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December 28, 2010

Patchwork nation: Analysis of Minority Central – Lesson Plan

By Daniella K. Garran, Marston Mills, Mass.


Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History, Civics, Current Events

Estimated Time:

Three to four 45- or 60 minute class periods

Grade Level



Students will compare and contrast data for Minority Central locations from this website with data from the other types of communities listed on the web site. Students will choose a Minority Central community and create a comprehensive plan for improvement in areas such as employment, education, health care, etc.


This lesson will take an in-depth look at Minority Central, one of the twelve types of Patchwork Nation communities, and help students to understand the complexities and needs of a specific American county.


Patchwork Nation is a comprehensive project that that analyzes America’s 3,141 counties by dividing them up into 12 community types. Community types can be explored using a variety of criteria including income, racial composition, employment and religion. The website allows users to compare and contrast data collected from all over the United States.


Opening Activity

Introduce students to the Patchwork Nation project (information can be found here). Explain that the project is an effort to “divides America’s 3,141 counties into 12 community types based on certain demographic characteristics, such as income level, racial composition, employment and religion.” Explain that the project took “a large set of social and economic data and identifying the underlying factors that best explain how the counties differ from one another” in order to classify “America’s 3,141 counties into 12 categories.”

As a warm up activity and to familiarize students with the patchwork nation website, have students conduct research on their county. Information can be accessed here. If students attend a regional school, have them compare and contrast the data from the different counties. Discuss the data in terms of the hardship index, education, and religious demographics. Ask students what factors (e.g.: religion, level of education) they think effect the county’s economic situation.

Activity 1

  • Introduce students to the Minority Central community type. Information can be found here. Be sure that students understand that the Patchwork Nation project defines Minority Central communities as:
    • Home to large pockets of African American residents but a below average percentage of Hispanics and Asians.
    • Counties with median household incomes below national median though there is a large disparity in income between black and white households
    • Racial disparity mirrored in voting trends as well with blacks voting Democratic and whites supporting Republicans

Discuss the data listed on the page beginning with these questions:

  • Why do you think there is such a wide gap in household income?
  • Watch the animation of the Hardship Index by pressing play. What factors do you think account for the rise and fall in the overall index? What factors specifically impact Minority Central?
  • Compare and contrast the dropout rates and school performance by community type here. What factors influence high school dropout and graduation rates most?


Have students select a Minority Central community from this map. Next, students will collect data for their county in the following areas using the Data Collection Sheet which is available as a PDF:

  • Culture – Gun Shops, Gun shops per capita, Whole Foods, Cracker Barrel restaurants
  • Education – High school graduates, college graduates, adult Illiteracy
  • Elections – Republican votes (total), Republican votes (percent),Democratic votes (total), Democratic votes (percent), total votes cast
  • Ethnicity – White, Black, American Indian or Native Alaskan, Asian Pacific Islander, Mixed race, Hispanic, White population, Black population, Native American or Alaskan Native Population, Asian Pacific population, Hispanic population, Mixed race population
  • Food Stamps – Food stamp recipients, Percent on food stamps,Percent of children on food stamps, Change in percent on food stamps, 2007-09
  • Hardship – Hardship Index, Hardship Value
  • Health – Percent without health insurance, Physicians per 100k,Hospital Beds per 100k, Change in percent uninsured since 2000, Diabetes Rate, Obesity Rate
  • Housing – Foreclosure rate (per 1,000 households), Foreclosed homes (total)
  • Labor and Employment – Unemployment Rate, Median Household Income, Federal Spending Per Capita, Change in number of unemployed
  • Population – Population Estimate, Percent immigrant
  • Religion – Total Adherents, Adherence Rate, Evangelical, Mainline Protestants, Reformed Protestant Denominations, Lutherans,Catholic, Mormons or LDS, Muslims, Jewish
  • Stimulus (via ProPublica) – Recovery Act funds, Recovery Act funds (per capita)

Next, have students create a plan for how to improve the overall quality of life in this Minority Central County. They should prioritize the areas for improvement such as culture, education, housing, health and so on. Then, they should report on their top three areas for improvement. Students should consider the availability of local, state and federal funding for these areas as well as possible organizations that may be willing and able to assist with such a program.

Consider having students create a poster or give a presentation chronicling their research, findings and plan for improvement.

Extension Activities

  • Have students conduct similar research for another type of community. Ask students to write a brief essay citing their ideas about why such discrepancies exist among different types of communities.
  • Divide students into small groups and have them learn about the different types of districts outlined in Patchwork Nation: Established Wealth, the Shifting Middle, Booming Growth, New Diversity, Young Exurbs, Old Diversity, Wired and Educated, Christian Conservative and Small Town America. Have them compare and contrast this data with that of the community types. Ask students to assess the differences among these districts as they relate to some of the key areas outlined in Patchwork Nation (e.g.: culture, education, hardship, health, housing, etc.).
  • Read the following article with students: Q&A: Our Patchwork Nation: Beyond Red States vs. Blue States.One of the questions asked of Dante Chinni, author of Our Patchwork Nation, is whether he sees a “national identity” born out of this patchwork. Ask students to write a brief essay explaining whether they believe that an inclusive national identity can be formed out of the myriad of communities and districts in the United States.

Daniella K. Garran is a freelance education consultant based in Marston Mills, Massachusetts.

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