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Teachers' Guide: Rebels & Revolutionaries
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Use these activities with the hours of the series titled "Rebels" and "Revolutionaries." "Rebels" profiles two innovators: Ted Turner (C.N.N.), and Russell Simmons (DefJam). "Revolutionaries" profiles early American innovators: John Fitch and Robert Fulton (steamboat), Lewis Tappan (credit reporting), and Samuel Colt (the revolver and the mass market). Each segment is approximately 20-30 minutes long. These activities also draw upon They Made America's Web site resources.

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


Economics | Geography | Civics | History

  1. Although popular myth often depicts innovators as solitary figures working in their basements, most entrepreneurs need support from outside sources. Divide the class into four groups, and assign each group one of the innovators profiled in "Rebels" and "Revolutionaries": Ted Turner, Russell Simmons, John Fitch, Robert Fulton, Lewis Tappan, or Samuel Colt. Students should find out: how did each person secure the financing or other support necessary for his work? How did the innovator's socioeconomic background influence his success in this area? To what extent were the results dependent on his personality?

  2. While in retrospect innovations are often hailed, at the time entrepreneurs routinely faced powerful resistance from competitors or other entrenched economic interests. Compare the experiences of Russell Simmons and John Fitch, two men from modest backgrounds who had to fight for acceptance of their innovations. Divide the class into two groups and have each research and then write a letter from the perspective of one of the innovators, describing the opposition he faced. After presenting their letters, students should be encouraged to address the following questions: Who led the resistance to the innovator's work? What motivated them, and what steps did they take to try to stop the innovator's success? How did the innovator respond? What differences between the economics of 18th century and present-day America may help to explain the corresponding failure and success of Fitch and Simmons?


Economics | Geography | Civics | History

  1. With your class, make a list of methods of transportation in late 18th century America. Then, using a historical map (like this 1783 map from the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine), ask students to identify the principal rivers and land routes of the time. They can also research and estimate how long it would take to travel between major American settlements. What were the advantages of travel on water, either by river or by ocean, over a land journey? What particular problems did river travel present?

  2. Eighteenth-century entrepreneurs relied heavily on drawings in the innovation process; without viewing initial blueprints for a nautical steam engine, it's unlikely that John Fitch or Robert Fulton could have produced their own models. To understand why, have students brainstorm the various designs for propelling a boat that innovators of the time might have proposed, then have each student attempt to sketch the designs they listed based solely on the description. Now compare the student efforts with the original drawings . Have students explain the advantages of Fitch's particular design for steam-powered travel.


Economics | Geography | Civics | History

  1. One of the recurring themes of the series and this Web site is the "democratizing" influence of innovators. Divide students into four groups to discuss to what extent the following innovations helped democratize our society: CNN, the revolver, credit reporting, and hip-hop music. The students should also think of any innovations that have had an anti-democratizing effect. When the class reconvenes, each group should present its decision about how democratizing their innovation was, and defend their decision with examples. Then the group can discuss the anti-democratizing examples they came up with.

  2. Both Ted Turner and Russell Simmons were criticized for some of their activities. Turner went to Cuba and had Fidel Castro record a commercial for CNN; he also agreed to broadcast unedited pieces from repressive governments around the world. For his part, Simmons brought the often graphic language of rap music to a wide audience. Randomly assign each student an innovator from the Who Made America section of this Web site, and a position either in favor of or opposed to the innovator's work. Have the students research their innovators on this site and in books or newspaper articles, and then write a letter to the editor defending their assigned views.


Economics | Geography | Civics | History

  1. Although Russell Simmons, an African American man from New York City, and Ted Turner, a white resident of the Deep South, came from different backgrounds, there are many similarities in their stories. Have students read their profiles on this site, as well as their primary source materials. Then students should list five similarities between the two men's stories. What do they tell you about characteristics of innovators?

  2. With the help of information contained at the Web site of the United States Census Bureau, as well as other historical sources, create a chart comparing America in 1790 (the year of the first Census) and the year 2000 (year of the most recent one). The chart should list such items as population, average income, typical occupations, racial composition of the society, means of transportation, average educational level, forms of entertainment, life expectancy, and public health issues of the day. How are the differences between America in 1790 and 2000 reflected in the kinds of innovations that were created? In the categories of census data collected? To what extent are innovators a product of their times?

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