Skip Discover Education Main Navigation
Skip Discover Education Main Navigation

Lesson Plans Library 9-12 > World History
Historical Heroes image
Historical Heroes
Grade level: 9-12 Subject: World History Duration: One or two class periods
lesson plan support
Objectives
Students will
  • Discuss the question, "Do the ends justify the means?"
  • Apply this question to an event.
  • Choose an event and write an essay answering this question.
Materials
Procedures
  1. Begin the lesson by showing one of the following two parts of the program: Segment 2,The Original Gangs of New York, or Segment 4,Great Books: Les Misérables.

  2. Discuss with students the themes of both segments. To help spur conversation, ask the following questions:

    • What do you think of the behavior of the people featured?
    • Do you think they were justified in behaving the way they did?
    • Do you think they would have behaved differently under different circumstances?
    • Do you think they had different choices other than the ones they made?
    • Did the ends ultimately justify the means?
  3. Throughout the discussion, help students understand that people may behave in ways they might not otherwise just to survive. It could be argued that the early immigrants to New York, as well as Jean Valjean, the main character in Victor Hugo's masterpiece Les Misérables, fell into this category. This is often referred to as "the ends justifying the means," meaning that the result in both cases, survival is worth any sacrifices made along the way.

  4. Divide students into groups of three or four. Tell them that their challenge is to select an event and explore it by asking questions similar to those in Step #2. Possible topics include the following:

    • War on terrorism
    • The invasion of Iraq
    • Heightened security procedures at airports and in public buildings
    • The use of negative ads in political campaigns
    • Or students may select another topic that raises a moral dilemma.
  5. Allow enough class time to work on the project. The students' goal is to write a short essay explaining why or why not the end justifies the means. Students may research the topics on the Internet for more information, but they also should use the assignment as an opportunity to consider their own positions regarding difficult, often ambiguous, situations, as well as the consequences of actions.

  6. During the next class period, have students share their essays. What conclusions did they draw? Did they find it difficult to answer the question? Encourage students to explain why they found the assignment challenging.

  7. Conclude the lesson by asking students what they learned from this activity. Did it make them look at the world differently? Did it influence the way they assess the outcome of events that take place in the world? Poll the class to find out if they feel differently than they did before the assignment when asked, "Do the ends justify the means?"

Back to Top

Evaluation
Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points:Students participated actively in class discussions; considered the issues very thoughtfully and carefully; and worked well with their group in developing a well-constructed essay.
  • Two points:Students participated somewhat actively in class discussions; considered the issues thoughtfully and carefully; and worked reasonably well with their group in developing a competent essay.
  • One point:Students did not participate in class discussions; hade difficulty considering the issues; and had trouble working with their group in developing an essay.

Back to Top

Extensions
After viewing any or all of the program's segments, hold a discussion in class about the meaning of the term "hero." Brainstorm and write the criteria for what makes a person a hero. Did any of the people featured in the program meet their definitions of a hero, even an unconventional hero? Were any people heroes despite going against some rules in society?

Back to Top

Vocabulary
gangs of New York
Definition:A term used to identify Irish immigrants of the mid-1860s who were considered inferior; as a result, they behaved unlawfully just so they could survive.
Context:During the mid-1800s, the gangs of New York looted and rioted to make a point about issues that concerned them, such as forced conscription into the Union Army immediately after arriving in this country.

Les Misérables
Definition:Victor Hugo's classic novel, published in 1862, explores the difficulty of leading an honest life under cruel circumstances.
Context:Jean Valjean, the main character in Les Misérables, struggled to lead a honest, productive life in France during the time of the French Revolution.

moral dilemma
Definition:A problem in which there is no clear right or wrong resolution
Context:If all your friends are cheating on a test, you are faced with a moral dilemma: Should you tell the teacher or keep quiet so that you don't lose your friends?

"The ends justify the means."
Definition:An expression that means that an individual, a group, or a nation is justified in taking action to do to reach a goal or objective.
Context:Many people believe that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II was a case in which the ends justified the means because, although many people died, the war came to an end.

Back to Top

Standards
The National Council for the Social Studies(NCSS) has developed national standards to provide guidelines for teaching social studies. To become a member of the NCSS, or to view the standards online, go tohttp://www.socialstudies.org.
 
This lesson plan addresses the following standards:
  • Individual Development and Identity
  • Power, Authority, and Governance
  • Civic Ideals and Practices

Back to Top

Credits
Marilyn Fenichel, education writer and editor

Back to Top