Philanthropy of the Founding Fathers—Alive and Well Today?

9, 10, 11, 12

Students compare the actions of early leaders to their own responsibility to be civically responsible. This discussion and writing activity helps students clarify the citizen's role in philanthropy as voluntary action for common good.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Fifty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • evaluate the conduct of public citizens in meeting the needs of society today.
  • engage in discourse to generate possible alternative resolutions to the ongoing public issue of apathy toward political involvement in our area.
  • write a composition incorporating the state standards for essays.
  • Various articles on the lack of political participation in the local area or cartoons regarding volunteerism (optional).
  • Holistic Scoring Guide for Civic Writing (Attachment One)
  • Rubric for Group Discussion Standard (Attachment Two)

Writings of Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu and the Preamble to the Constitution from standard textbook sources.


  1. Anticipatory Set: Ask students what they remember about Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Remind students that, although these men are remembered in history for the important things they did, they also made sacrifices for which they are not remembered. Paine was imprisoned in France during the French Revolution, died penniless, and was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. Jefferson had to sell his library to hold onto Monticello.

  2. Ask students what they think would have happened if both Jefferson and Paine had decided to remain private citizens and not get involved in government.

    When people make decisions not to vote or take part in government, can we always be guaranteed that someone else will step in? What is the impact of a lack of action?

    Can we be sure that others will act with the same principles and commitment toward liberty?

    Discuss responsibility of all citizens to participate and share their voice, even youth.

  3. As a forerunner to the written and oral work that will accompany the lesson, give each student a copy of the rubrics on public policy issues. Go over the information in the rubrics in two handouts below. 

  4. Share the following scenarios on the board or a printout. Divide the class into teams of two students each. Assign each team one of the scenarios and ask them to brainstorm possible arguments for and against the statement.

    1. One group has proposed that "universal service" becomes a part of national education standards. Such service could be in the form of military service, social service such as hospitals, local and state governments, or public and private agencies such as the Peace Corps, VISTA or Volunteers of America, or various religious groups. Should such service be made mandatory for all people between the ages of 18-25?
    2. The headline in this week's paper indicates that for the second time in this decade, City Council members and School Board members have run unopposed. Currently both groups receive a nominal sum for serving (less than $25.00 per month). Should salaries of volunteer government officials be raised to attract more people for the job?
    3. An article in the paper says that less people are voting in elections in the United States each year. Yet, in most other countries of the world, voting is required. In fact, if you do not vote in Australia, you can be fined as much as $75.00. Should an amendment be made to the constitution requiring citizens to vote?
  5. After brainstorming their scenario and question with a partner, they join with pairs who had the other scenarios and discuss their thoughts and conclusions. All students are then exposed to discussions related to all three scenarios.

    After all ideas are presented and discussed, each individual student writes an essay on the following topic: "What role does volunteerism play in maintaining our form of government and preserving our civil society?" Students should use the ideas developed in their brainstorming groups to support their points of view.

  6. After each student has completed the essay, they read aloud to their original partner for peer review, using the rubric to establish that each part has been completed.

    Allow time for revision.

    Students return to their group of six and share their essays again for feedback and revision.

    Modifications may be made based on the responses from other members in the group prior to turning in the essay for a grade.


The teacher should utilize the same rubric throughout all the lessons for this type of writing.

Cross Curriculum 

Students will engage in public discourse regarding the role that individuals make in contributing to society.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Analyze and synthesize information to differentiate fact from opinion based on the investigation of issues related to public policy. Discuss these issues evaluating the effects of individual actions on other people, the rule of law and ethical behavior.