February 15, 2002

Exploring the Impact of Presidential Decisions Throughout History

Grades:  6-8,9-12

Subjects:  American History, Civics, Language Arts

Related New York Times Article
"Bush Plan Expected to Slow, Not Halt, Gas Emission Rise, By ANDREW C. REVKIN", February 15, 2002

In this lesson, students examine the reasons behind key presidential decisions throughout American history and, by debating the pros and cons of these decisions in retrospect, students consider how these decisions affect us still today.

SUGGESTED TIME ALLOWANCE: 45 minutes- 1 hour

Students will:

  1. Identify important decisions made by President Bush during his presidency thus far and speculate on possible future decisions.
  2. Learn about President Bush's new climate proposal and its relation to related decisions made by past presidents by reading and discussing the article "Bush Plan Expected to Slow, Not Halt, Gas Emission Rise."
  3. Investigate, in pairs, important decisions made by various past United States presidents; prepare debates on the decisions that they feel their assigned presidents made that have had the longest impact.
  4. Perform their debate for the class; assess whether or not they would support these same decisions if they were made now.



  1. WARM-UP/DO-NOW: Students respond to the following prompt in their journals (written on the board prior to class): "Create a list in your journal of issues that President Bush has faced so far in his presidency. Then, create a list of issues that you think he will be facing during the rest of his term. Finally, circle all of those that existed prior to his presidency." After giving students a few minutes to write, encourage them to share their responses with the class. Conduct a short discussion based on the following questions: How well do you think President Bush has addressed these issues so far? Looking at the circled issues that existed prior to his presidency, how did other presidents address these issues? What issues do you think have faced all presidents so far? Which do you think all future presidents will face?
  2. As a class, read and discuss the article "Bush Plan Expected to Slow, Not Halt, Gas Emission Rise," focusing on the following questions:
    1. What is the Kyoto Protocol?
    2. What was President Bush's reaction to Kyoto?
    3. What does the president's current related proposal include?
    4. What is the "common-sense idea" on which Bush's plan is built?
    5. What will happen in 2012 if sufficient progress is not made?
    6. How do environmental groups feel about Bush's plan?
    7. What did Jennifer Morgan call Bush's plan?
    8. Why does Philip E. Clapp call Bush's plan a "faith-based initiative"?
    9. How will the proposed plan on non-greenhouse emissions work?
  3. Explain to students that they will be investigating key decisions made by past presidents and debating their lasting impact on the United States. Divide students into pairs, and have each pair choose a slip of paper with the name of a president written on it from a hat or bag. Then, using all available resources, pairs answer the following questions (written on the board for easier student access):
    • What major decisions did this President make during his term(s) of office?
    • Who were the major supporters of and opponents to each decision, and what were their views?
    • Which of these decisions still have impact on the United States today, and how?
    After about 10 to 15 minutes, have each pair choose one decision made by their president that they think has had the most lasting impact on the United States. Explain that they will be debating the issues involved in this decision, but set in the United States in 2002. One student will support the decision as the president himself, and the other will refute it as one of the major opponents to the decision. Because the debate will focus on a historical decision but will be set in modern times, both sides must take into account not only the initial reasons that they supported or challenged this decision at the time that it was made but also the effects that the decision has had from the time it was made until today. In preparing for the debate, pairs should continue research together on their specific topic, focusing on the following questions (written on the board for easier student access):
    • What were your initial reasons for supporting/challenging this decision?
    • What negative impact, both short and long term, did this decision have on the country?
    • What positive impact, both short and long term, did this decision have on the country?
    • As president, which of these effects did you foresee? Which of these effects surprise you? Would you have made the decision differently had you known the effects it would have?
    • As the opponent, which of these effects did you foresee? Which of these effects surprise you? Would your position have been different had you known the effects the president's decision would have?
  4. WRAP-UP/HOMEWORK: Students complete their research and debate preparation. Pairs should also assemble costumes that accurately identify the era in which the president and opponent lived. In a later class, pairs should present their debates to the class, allowing other students to ask questions for them to answer. After each pair's debate, the class should discuss whether or not they would have defended the president's decision at the time and whether they support it today, as well as whether they would support it if President Bush made this decision.


Students will be evaluated based on initial journal response, participation in class discussions, and thoughtful partner research and debate.

halt, emissions, arbitrary, incentives, sustainable, insufficient, scheme, initiative, ideological, coercive


  1. Create an "Environment Versus Big Business" timeline of the United States. Include important laws, court cases, and events that tell the story of this struggle. Color-code your timeline to illustrate which side enjoyed greater government favor during different periods of history.
  2. Conduct a public opinion poll on favorite presidents. Some questions to include in your poll are: Who is your favorite president, and why? Who is your least favorite president, and why? What qualities do you think make a good or bad President? Which of those qualities do you see in the current president? Create charts showing the patterns and common responses you receive, and write an article assessing your findings.
  3. Research the system of checks and balances instituted by the United States government. Focus on the specific powers of the president and how the other branches can limit these powers. Then, create a children's book explaining these concepts. Make sure to accompany your text with pictures to help illustrate the concepts discussed.
  4. Write a biography of one of the presidents of the United States or of a leader of another country. Include information about his or her childhood, education, career leading to his or her leadership, and public and private life as president or leader. Focus specifically on this leader's life after his or her term of office and how this position of power aided or inhibited him or her from pursuing his or her goals after it ended. Present this information in an interesting way, such as a mock interview with this leader or a series of diary entries that he or she "wrote."

Global History- Research the role of women in politics throughout the world. Create a set of "Women in Power" trading card series featuring women in various positions of power, such as Queen, First Lady, Prime Minister, and President. Include information about the years they were in power and the major decisions that they made during their terms.

Media Studies- Watch a movie depicting the life of a world leader, such as "Nixon," "Evita," "JFK," "Fidel" or "Primary Colors." Write a review of the film, focusing on how accurately it portrays the events. Does the film seem to be biased for or against this leader? How does this bias affect its depiction of the events?

Geography/Science- Create a visual aid depicting how gas emissions contribute to global warming and how global warming affects the biosphere. Your visual aid might be in the form of a poster, a computer program that simulates this process, or a "hands-on" experiment that reproduces these effects on a small scale.

Technology- According to the Bush administration, "sustainable economic growth is the key to environmental progress - because it is growth that provides the resources for investment in clean technologies." Research progress in the field of "clean technology," and create a poster displaying the "old" and "new" technologies together and explaining the differences between the two. Make sure to describe both the pros and cons of each technology

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The New York Times Company

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