prepare possible counter-points.
  • Debate; engage in civil disagreement.


  • Compare Richard Allen's eulogy of Washington to others that are archived by Mount Vernon. What is similar? What is different? 
  • If a student could teleport to 1799 and write a eulogy for Washington for an 18th-century audience, what would it look like?

Student Portal

Students can explore the timeline to learn more about George Washington as a National Symbol

Explore the Timeline

Civic Connections: Civic Participation, We the People, and A People in the World

This lesson focuses on the ideas of Civic ParticipationWe the People, and A People in the World, which have definitions within the Educating for American Democracy Framework. Here are the specific civic components that connect to this lesson:

9-12 Key Concept: Explore the challenges and opportunities of pluralism, diversity, and unity within the U.S. and abroad

Driving Questions:

History: HDQ1.4A. How did past generations of Americans understand and answer calls to civic duty in civil society, religious communities, and politics?

Civics: CSGQ3.4B. How do I understand the perspectives of others and build bridges between different points of view?

Design Challenge 1: Motivating Agency, Sustaining the Republic

DC2.1: How can we integrate the perspectives of Americans from all different backgrounds when narrating a history of the U.S. and explicating the content of the philosophical foundations of American constitutional democracy?


Educating for American Democracy