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What Does It Mean to Be an Active and Responsible Citizen?

Is it patriotic to say what you believe even if it’s unpopular? Does saying what you believe make you un-American? Make your case.

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It’s 1942 and you’re a seventh grader living in Oakland, California during World War II.

Even after the Japanese army bombed Pearl Harbor last year, you still just thought of Daniel as Daniel. He was born and raised in Oakland like you. And you two had been best friends for as long as you could remember. Daniel’s family moved from Japan to the U.S. in search of a better life. And Daniel’s father ran a grocery store in Oakland. Daniel was as American as anyone you knew. In fact, his parents gave him an American-sounding name to show how patriotic they felt about their new country.

After Pearl Harbor, though, things started to get rough for Japanese-American citizens. You heard the stories about Japanese-Americans being rounded up by the government and brought to internment camps, which are much like prisons. The U.S. government said they were forcing Japanese-Americans to live in these camps to protect them from acts of discrimination by other Americans. But wasn’t it discrimination for the government to take people from their homes and jobs and send them to the internment camps?

You and Daniel had many conversations about this, but it never seemed like it was something that could really happen in America. That is, until the day when Daniel and his family vanished. There was no explanation and no time to say goodbye. The government gathered them and sent them to an internment camp.

You want to do something.

You’re thinking about starting a letter-writing campaign with your classmates at school. Your idea? To send letters to newspapers and to your Senators and Congressman protesting the Japanese internment camps. Your Dad doesn’t want you to do it. “You’ll get the chance to do something for your country when you’re older and can go into the Army like I did,” he said. But you think you can also be patriotic by fighting for what you believe in right here at home (even if what you believe isn’t very popular these days). Who knows? You might bring this letter-writing idea to your classmates and see all of them turn on you. They might start thinking you’re un-American yourself. Should you still try to involve them in your letter-writing campaign?

YOUR CHALLENGE

What does it mean to be an active and responsible citizen? Is it patriotic to say what you believe even if it’s unpopular? Does saying what you believe make you un-American? 

TEACHERS

Have your students take this challenge and make their case! To begin, send your students to this website with this challenge’s code.

The U.S. government said they were forcing Japanese-Americans to live in these camps to protect them from acts of discrimination by other Americans. But wasn’t it discrimination for the government to take people from their homes and jobs and send them to the internment camps?

Review these Primary Sources to select which ones will help you make your case

Organize your primary sources and notes by creating folders. You can edit the title and description (click the pencil icon), add your chosen primary sources, and reorder your sources and folders.

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