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July 11, 2011

Too much government? Miller Center/ABC News Great American Debate – Lesson Plan

By Syd Golston, Phoenix Union High School District, Phoenix, Ariz.


Civics, History, Economics, Speech and Debate

Estimated Time

Two days, including homework beforehand

Grade Level

9 – 12


Students will:

  1. Keep track by diary of the influence of the federal government in a single day of their lives
  2. Read arguments for and against the expansion of that influence
  3. Participate and evaluate a formal debate about these issues that mirrors the Great American Debate
  4. Study and apply principles of formal logic, as they choose the winning debate team


This lesson leads students through a spectrum of constitutional, economic, and moral arguments for and against government intervention in society, ranging through time from the era of the founders to the current presidential race. It culminates in a debate between two student teams, evaluated on ballots voted by the other members of the class.


  1. One week beforehand, teacher distributes the homework warm up exercise “The STATE of My Life.” (Handout 1) Students keep a 24-hour diary of the connections of federal, state, and local government in a single day of their own lives.
  2. Day One: Students compare their diaries to an equivalent one, “A Day in Your Life” (Handout 2). All students then read the essay “Is There Too Much Government in Your Life” prepared for the debate by American University Associate Professor of Government Patricia Lee Sykes. (Handout 3) The teacher will then divide the class into pairs. One student reads the 2010 Libertarian Party platform while the other studies Douglas Amy’s article, “The Forgotten Achievements of Government.”
  3. Homework for Day Two: The eight student debaters choose roles and prepare their debate handout, “If They Say…We Say.” (Handout 4) The rest of the class reads and responds to “Techniques of Persuasion and Logical Fallacies.” (Handout 5)
  4. Day Two: For the first 15 minutes of class, debaters meet privately to prepare for the 30 minute debate. The rest of the class reviews the Debate Ballot (Handout 6) and the logic exercise of the night before. The debate is held, following the format on the Ballot, and after ballots are handed in and counted, the winning team is announced.
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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
    • Standard 1: Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government
    • Standard 13: Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity
    • Standard 14: Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life
    • Standard 19: Understands what is meant by “the public agenda,” how it is set, and how it is influenced by public opinion and the media
    • Standard 21: Understands the formation and implementation of public policy
    • Economics
    • Standard 1: Understands that scarcity of productive resources requires choices that generate opportunity costs
    • Standard 6: Understands the roles government plays in the United States economy

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