Decision-Making—Who Was Right?

3, 4, 5
To allow students to reflect upon and discuss key issues that pertain to acts of philanthropy and good citizenship before and during the Civil War.
Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo or Three Thirty to Forty-Five Minute Class Periods
The learner will:
  • be able to take an assigned viewpoint or position and support it with a reasoned argument. One viewpoint will be "The citizens of Marshall were right to disobey the Fugitive Slave Law." Another viewpoint will be, "How did the citizens of Marshall decide which laws were unjust."
  • be able to express their own opinion on a given topic and support their opinion through persuasive writing. Possible topics might include: Civil disobedience, Unjust laws, Consequences of civil disobedience, or Quaker principles prohibiting slavery.
  • Paper and pencils for note-taking
  • Various books relating to Civil War issues (selected by the teacher).
  • Perhaps the best book for fourth graders is Friends by Gloria Whelan.
  • Another excellent book is Who Comes With Cannons? by Patricia Beatty.
  • Many fourth grade social studies texts also have excellent issues to discuss in the Civil War chapter
  • From Marshall's Web site:Marshall (Michigan) was a station on the Underground Railroad and a strong anti-slavery town. In 1846, Kentucky slave chasers tried to capture escaped slave Adam Crosswhite and his family in Marshall. Leading citizens in turn arrested the Kentuckians and smuggled the Crosswhite family into Canada. The rescuers were convicted of "depriving a man of his rightful property" in Detroit Federal Court in 1847. They paid fines which they were to consider a badge of honor. The Crosswhite Incident is mentioned on several of the dozens of historical markers the town boasts. A few years ago the Marshall Historical Society marked Crosswhite's grave (he had returned to Marshall after the Civil War) where he rests a few hundred feet from several of his rescuers. Notes:
  • Friends by Gloria Whelan is historical fiction. It tells about a young white girl in Marshall Michigan who becomes friends with one of the Crosswhite children. The Crosswhites were a family of escaped slaves who settled in Marshall. When a slave-hunter came to return the family to their former owner, the citizens of Marshall defied the Fugitive Slave Law, thereby blocking the capture of the Crosswhites. They ultimately helped the family escape to Canada.
  • Who Comes With Cannons? by Patricia Beatty is historical fiction. It tells of the problems encountered by a Quaker family during the Civil War and their involvement with the Underground Railroad. Many of the texts also relate the story of the Crosswhite family.
Prerequisite Knowledge:
    Students will have had an opportunity to read and discuss the selected book or section of social studies text.
Instructional Notes:
  • Students will have had an opportunity to read and discuss the selected material.
  • Discuss the concept of formulating a reasoned argument with the class. This activity requires: Active listening to the comments of others, no put-downs or personal comments, staying focused on the topic when stating a point or responding to another person's point, agreement to close discussion at the end of the allotted time.
  • If possible, show some videotaped debates such as a presidential debate.

These may vary at the discretion of the teacher. The following trade books are recommended:


  1. Anticipatory Set:Facilitate a student discussion by asking the question:"Is it ever right to disobey a law?"

  2. Arrange the class into groups of four students.
  3. Each group consists of two Dyads.
  4. Each Dyad will be assigned one side of an issue. For example: The Crosswhite family and the citizens of Marshall were right to disobey the Fugitive Slave Law.
  5. Groups will be given time to meet, discuss and prepare statements of support for their side of the topic. Recommended time for student discussion and preparation is about fifteen minutes. It is often helpful to have the students prepare their reasoned arguments on one day, spend about five minutes reviewing them, and then present on the second day. Many students will actually discuss the topic with their families at home between the two days, and will arrive at school with much richer information to contribute.
  6. Dyads will be given an opportunity to "present their position" to each other. The format includes time limits and questions. Most groups at fourth grade level will need from two to four minutes for presentation and two to four minutes for questions.
  7. While one group is presenting their position, the other students will be listening and recording their observations. Divide a sheet of paper down the middle with one side representing a paired viewpoint. Students tally the reasons they find most convincing.
The students will write a paragraph stating what they would have done as a citizen of Marshall. Each student will need to have a topic sentence and supporting reasons for their action. Correct paragraph form, complete sentences, and correctly spelled known words are expected. An alternative assessment would be to have the students write a facsimile of a newspaper article about the case. Rubric: 4 points: Topic sentence clearly stating an opinion, at least two supporting details which state their reasons for holding that opinion, complete sentences, correct spelling of known words. 3 points: Topic sentence clearly stating an opinion, one supporting detail stating their reasons, complete sentences. 2 points: A clearly stated opinion, details, sentences, spelling questionable. 1 point: An unclear opinion. 0 points: No response, illegible, unrelated response.
Cross Curriculum 
The students will work in cooperative groups to prepare material to support their position using reasoned arguments.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.3 Recognize that citizens have a responsibility for the common good as defined by democratic principles.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.4 Define each of the sectors: business, government, civil society, and family.
      2. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
    3. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.2 Discuss the importance of respect for others.
      2. Benchmark E.5 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibility.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.10 Give an example of an action by an individual or a private organization that has helped to enhance a fundamental democratic principle.
      2. Benchmark E.14 Describe the roles of citizens in government.
      3. Benchmark E.4 Identify individual sovereignty as a basic concept in government.
      4. Benchmark E.6 Identify and describe fundamental democratic principles.
    3. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark E.1 Explore and research issues and present solutions using communication tools.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.4 Give an example of how citizens act for the common good.