top of page
Teachers > Civil Liberties & Equity > Lesson Introduction
Center Gradient Transparent

This is one of six modules of What Does It Mean to Be an American?,

a curriculum resource designed for high school and college classrooms. 

In this lesson, students will explore civil liberties as an ideal, practice, and institution of modern democracy. Students assess the meaning and value of civil liberties, examine the historical contexts and conditions that have weakened civil liberties protections in the United States, and learn the history of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II. By examining primary and secondary sources, students are exposed to diverse perspectives on the incarceration and apply that knowledge to modern-day civil liberties and civil rights issues.

Lesson Introduction

Organizing Questions


What are civil liberties, and why are they protected? 

What mechanisms are meant to ensure the protection of civil liberties? How and why can these mechanisms fail in times of crisis?

How were Japanese Americans’ civil liberties challenged during World War II?

What are the legacies of the Japanese American incarceration, and what lessons does it offer to modern-day civil liberties and civil rights debates?

In this lesson students:

Examine the definition, origin, and limits of civil liberties in the U.S. context

Read and discuss key excerpts from the U.S. Constitution that protect civil liberties

Learn about the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II


Consider the conditions under which civil liberties violations are most likely to occur

Understand the common tension between civil liberties and security


Reflect on modern-day civil liberty and social equity issues


Appreciate the value of civil liberties in a democracy



The following are suggestions for assessing student work in this lesson:

  1. Assess written responses to The Japanese American Incarceration based on students’ quality of thought and clarity of writing.

  2. Assess group research reports in Civil Liberties & Social Equity Research Project based on

    • quality and accuracy of research;

    • clarity of writing;

    • use of appropriate and reliable sources;

    • proper citation of sources; and

    • equitable division of group work among members.

  3. Assess student work in Gallery Walk of the Japanese American Incarceration based on

    • quality and accuracy of observations of the primary sources;

    • clarity of writing; and

    • thoroughness of analysis, as reflected in response to exhibit-specific questions.

  4. Assess student participation in group and class discussions, evaluating students’ ability to

    • clearly state their opinions, questions, and/or answers; 

    • exhibit sensitivity toward different cultures and ideas; 

    • respect and acknowledge other students’ comments;

    • ask relevant and insightful questions; and

    • provide correct and thoughtful answers to classmates’ questions.

bottom of page