Over in the Florida Civics Teachers Facebook group, the question was raised concerning some quality primary source readers, so rather than talk about useful videos for the civics classroom right now (I will do that next!), let’s take a look at some possible resources, both readers and online.
There are a number of great primary source readers out there. The nice thing about civics is that you can use either civics oriented or American history oriented ones with your students. I have had the chance, in teaching both government and history, to use some good ones, and there are some good ones coming down the pike as well! The following readers are in no particular order, and please consider the review as only my personal opinion rather than a specific endorsement. All of them are adequate for addressing elements of the benchmarks! One caveat to remember is that almost any bound reader is going to go beyond the Benchmarks.
- ‘What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song’: this text, from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, is one that certainly goes deeper than our benchmarks expect, and it is also at a somewhat higher level than many readers. However, what I like about this text is the vast variety of primary sources it offers, as the title suggests. Given time, it could be possible to effectively walk students through selected resources, depending on the lesson that you construct.
- Mini-Qs in Civics: well, this is a bit more (or less, I guess) than a straight up civics reader, but as I look through my copy of this, I see lots of useful primary sources that you could possibly pull from, or you could simply use the mini-qs outright. The topics/questions are actually pretty appropriate for our benchmarks, and align fairly well overall:
- What Types of Citizen Does a Democracy Need?
- The Ideals of the Declaration: Which is the Most Important?
- The Preamble and the Federal Budget: Are We Slicing the Pie Correctly?
- How Did the Constitution Guard Against Tyranny?
- Should Schools Be Allowed to Limit Students’ Online Speech?
- Search and Seizure: Did the Government Go Too Far?
- Is the American Jury System Still a Good Idea?
- Should Americans be Required to Vote?
- Campaign Propaganda: Which Strategies Would You Use?
- Should the Electoral College Be Abolished?
- American Legacy: The United States Constitution and other Essential Documents of American Democracy: This reader is simply fantastic. Coming to us from our friends at the Center for Civic Education, it contains just about every document that you would need to address our Florida Benchmarks, and the best part is that you can get it in a hard copy or as an e-reader. Oh, it is affordable!!! If I were to select a reader for my own class, it would probably be this one. Don’t forget, too, that the Center for Civic Education really does have an excellent curriculum in its ‘We the People’ program. It might require some adaptations for our benchmarks, but it is of great quality! If you are interested in more, you can contact the state director here.
- Gilder Lehrman Texts: Gilder Lehrman, while devoted to American History, has a number of resources available that could be used as civics readers. The one that I like is Why Documents Matter. It has a great collection of documents, plus a context that really helps illustrate the truth of the title. Cost could be a factor here, but the book is good!
- May It Please The Court: Courts, Kids, and the Constitution: I love this. As the title suggests, it has a very narrow focus, but oh my goodness it does a great job looking at Supreme Court cases that impact kids. It comes with both live recordings and transcripts, and at least some of it can be integrated into the benchmarks. New Press also has other court related primary sources that you might find useful!
- Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History: This text, by renowned historian Eric Foner, is one that can be used just as well in a civics classroom as in a history classroom. It has a wide variety of primary sources that can fit in with the Florida benchmarks, and also includes some quality questions for each source. You can request examination copies as well!
I honestly prefer online primary sources over general readers, if only because in most cases they are a whole lot cheaper and I can often find exactly what I need. One option that might be more affordable for you would be to pull some public domain primary sources (such as you might find at the Library of Congress/National Archives) into a small packet for students, if you can’t have everyone with online access. Here, I’ll share some quality primary source sites. You may or may not be familiar with them.
- National Archives Teaching with Documents: I probably don’t have to say much about this. But for me, this is always my goto site for primary source readings in history and civics. It has the sources themselves, but also some fantastic document analysis worksheets that can be adapted as you see fit.
- Library of Congress Primary Source Sets: Here you will find a collection of primary sources from the Library of Congress organized by theme. Some are more applicable to our Florida Benchmarks than others, but there is definitely great stuff here!
- Teaching American History: Our friends at Ashbrook have compiled an excellent collection of primary sources, many of which can fit into our Florida Benchmarks. What I like about these is the inclusion of some readings you might not see, such as a Minority View on the Direct Election of the President. They also have a nice collection of 50 Core Documents that can be integrated into your curriculum.
- Bill of Rights Institute: The Bill of Rights Institute has been around quite awhile and has some excellent resources centered around the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Shocking, I know. Who would have guessed? Seriously, though, it has some excellent and readable primary sources that can address relevant benchmarks.
- Consource: This is a searchable database and collection of primary source documents involving those men that were involved in crafting the Constitution. It really is an excellent resource that can fight across the benchmarks.
- A Treasury of Primary Documents: While this site is a bit hard to navigate and might, no, will, require work on your part to determine what is relevant, it DOES have a fantastic and extensive collection of primary sources. There is probably a source here for every benchmark, from what I have reviewed.
- Our Documents: You have probably used this site before. It has 100 milestone documents relating to American history and government, many of which can be aligned to our Florida Benchmarks.
- Avalon: You may have used this one before too. It is a collection of documents from all over the world, from about 4000 BCE to the present day. For our purposes, you might want to start in the 17th century. It has some good stuff here.
I hope that this helps you find some primary sources that you can use as you develop and implement your curriculum. If you have any additional suggestions for either readers or online sources, please leave them in the comments!