Liberty in Conflict with Equality or Authority
Standard 4.10: Liberty in Conflict with Equality or Authority
Analyze issues involving liberty in conflict with equality or authority, individual rights in conflict with the common good, or majority rule in conflict with minority rights. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T4.10]
FOCUS QUESTION: When Were Times That American Realities Conflicted with American Ideals?
Tensions between equality and authority, individual rights and the common good, and majority rule and minority rights have marked every period of United States history and they persist in politics and society today.
The nation’s founding documents set forth the ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (a phrase from the Declaration of Independence). The Pledge of Allegiance declares there is “liberty and justice for all.” But political, social, and economic realities for women, people of color, LGBTQIA individuals, workers and other disenfranchised minority groups have not matched American ideals. Epic struggles have been fought to realize the rights and protections guaranteed to everyone under the Constitution.
At the center of the conflicts outlined in this Standard 4.10 is the interplay between majority rule and minority rights. This concept is central to democracy—here and around the world. In theory, through open elections and the political process, the majority decides what policies and practices will become law while minority groups with alternative viewpoints and proposals are protected as they seek to create new majorities for their ideas. As Thomas Jefferson said during his First Inaugural Address, "All. . . will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect and to violate would be oppression" (as quoted in Majority Rule and Minority Rights, para. 1).
How have the tensions between majority rule and minority rights been expressed in United States history? The modules in this standard explore that question in the context in the civil rights movements of African Americans, women, LGBTQIA individuals, and workers as well as in the nation's foreign policy and current struggles of transgender students rights in schools.
Modules for this Standard Include:
1. INVESTIGATE: Movements for Civil Rights in United States History
Civil Rights are the freedoms guaranteed to every American under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They are rights that protect individuals “against unfair treatment based on certain personal characteristics like race, gender, age, or disability” (Longely, 2019, para. 1).
Throughout our history, individuals and groups who have not had those rights have organized to gain them. African Americans, Latinos/Latinas, Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, women, workers, disabled individuals, and LGBTQIA people have struggled and fought for their liberties and freedoms as citizens of the United States.
Exploring civil rights movements provides insights into how people have created change in government, law, and society. Watch The Civil Rights Mixtape from the Student News Network for an historical overview of African American struggles for freedom and justice.
Suggested Learning Activities
- Create a Digital Media Product
- Design a poster or sketchnote that displays the causes, successes, and consequences for one of the civil rights movements listed below, OR
- Produce a video that compares and contrasts two of the civil rights movements listed below.
- African American and Latino Civil Rights Movements
- The Women’s Rights Movement
- The LGBTQIA Rights Movement
- The Labor Movement
- State Your View
- How did American realities conflict with American ideals during each of the Civil Rights movements?
2. UNCOVER: Queen Liliuokalani and the American Annexation of Hawaii
On January 17, 1893, Queen Liliuokalani, the ruler of Hawaii, was overthrown by an American-backed group of businessmen and sugar planters (Hawaiian Monarchy Overthrown by America-Backed Businessmen). Historians have concluded that the interests of the Dole Food Company and the growing global Pineapple trade played a key role in the annexation. A resourcesforhistoryteachers wiki page, Annexation of Hawaii provides more on connections between the Dole Food Company, pineapples, and American Foreign Policy.
Prior to the overthrow, the islands had only been unified as the Kingdom of Hawaii since 1795 (Europeans first arrived there in 1778). Liliuokalani was the last monarch before Hawaii became an American territory and eventually the nation’s 50th state on August 21, 1959. In 1993, the United States Congress passed a resolution formally apologizing to Native Hawaiians for American actions nearly a century before (103d Congress Joint Resolution 19: Apology to Native Hawaiians).
The annexation of Hawaii launched an era of expansion and imperialism that many historians refer to as an American empire (Immerwahr, 2019; Hoganson, 2017). The U.S. acquired the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. This resulted in the Philippine-American War of 1898-1900, a bloody struggle that cost the lives of 4,200 American and 20,000 Filipino fighters along with some 200,000 civilian deaths. Samoa was annexed in 1899. The Virgin Islands were acquired in 1917.
The annexation of Hawaii was a time when the nation’s commitment to liberty, freedom, and individual rights came into conflict with its desire for international expansion and economic gain, a pattern that has been evident throughout United States history. In a sweeping study, The United States of War, historian David Vine (2020) states that from its beginnings, the US has engaged in nearly continuous series of military interventions and conflicts around the globe that has produced not only a collection of territories, but some 750 military installations in other countries -- what he calls an "empire of bases" that has "actually made aggressive and offensive war more likely" (Vine, 2020, p. 13).
In recent years, America's involvements abroad include military missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as well as conflicts in Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan. One reviewer of Vine's book concludes that there have been only two years in the past seven and half decades --1977 and 1979--when the United States was not invading or fighting in some foreign country (quoted in "Fort Everywhere," Daniel Immerwahr, The Nation, December 14.21, 2020, p. 34). Vine (2020, p. xxii) states "the total effects of the post-2001 wars have been so disastrous that words can't capture the calamity." Death, destruction, economic and social collapse abroad and at home, the expenditure of more than $70 billion every year that could have gone instead to improving health care, education, and the environment for all Americans.
Suggested Learning Activities
- State Your View
- How did the imperialist actions of the United States cause conflict (at the time and regarding issues today) with the American ideals of liberty, freedom, and individual rights?
Online Resources for the Annexation of Hawaii
- America Becomes a Pacific Nation: Hawaiian Annexation
- Summary of Hawaiian Annexation from Digital History
- Queen Liliuokalani wrote over 160 songs including the classic "Aloha Oe" (History Biography: Liliuokalani).
- Annexation of Hawaii has multiple primary sources, including Hawaii Statehood in 1959 and a Congressional Apology to Native Hawaiians in 1993.
3. ENGAGE: What are Transgender Students' Rights at School?
Transgender is a term for individuals whose “gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth” (Transgender FAQ, n.d., para. 1). Transgender people may also refer to themselves as “non-binary” or “gender non-conforming.”
A 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as 2019 survey data from 15 states found that nearly 2% of high school students identify as transgender. These studies also found that transgender students face widespread prejudice and discrimination in school and society - transgender students are twice as likely as cisgender students to be bullied; one in three did not go to school at least once because they felt unsafe; and alarmingly high numbers have considered (45%) or attempted suicide (29%) in the past year (Brookings, September 13, 2021).
The rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people is a complex and contested issue, with laws varying greatly from state to state. The Transgender Law Center has an interactive online map showing LGBTQ equality by state (including sexual orientation and gender identity by state). The map shows the number of laws and policies that promote equality for LGBTQ people in each state.
The story at the federal level is similarly complex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bares employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating on the basis of sex (Know Your LGBTQ Rights, American Civil Liberties Union). There is no federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex, gender, or sexual orientation in public accommodations (Know Your Rights: Public Accommodations). Minnesota was the first state to bar gender-based discrimination at the state level in 1993, and in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order baring gender discrimination in hiring within the federal government's executive branch. Since 2016, however, despite growing public opinion support for LGBTQ rights, the Trump Administration has sought to curtail rights for transgender Americans.
Court cases involving transgender student rights at school center around three main areas: restrooms, preferred pronouns, and athletic participation (The Complex and Dynamic Legal Landscape of LGBTQ Student Rights, Brookings, October 19, 2020). The following resources outline the state of transgender student rights at school:
- Fact Sheet on U.S. Department of Education Policy Letter on Transgender Students
- Legal Guidance on Transgender Students' Rights, National Education Association
- Students & LGBTQ Rights at School, Southern Poverty Law Center
Media Literacy Connections: Representing Trans Identities
Focus Question: Have you seen people who identify as transgender included/depicted in movies, TV series, or other media form (e.g. Unique Adams in TV drama Glee)?
How are trans people depicted in different media? Do you think it is important for people of different gender identities to be represented? Why or why not?
If you were (or are) a part of a minority group or stigmatized community, would you want a more realistic representation that could victimize your group or an idealistic representation that could present a new reality for your group? Do media producers have a responsibility to make sure that their portrayals of marginalized groups are accurate?
Activity 1: Analyze Transgender Representation in TV and Movies
- Have students read through the description of transgender characters included in this handout and examine the conclusions in the 2020 GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index that maps the quantity, quality, and diversity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) characters in films released by eight major motion picture studios during the 2019 calendar year.
- Are transgender characters portrayed differently than other characters on TV or in the movies?
- Create a media campaign to illuminate the differences in media portrayals of trans characters.
Activity 2: Create Trans Character
- Divide students into groups of 3-4 and have each group select a movie or TV show and create a trans character appropriate to that genre (i.e., romantic comedy, thriller, sitcom).
- As students are developing these characters, ask them to think about:
- What kinds of challenges would your trans main character face - both related and unrelated to their gender identity?
- How does the conflict between majority attitudes and individual goals influence trans individuals' daily lives?
- How can you create characters that are more realistic and complex?
- What misconceptions and stereotypes would you include or leave out? Why?
- Then, write a script for a new TV episode or movie sequel featuring the transgender character as they navigate the issue of their individual rights/liberty conflicting with majority attitudes and perspectives.
Suggested Learning Activity
- Design a Transgender Student Rights in School Infographic
- Learn Online
- Explore the Interactive Equality Maps from Transgender Law Center
Online Resources and Media Gallery
- Lesson Plans to Help Students Understand Gender and to Support Transgender and Non-Binary Children, Welcoming Schools, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
- The Rights of Transgender People in Washington State, Washington State ACLU
- Know Your Rights, Lambda Legal
- Transgender History in the United States (2014), from Trans Bodies, Trans Selves (Oxford University Press)
- Celebrating Transgender Awareness Week, Teaching Tolerance
Conclusion to Standard 10
This standard has focused on times in United States history—and during the present day—when individuals and groups struggled to overcome oppression to gain the freedoms they need to be full participants in a democratic society. INVESTIGATE explored movements for civil rights by African Americans, Latinos, women, workers, and LGBTQ people. UNCOVER examined the gaps between American ideals and realities in American foreign policy using a case study of the 1893 Annexation of Hawaii when the islands’ monarch Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown by the United States, an action for which Congress formally apologized a century later. ENGAGE asked what are the rights of transgender students in K-12 schools.