Teaching Activities (Free)

Andrew Jackson and the “Children of the Forest”

Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow.
A lesson in which students develop critical literacy skills by responding to Andrew Jackson’s speech on “Indian Removal.”

Time Periods: 19th Century, Early 19th Century: 1800 - 1849
Themes: Native American, Racism & Racial Identity

Andrew Jackson and the "Children of the Forest" (Free Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

An unfortunate but recurring feature of U.S. history has been the tendency of political leaders to lie to the American people. The mainstream media have often simply reported these lies with little or no critique, functioning as “stenographers to power,” to borrow from the title of a book by media critic Norman Solomon. This is not to say that everything government leaders tell us is a lie. However, an informed and skeptical public is perhaps the best defense against statements that mask policies that undermine human rights, at home and abroad.

A U.S. history course should seek to nurture this informed skepticism in students. It should encourage them to question the premises of textbooks, newspapers, films, and speeches of political leaders. It should ask them to check assertions against historical evidence.

The speech Andrew Jackson delivered to Congress in December 1830 is a good example of how leaders rely on widespread ignorance to promote their policies. For example, anyone even remotely familiar with the Cherokee people at the time would know that it was ludicrous to characterize them as “a few savage hunters.” Some people surely knew that this was a wildly inaccurate description, but didn’t care because they supported Jackson’s Indian policy. But others almost certainly assumed that, since Jackson is president, he must know best. In instances such as this, people’s critical capacities, or lack of them, have life and death consequences. In my experience, students find it exhilarating to discover that they have the knowledge and ability to critique the pronouncements of a U.S. president.

Teacher Quotes

A deeper look into Andrew Jackson’s treatment of Native Americans is always a powerful moment in the development of students’ questioning of public officials and the words they speak.

We use “Andrew Jackson and the ‘Children of the Forest’” as part of a mock trial. By the end of the trial, the light bulbs going off as students compare words with actions. “What did he mean by ‘civilizing’ the natives?” “What does it mean in the era of expanding democracy that people should have perhaps even less faith in their leaders?”

It sets the stage for a continued focus on people’s history and a framework for how to view the rest of U.S. history, especially in the context of 20th century empire-building.

—Greg Smith
High School Social Studies Teacher, Chicago, Illinois

 

4 comments on “Andrew Jackson and the “Children of the Forest”

  1. Mia Sacilotto on

    Because both of these lessons [Andrew Jackson and the Children of the Forest” and Constitutional Role Play] revolve around groups who were (are?) traditionally silenced, they appealed to several students who often choose to listen rather than to give voice in the classroom. One girl, in particular, who is very shy and does not like to speak in class, chose to deliver part of the speech for her group as Enslaved Africans at the Constitutional Convention. It was a big moment.

    Another amazing moment for us was during the Indian Removal Speeches. As liberal-minded New Yorkers, we were really shocked by the group who covered Andrew Jackson’s administration. Shocked, because Jackson’s Administration sounded so convincing! Indian Removal seemed like a good idea after listening to them! We had a really rich conversation directly following the activity about the power of political rhetoric and how we had previously counted ourselves immune to it. —Mia Sacilotto, middle school humanities teacher, Brooklyn NY

  2. Eric Kipling on

    I modified the trial into a larger unit of historical thinking. Students were given the role of investigative journalists or detectives building a case for/against Andrew Jackson or the United States in general (this wasn’t only Jackson that railed against Indians).

    We used primary sources including:
    1. Elias Boudinot’s letter to Cherokee in 1837 (Stanford’s Reading Like a Historian lesson on Indian Removal)
    2. Jackson’s speeches in 1830 (January & December) to congress.
    3. Worcester vs Georgia Supreme Court case
    4. Supporting and Opposing viewpoints from congressmen of the time (Lewis Cass, Sec of War for Jackson, Theodore Frelinghuysen,
    5. Propaganda – Andrew Jackson as “The Great Father” painting, “Hunting Indians in Florida with Bloodhounds”
    6. Past/Future president’s remarks about Native American removal – Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Taylor, etc

    Then congress had their hearings (instead of the trial) in 1840 so the different interest groups could have hindsight to all the events as they presented their case for/against removal. Congress also had to look up actual congressmen from the 26th congress (1840) and take on that role during the hearings.

  3. Mary Sloan on

    William Holland Thomas, “Little Will”, the only white Chief of the Cherokee, spent his entire fortune battling President Jackson to keep about 14 villages of Cherokee in western North Carolina and east Tennessee.

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