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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Carter and Rosalynn greet supportersJimmy Carter offers insights into topics in American history including the Great Depression, sharecropping, segregation, the economic and political rise of the South, presidential campaigns and elections, the presidency, presidential speeches, energy policy, inflation, unemployment, international diplomacy, peace and war in the Middle East, the Iranian hostage crisis, terrorism, foreign relations with fundamentalist Muslim countries, the role of ex-presidents, and the fight to eradicate disease. Use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: history, economics, geography, and culture. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.


1. The poor economic record of the Carter years -- and in particular, the unusual combination of high inflation and high unemployment -- was an important reason for Carter's loss of popularity and his 1980 defeat. Using the data in the table below, draw a graph with two lines: one representing the change in inflation between 1973 and 1980, and the other representing the change in unemployment during that period. Be sure to label both lines. Then draw another graph representing the change in the "misery index" for the period. (The misery index is the sum of the inflation rate and unemployment rate for a given year.) What do these graphs suggest about the success of Carter's economic policies? Is there any information in these graphs that Carter could have used to defend those policies? 


Inflation Rate



Rate (percent)

























Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States

2. “Energy conservation” was a prominent element of President Carter's national energy plan. Today, while conservation receives less attention than it did previously, new tensions in the Middle East make it potentially more important than ever. Think up two ways to conserve energy: one should be a personal action (that is, something that you and your family can do to reduce your own energy consumption) and the other should be a political action (that is, a change in government policy designed to reduce national energy consumption). List the class' ideas on the board and discuss each of them in turn to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. How much energy might they save? Would they be especially costly? In the case of voluntary changes, would enough Americans go along with them?


1. Read a short biography of Jimmy Carter. As the film notes, Carter's biography and presidency raise the issue of what sort of personal qualities make a good president. Working with a partner, make a list of at least five personal qualities you think a president should have. List each of these qualities in the first column of a three-column table. In the second column, briefly explain why that quality would make a person a better president. In the third column, briefly explain why that quality might not always make a person a better president. (For example, loyalty to one's friends and associates might inspire loyalty in return, but as President Carter learned in the case of Bert Lance, loyalty to a controversial friend can seriously damage a president's popularity.) When your table is complete, compare it with tables that other teams have created. See if the class as a whole can agree on the five most important qualities a president should have. How many of these qualities do you think Carter had?

2. Read about the Iranian hostage crisis, and explore the bonus videos 444 Days about the news coverage and Americans' reactions to the crisis. Imagine that you are a senior advisor to President Carter at the start of the hostage crisis. Write him a memo in which you present at least three different options for handling the crisis and outline the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Your memo should end with a recommendation for the president to choose a particular option. (Remember that this memo is being written at the start of the crisis, so you will not know about any events that occurred later in the crisis.)


1. Divide the class into three groups representing three different time periods: the late 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s to today. Each group should research major U.S. and world events during "their" time period and then consider how those events might have affected public views of President Carter's (a) economic policies, (b) policies toward events in the Middle East, and (c) personal integrity. For example, how might the economic growth of the mid-1980s have affected public views of Carter's economic policies? How might the ongoing violence today between Israel and the Palestinians affect public views of Carter's efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East? After each group has presented its findings in the form of a PowerPoint presentation (or on paper if computers are not available), combine these presentations into a single presentation entitled "Jimmy Carter's Changing Reputation."

2. Read about the peace talks at Camp David and study the essay on Camp David's legacy. You may also want to examine the special feature, Brokering Peace, which describes the day-to-day events at Camp David. The following places have all been sources of dispute between Israeli and Arab governments: Sinai Peninsula, West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and Jerusalem. Divide the class into five groups and assign each group one of the places. Each group should prepare a five-minute oral report for the class that includes: (a) the geographic location of the place (each group should identify the place on a wall map); (b) the population of the place; (c) the circumstances under which the dispute over ownership of the place arose; (d) how this question was resolved (if it has been resolved) or the current status of the dispute. Following the presentations, hold a class discussion on the following question: should Carter have sought a comprehensive peace agreement for the region rather than the approach he followed at Camp David?


1. Divide up the presidents of the United States among the class and have each student find out the birthplace of the president(s) he or she has been assigned, as well as the president's years in office. As a class, draw a wall-sized map of the United States that includes state boundaries. Going in chronological order, from George Washington to Barak Obama, each student should mark on the map the birthplace of that president and state the president's years in office for the class. After Presidents Taylor, McKinley, Franklin Roosevelt, and Barak Obama, the class should discuss the geographic distribution of the presidents to date. From which areas of the country did many presidents come? From which areas did few or no presidents come? What factors might explain this?

2. The following countries played an important role in U.S. foreign policy in the Carter years: Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Panama, and the Soviet Union (Russia). First, review as a class the important events that took place between each of these countries and the United States during the Carter administration. Next, as a class, create and then play a quiz game about these countries. Begin by finding out enough about the location and twentieth-century history of each country to enable you to write one quiz question about each one; the question need not cover events during the Carter years. (Try to make the questions challenging but not overly difficult. Two examples are "Which of these countries became independent in 1948?" and "Which of these countries has no seaports?") After each student has written six questions -- one for each country -- hand them in to the teacher, who will choose the best questions. Each student receives one point for every question of his or hers that the teacher chooses. The teacher will then read the questions aloud, and the first student to raise his or her hand and correctly answer the question also receives one point. (Students may not answer their own questions.) At the end, the student with the most points wins.

3. Read After the White House, on Carter's post-presidency. Then visit the website of the Carter Center and go to the section of the site that lists the Center's activities in various countries. Divide up those countries equally among the members of the class, and have students find out what activities the Center has been conducting in the countries they have been assigned. Now, as a class, draw a wall-sized map of the world. Each student should label his or her countries and write a very brief description of the Center's work in that country. On what continents has the Carter Center been especially active?

Teacher's Guide: Hints for the Active Learning Questions


1. The graphs, especially the inflation graph, suggest that Carter's economic policies largely failed. Carter, however, could argue that unemployment fell during his first years in office. (For extra credit, students could prepare similar graphs for more recent years using later editions of the Statistical Abstract.)

2. You might want to have students create posters urging fellow students to adopt some of the personal conservation measures that students suggest. You also might want to have students write their representatives in Congress to urge adoption of some of the political conservation measures.


1. Students should understand that while circumstances exist in which virtually any personal quality might cause problems for a president, that does not mean that these qualities -- such as honesty -- are not on the whole desirable in a president.

2. Possible options include a military operation to try to free the hostages, larger-scale military operations against Iran (such as mining Iranian harbors), turning the Shah over to the Iranian government, negotiating the hostages' release with the Iranian government, and demanding the hostages' release but refusing to negotiate or take other actions to bring that about.


1. Students' presentations should reflect an understanding of the major events of the time period -- as well as public perceptions of the president then (or recently) in office. Carter, for example, benefited from the contrast between his leadership style and that of President Nixon, just as President Reagan would later benefit from the contrast between his leadership style and that of Carter. As an additional activity, you might ask students to write a paragraph that summarizes their view, from the vantage point of today, of the successes and failures of the Carter presidency.

2. Students should recognize both that failure to reach final agreement on issues such as Palestinian self-rule continues to contribute to unrest in the region and that the agreement Israel and Egypt made at Camp David may well have been the most that could have been accomplished at that time.


1. Students should note that early presidents came from eastern states such as Virginia and Massachusetts but that as the country expanded westward, more presidents came from states farther west. The recent trend of presidents coming from western and southern states reflects in part the growing population of those regions. (Students also should recognize that presidents tend to come from states with large populations, since these have more political power than less-populous states.)

2. The links to the Carter years are as follows: Afghanistan's invasion by the Soviet Union caused a serious breach in U.S.-Soviet relations; Carter worked with the leaders of both Egypt and Israel to forge a peace agreement at Camp David; Iranian militants seized and held American embassy staff; Carter signed an agreement returning the Panama Canal to Panama; Carter signed an arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union. An alternative activity involving these countries would be to divide the class into groups, one for each country, and have groups find out how "their" country has changed since the Carter years and how those changes have affected relations with the United States.

3. The Carter Center has been particularly active in developing countries in Africa and Latin America. You might use this activity as a springboard for a class discussion on the role that non-governmental organizations like the Carter Center can play in initiatives such as improving health and resolving international disputes, as well as a discussion the question of why these matters cannot always be addressed adequately by governments alone. 

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