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What happened to the writings of the Forefathers of the United States? Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac, Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man--at least some excerpts from it--are worthy works and exemplify the ethical positions of the original leaders of this country which certainly stand in contrast to some contemporary leaders.
Another book by Benjamin Franklin is his autobiography which is an account of how Franklin rose from "rags to riches." With so much criticism upon the rich as an indolent class who have merely inherited wealth, it is good for students to understand that there are those who have pursued the American Dream and pulled themselves up on their own without any assistance. Franklin's book is an inspiration and a tribute to free enterprise and competition.
I second the vote for Animal Farm. While the references to Stalinism might be lost on students, its message about the corrupting influence of political power, as well as the tragic implications of apathy and ignorance, remain relevant. It also introduces students to the potential of satire and allegory as forms of political protest.
Ender's Game, Brave New World, or 1984 would be good books for looking at governmental control and power.
A People's History of the United States is a good alternative perspective to US History and government.
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong is one I'd recommend with caution, but wouldn't completely rule out. Certainly I've had students to whom this book would really appeal, those who are already thoughtful, well read, and curious, and like to question things in class.
Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is an excellent read for an advanced ninth grade civics class (which, of course, would be a perfect addition to a high school government curriculum). It can be examined on many levels, governmental regulations, unions, immigration, and policies of industries supplying citizens with food choices.
Let's take immigration, for example. There were many low-wage laborers, fresh off the boat from Europe, who had to take what they could get in regards to the jobs they could do. These immigrants, of course, were exposed to the horrific practices mentioned throughout The Jungle. In our eNotes study guide, it says:
One reason was that a great number of unskilled laborers came to America at the time, so that employers could offer low wages for miserable jobs and always find someone willing to do the work.
The Jungle continues to be an important reminder of the abuses the government or private enterprise may foist upon the disenfranchised. It certainly has the ability to encourage lively discussion.
Animal Farm is a short easy read but a very good example of what happens when government goes wrong. It is basically concerned with how effect of power on the people who wield it and the people who are subjected to it.
Another series of books that I would suggest is The Books of Ember (http://www.randomhouse.com/teens/booksofember/home.html). As with The Hunger Games, the series of books looks at the events in and around a community trying to survive after the apocalypse.
The first book written in the series, "The City of Ember," has been made into a movie if you wanted/needed to set the stage for your out-of-class reading with some group sharing of reactions and discussion. The characters include corrupt politicians, authoritarian governmental tactics, dwindling natural resources, and resourceful teenagers attempting to escape the controls of the system in order to attempt to save their city.
Descriptive language creates vivid, easily imagined pictures of what life would be like, and of how individuals and governments might react, in the last remaining city to have electricity as the generator creating that power is breaking down more and more often.
I would recommend The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins for several reasons. While not a typical government book, it is easy to view the book through the lens of government and control. It would be easy to compare various governments of the world to the fictional government of Panem, a new nation that arises from the ashes of some unknown apocalyptic tragedy. Easy parallels could be drawn between totalitarian governments both past and present, but it the book leads to deeper philosophical thoughts including the right to govern, the necessity of political change, and the concept of rebellion and revolution.
The second reason I would recommend this book, is it could bring passion and entertainment to a class that isn't particularly appealing to many 9th grade students. The books and movies are relevant, current, and popular, and the excitement of comparing the government of Panem could help bring interest to the study of North Korea to a student who might otherwise have very little interest in the subject.
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