Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan:
Founding Documents of the Peace Corps
This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.
- Era 9 -Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)
- Standard 2B -Demonstrate understanding of United States foreign policy in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.
- Standard 3B -Demonstrate understanding of the "New Frontier" and the "Great Society."
This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.
- Standard II.B.2. -Evaluate, take, and defend positions on the importance of voluntarism in American society.
- Standard III. B.2. -Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding major responsibilities of the national government for foreign and domestic policy.
- Standard IV. B.2. -Evaluate, take, and defend positions about how United States foreign policy is made and the means by which it is carried out.
- Standard V.E.4. -Evaluate, take, and defend positions about the functions of leadership in American constitutional democracy.
This lesson relates to the power of Congress to make laws ( Article I, Sections 7 , 8 , and 9 ) and the powers of the chief executive to make appointments and execute the laws Article II, Sections 2 and 3 ).
Share this exercise with your colleagues in history, government, and language arts.
- Ask students to use their textbooks and other classroom resources to identify the important events of John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign and presidency and when they occurred. Compile this information into a timeline on the board.
- Divide the class into groups of three to four students. Provide each group
with copies of the four featured documents. Instruct the students to read the
executive order and the public law first and add their dates to the timeline
on the board. Next, project a transparency with the following questions and ask
students to answer them in their groups.
Why was a Peace Corps established and what were its goals? What can we learn about President Kennedy's style of governing from the documents about the Peace Corps? What powers does Kennedy as president presume to have in the executive order? Does the Constitution provide the chief executive with these powers? Did anyone else need to concur in the executive order? Why would Kennedy have issued it? How was the Peace Corps funded under the executive order? Was it established as a separate entity or under the aegis of an already existing governmental organization? What do the photographs show about when the Peace Corps started to function? Could the Peace Corps have functioned indefinitely under the executive order? What elements in the public law demonstrate the constitutional process by which it was passed? How is the Peace Corps established by the executive order different from the one established by public law? What do the photographs tell us about Kennedy's feeling about the Peace Corps and the public response to the idea?
Ask one member of each group to share the conclusions reached by the group.
Reenact the Past
- According to the Constitution it is the president's job to execute the laws.
He or she may do this by delegating authority through the power of appointment.
This activity will allow students to experience what it might be like to organize
a new government agency -- to put the blueprint of the law into practice.
Divide students into small groups. Inform each group that it has been delegated the responsibility of putting the Peace Corps into action. Like Sargent Shriver and his staff, students will need to figure out how to recruit, train, place, and supervise the first Peace Corps volunteers.
Before students begin, brainstorm with the class the types of problems they will have to solve. Ask: Who should be recruited and on what basis? What countries should receive volunteers and why? What potential problems and conflicts might arise either between U.S. governmental agencies (e.g., the Peace Corps and State Department), or between the U.S. government and a country where a volunteer is placed?
Ask each group to present its plans to the entire class. Based on the presentations, ask the class to decide which group presented the most feasible plan.
- Ask pairs of students to invent identities for themselves as family members
(e.g., brother/sister, mother/son) living through the years 1962 and 1963. Direct
one student to imagine being a Peace Corps volunteer and the other to imagine
being a family member in the United States. Instruct students to write letters
to each other. In Letter 1 the volunteer will write home about his or her training
and placement in a host country. In Letter 2 the family member will react to
this letter and reply with news about what is happening in the United States
in 1962. In Letter 3 the volunteer will write home about his or her accomplishments
and frustrations in the host country. In Letter 4 the family member will respond
and describe events in the United States in 1963.
- Ask students to imagine being a Peace Corps volunteer in one of the featured photographs. Suggest that they have just met President Kennedy and are about to take on their first assignments as volunteers. Direct students to write a diary entry of that never-to-be-forgotten day.
Investigate and Compare
- With your students, call the nearest Peace Corps office or visit the Peace
Corps Web site at www.peacecorps.gov
to find out what the Peace Corps does today. Arrange to have a former volunteer
speak to your class. Join the World Wise Schools Program through which your class
can correspond with a volunteer who is currently in the field.
After students become familiar with what the Peace Corps does today, lead a class discussion in which students evaluate and compare the original mission of the Peace Corps as expressed in the featured documents with its accomplishments today. Ask: How successful has it been? Which of its three main goals has it met most effectively? Least effectively?
Evaluate the Historical Record
- Ask each student to write an essay that defines the term "New Frontier,"
describes the ways the Peace Corps exemplified the goals and methods of the New
Frontier, and evaluates and ranks the importance of the Peace Corps in Kennedy's
- Ask students to research and compare the structure and accomplishments of VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) to those of the Peace Corps. VISTA was founded under President Johnson's "Great Society" and it was modeled on the Peace Corps.
Establish a Service Organization
- Divide the class into teams of three to four students. Ask each team to
establish their own organization modeled on the Peace Corps concept of people-to-people
hands-on help. Remind students that what makes the Peace Corps unique is that
it is a government-sponsored volunteer program. Ask students to envision other
government-sponsored volunteer programs. Instruct students to write their proposals
in the form of a bill to be submitted to Congress. Students can use the public
law in this lesson as a model.
Encourage students to submit their bills to a Model Congress if your school participates in one, or to write or e-mail their representatives about their ideas. E-mail addresses for congressional representatives are available from the House of Representatives Web site.
The documents included in this project are from Record Group 11, the General
Records of the United States, and from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
They are available online through the Archival Research Catalog (ARC)
ARC replaces its prototype, the NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL). You can still perform a keyword, digitized image and location search. ARC's advanced functionalities also allow you to search by organization, person, or topic.
ARC is a searchable database that contains information about a wide variety of NARA holdings across the country. You can use ARC to search record descriptions by keywords or topics and retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings related to thousands of topics.
Currently, about 20% of NARA's vast holdings have been described in ARC. 124,000 digital images can be searched in ARC. In keeping with NARA's Strategic Plan, the percentage of holdings described in ARC will grow continually.
This article was written by Joan Brodsky Schur, a teacher at Village Community School in New York, NY.