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Activate: Background

Perhaps more than ever, today’s youths benefit from the positive influence of people respecting and caring for others. Incidents of violence in every kind of educational environment have become more frequent. Literature on character education emphasizes the need for students to learn how to become stalwart citizens of a community. Schaps, Watson, and Lewis (1996) state that community is not only a place, but also the experience of feeling valued, connected, and responsible.

SpicyNodes is an interactive tool that provides teachers with an innovative way to visually introduce the ideas, themes, and related concepts of activism and philanthropy. By creating a circular and interrelated map of the activism and philanthropy, SpicyNodes helps students grasp and internalize how the concepts link and contribute to multiple topic areas.

In this unit, students will define and examine the concepts of citizenship, philanthropy, and activism. They will then identify types of activism, significant historical events pertaining to philanthropy and activism, what makes a good citizen, and what and when action is taken. They will begin to comprehend the benefits and sacrifices involved in actions citizens take for the common good. SpicyNodes will help students investigate different perspectives, events, and actions that citizens, like themselves, have experienced in what is truly a global community.

Standards and Benchmarks

This lesson plan fulfills several standards for civic education and social studies.

Under NSS-C.9.1-12.5

  • Standard IA - What is civic life? What is politics? What is government? Why are government and politics necessary? What purposes should government serve?
  • Standard IIIE - How does the American political system provide for choice and opportunities for participation?
  • Standard VA - What is citizenship?
  • Standard VC - What are the responsibilities of citizens?
  • Standard VE- How can citizens take part in civic life?

Under NSS-WH.5-12.9

  • Standard 2A - Assess the effectiveness of efforts by governments and citizens’ movements to protect the global natural environment.
  • Standard 2C - Assess the progress of human and civil rights around the world since the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Standard 2C- Analyze how feminist movements and social conditions have affected the lives of women in different parts of the world and compare women’s progress toward social equality, economic opportunity, and political rights in various countries.

Content Knowledge for Teachers

Civics is the study of governmental systems and, in particular, the role that citizens play within them. Philanthropy refers to the positive actions of citizens, such as donating money, time, goods, and/or effort to benefit others in a charitable way. A citizen who engages in philanthropic acts is referred to as a philanthropist.

Activism refers to actions taken to encourage change. Activism often has a negative connotation (often a term used synonymously with protest), but activism is often undertaken via nonviolent and/or philanthropic acts.

There are several ways of engaging in activism. Common forms of activism include:

  • Writings (letters, newspaper columns, media propaganda, blogging)
  • Boycotts
  • Disinvestment
  • Strikes
  • Demonstrations and rallies
  • Petitions
  • Lobbying and campaigning
  • Guerilla and terrorist tactics
  • Revolutions
  • Nonviolent civil disobedience
  • Community building
  • Fundraising and volunteering

The most common motivations for activism are political, economic, or social. While forms of activism cross motivational boundaries, examples of political activism typically include lobbying, campaigning, media propaganda, demonstrations, and rallies. Examples of economic activism typically include boycotts and disinvestment. Finally, examples of social activism typically include fundraising, petitions, community building, strikes, and civil disobedience. It is important to recognize that activism exists on a continuum, ranging from a teenager volunteering at an animal shelter to momentous and historic events such as those associated with the Civil Rights Movement.

While most activist events are benign, it is important for students to realize that activism can sometimes become violent. One example is when peaceful strikes turn to riots. Other examples of aggressive activism could include the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. It is also important to communicate that activist events are often initiated by the disempowered, and at the time may be viewed negatively by those in power. Controversial acts often become less so when seen through an historical lens. For example, most Americans today see the Boston Tea Party as an example of positive social activism that led to American independence; at the time, however, the participants were viewed by the British government as criminals, and some were charged with the “Crime of High Treason.”

In this lesson, students will define activism and philanthropy to determine where the differences (if any) fall between these two terms. Students will also explore the citizen’s role in activism and/or philanthropy.

For additional information on standards, benchmarks, definitions, and expansions upon this lesson, refer to the resource links below.

Resources and


Activism: Action by a citizen or citizen group to achieve political, economic, and/or social change.

Citizen: A member of a community who has the underlying responsibility to uphold the laws for the common good and safety of the community.

Lobbyist: A person who represents a special interest group and who attempts to influence governmental policy.

Media: Modes of mass communication, including television, radio, journals, newspapers, magazines, blogging, web sites, and so on.

Philanthropy: Giving time, goods, or money to support just causes.

Philanthropist: A person who gives of their time, goods, or money for the sake of others and typically for the common good.

Political Party: A group of people sharing common views who organize in an attempt to gain influence and power through elected governmental offices and positions.

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