Truth: Curriculum Ideas

General Activities

Each of the Americans Who Tell the Truth portraits contain a quote.  That quote, and in most cases, additional quotes voiced by the individual being portrayed, are found on their page, along with their biography.  Often quotes can be very sobering.  Most quotes are words taken out of context.  At times, the true meaning can be altered slightly when this happens.  Nonetheless, the words that get quoted have a power to them, a meaning from someone’s perspective and often hold a key to deeper thoughts about an issue.  There are a number of activities suggested below for using the quotes as you explore your study of Americans Who Tell the Truth.

  • Create a Commonplace Book.  Commonplace Books have their origin in the Renaissance as one means of coping with the information overload of that era. They helped people select, organize, classify, and remember key moral precepts.  Today Commonplace Books are used to record reflections, ideas, and information that need to be experienced and remembered.  Select a number of thoughts, excerpts and quotes from the following pages and write your own reflections for each.  Consider illustrating your reflections with photographs, posters, paintings, or political cartoons.  Even better, create your own illustrations.
  • Write a poem.  Select several quotes that specifically speak to you.  Consider why they spark an emotion or provide an insight to you.  Create a poem that results from your pondering the quote(s).  You may want to incorporate the quote into your poem.
  • Create a biography.  Select a quote or quotes from one individual presented in this section.  Research his/her life and add the quotes to support your own writing of this person.  There are several individuals who have made their mark in history and whose names are recognizable.  However, you might elect to challenge yourself to select an unknown name and find out about his/her life.
  • Write a personal statement on war.  Read through all of the quotes in this section.  Reflect on what you’ve read, how different you may feel from some of the quotes, or how you may agree with others.  Proceed to write a statement on how you feel about war generally.  Include quotes in your statement.
  • Design posters.  Select one or more of the quotes and design a poster that can be used to convey a message you want to share with others.  The design can be to commemorate an event or can be used to compare your thoughts on the link between World War II and current events.
  • Reader’s Theater Use this material to either create a reader’s theater or to incorporate the thoughts, excerpts and quotes into a single production. Similar to a play, a reader’s theater has a number of parts and can involve staging and music.  Scenery is basic, if any is used.  Often the stage is dark and a narrator introduces the script.  A reader’s theater can be written by an individual or several people can work on it simultaneously.  Research can be conducted on an event that originates in World War II.  Write descriptive paragraphs on the theme.  Combine the historical events with poetry and other writings found in Module One and make use of the quotes.  The narrative script is written to weave the entire production together.  Other themes may be a play written from one country’s perspective, through the eyes of a warrior, expressions of feelings from individuals misplaced by the war, or thoughts expressed by those who remained on the home front.  There can be a number of different roles written into the piece.  A single voice or two could be used to describe events, and different parts can be given to those who read poetry, excerpts from diaries, or quotes.  Often the narrator’s role is the most substantial. 
  • Staging multiple productions. Several Reader’s Theaters could be written and staged during a commemorative event that includes poetry and other writings, the culmination of studying about a particular war, or as an event that looks at war generally or as a global phenomenon.  Don’t forget to create a playbill announcing your Reader’s Theater event.  A program booklet complete with background on the presentation and the actors can also be prepared.
  • Moment of truth. A group of portrait subjects were asked to write about their “Moment of Truth” in making the choice to move from concern to courage to compassionate action. These statements are located below and were written by the subjects and directed to students.  Select a statement, reflect on it, and write your own statement back to the person indicating how you responded to it, and how it might change the way you think and will act in the future.
  • Designing Your Own Americans Who Tell the Truth.  Robert Shetterly tells us that:  “It's very hard to choose the subjects for the portraits. For each one I include, I have to leave out many more. For instance, I could have painted the entire series honoring people who have been influential in the struggle for civil rights or  in protecting  the environment. I choose representatives --- some well known, and some, purposely, little known. So, each person becomes a metaphor for a thousand others, a model of courage and persistence whose life and work may affect a large or small community.  I am often asked,  half-jokingly, when I tell people I am painting portraits of Americans Who Tell the Truth, "Where do you find them? I didn't know there were any." The problem is not finding them, the problem is selecting from the millions of worthy subjects. In fact, any one of you could begin this project on your own, in your own neighborhood, and find just as many people to honor as I have. What's so exciting is that in the process of finding truthtellers, you learn what it means to be a good citizen. You then become a teacher and model for others."

Consider people in your community or state that should be acknowledged as "truth tellers."  Interview them and create a portrait, collage or sculpture  for each person selected.  Design your own exhibition and opening.


  • Discussion Group on War.  As part of a class or as a separate project start a discussion group on war and peace.  The questions listed below are offered as guidelines for exploration. Incorporate poetry, narrative or even discussions on selections of art or music.  Use the Voices website to explore possible options.   
  1. What is your personal experience with political violence in the form of war?
  2.  In small groups, generate a list of the positive outcomes obtained through war? What is good about war? What lessons have been learned war?  Create the same task by listing negative outcomes obtained through war and the lessons learned.
  3.  What wars do you know about ? Make a list.  Form groups to research the origins and causes of the wars. When you look at all of these, what things do you find in common? What things are different?
  4.  Now take those same wars and investigate the outcomes of the war. What changed as a result of the war? Report back on those and make the same comparisons and contrasts. What do they have in common and what is different?
  5.  Brainstorm a list of words that come to mind when one hears the word war. Now do the same when one hears the word peace. Create visual representations of those using collage or some other art form and hang these. Discuss the different feelings each evokes.
  6.  Make a list of questions you have about war, countries involved in wars and peacemaking efforts.
  7.  What do you know about how peace is made? How do wars come to an end?
  8.  Research and make a list of the wars/ violent political conflicts going on in the world now. What are these conflicts about?
  9.  What impact do wars have on the lives of the children in those places? (Be sure to include an understanding of the issue of “child soldiers. See Voices education packet on The World's Ten Worst Danger Spots: http://www.voiceseducation.org/content/worlds-ten-worst-child-danger-spots-0 and The Convention on the Rights of the Child: http://www.voiceseducation.org/content/convention-rights-child).
  10.  What happens to women in communities impacted by war and political conflicts resulting in violence?
  11. What are the problems we have today in our world based upon outcomes of previous wars?
  12. Research the economic implications of war. What things are “bought and sold” as a result of war and the establishment of military presence in our country? How many companies can you find when researching these items? How many agencies and employees are in place related to our country’s involvement in military activity?
  13. What is the amount of the military budget for our country?
  14.  Create a list of vocabulary words related to political violence and describe their meaning.
  15.  What standards does our country have for making decisions about which violent political conflicts to involve ourselves?
  16. What is a political prisoner and what role have well known political prisoners played in conflicts?
  17. What do we mean by the phrase, “tools of war?” What is the role of spying, secret investigations, torture and other mechanisms that are the tools of war?
  18. Research heroic efforts made by individuals during wars. What sort of person is a hero during war?
  19. What efforts have citizens of our country made to end wars? What made them successful? What can a citizen of our country do if she does not support a war that our country is involved in?
  20. What is “terrorism?” What are the beliefs you have about “terrorists?”  Research those to determine how accurate they are.
  21. What medical and other conditions result for soldiers who have gone to war? How are these needs met? What impact does war have on the families of soldiers?
  22. What is the “language of war” that permeates our culture? For several days, keep a running record of these and share your findings as a group. Where did you find the most examples of    these? Be sure to include all media forms: radio, television, print , computer.
  23. What is the impact of war on the environment? Animals, plant life, air and water quality and more are effected. In what ways?
  24. What is genocide? How do we determine genocidal activity? What role has it played in the wars and conflicts we have seen historically?
  25.  What is the human being’s relationship to committing acts of violence and genocide in times of war? There are many studies done on this , most notably, ”The Lucifer Effect”  by Phillip Zimbardo. What are the implications of this study?
  26. Write a statement that represents your views on war or violence associated with political conflict now that you have made this in-depth study.


Individual Activities 


Jane Addams

Jane Addams during her life was labeled "the most dangerous woman in America."  Work with excerpts from Jane Addams speeches and writings. 
During her time, Jane Addams was criticized for her writings and stance against war.  Read criticism waged against her and reflect on articles written about her.
Jane Addams work at Hull House in Chicago was significant for the development of many social and civic causes.  Explore some of the highlights of Jane Addams Hull House community and meet some of the Hull House Associates who helped make significant social service changes that are still prominient to this day.

Muhummad Ali

Moment of Truth

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here..... If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years.


Wendall Berry

Discuss the role each of us plays in peacemaking by reflecting on this poem by Wendall Barry.

Now you know the worst

we humans have to know

about ourselves, and I am sorry.

For I know that you will be afraid.

To those of our bodies given

Without pity to be burned, I know

There is no answer

But loving one another,

Even our enemies,

And that is hard.

But I remember:

When a person of war becomes a  person of peace,

He gives a light divine, though it is also human.

When a person of peace is killed by a person of war,

He also gives light.

You do not have to walk in darkness,

If you will have the courage for love,

You may walk in light.

It will be the light of those who have suffered for peace.

It will be your light.


Grace Lee Boggs

Moment of Truth

I was born female 94 years ago to immigrant parents above my father’s Chinese American restaurant in Providence, R.I. My mother could not read or write because there were no schools for females in her little Chinese village. When I cried, the waiters said, “Leave her on the hillside to die; she’s only a girl.” That’s how I learned early on about living for change.

At 20 I studied the Phenomenology of Mind by Hegel, the German philosopher, and discovered that history is the story of the continuing struggle by human beings to make the Ideal real and the Real ideal. Hegel, a teenager when the French Revolution began, experienced the contradictions that emerged during the Revolution and out of that experience realized that what we call “Freedom” can only be achieved “through the labor, patience and suffering of the negative."

It was 1935 and I was much too young to appreciate what this meant. But I read and re-read it because, like the symphonies of Beethoven, who was born the same year as Hegel, it challenged me to grow my soul.

In 1975 The Modern World System by Immanuel Wallerstein gave me a sense of the centuries of catastrophes and struggles that went into the decline of feudalism and the emergence of capitalism.

In the last 25 years my life has centered around the movement to rebuild, redefine and respirit a de-industrialized Detroit from the ground up. Because Detroit is so devastated, it is a city where you sink into despair or embrace the conviction that, as human beings, we have the power within us to build the world anew.


Norm Chomsky

Moment of Truth

My political awareness begins with my earliest memories during the Depression -- pathetic people coming to the door to try to sell rags, riding on a trolley car with my mother past a strike at a textile plant and watching security forces beat women strikers, sensing the dark clouds of fascism spread over Europe, and a lot more.  There was no defining moment.  Just no alternative.


Dorothy Day

Research and Discussion Activities

Dorothy Day was a remarkable woman in many ways and her essential statement about taking the easy way out when confronting matters of injustice seems even more important today.

  • Read Dorothy Day's quote and reflect on your own life, and the lives of people in our country?  
  • How are we as a culture playing it “safe?” and in what ways will that cost us in the future?
  • Create a drawing, painting, poem, or some artistic expression of what your own life or the culture’s life would look like if we did NOT play it safe. Note the changes and discuss them in depth.
  • Discuss what acts are needed when deciding to no longer play it safe. What do I do if I want to take a risk?
  • How might Thoreau's ideas of civil disobedience or Kathy Kelly's stance on raising one's voice and acting non-violently help us to bring about change? 

Doris Granny D. Haddock

At the age of 90 years, Doris Granny D Haddock walked 3,200 miles from Los Angeles to Washington, D. C.  She walked as a Pilgrim walking until given shelter for the night, fasting until given food. She never lacked for a bed, or a meal during the 14th months of her trip from 1/1/1999 to 2/29/2000. As the great-grandmother of 16 children she believed they, and all the children of America, needed a better legacy than we have to give them. Her fore-fathers left her generation a Democracy and our generation needs to leave a Democracy for our children. Public funding of elections would do that. Since the walk she ran for the U. S. Senate. Since her run for office she has visited states working for public funding of elections at the state level, and works in New Hampshire for such a bill .Her book. "You Are Never too Old to Raise a Little Hell" has become popular in High School civic classes. She hopes to publish a book she has co-authored with Dennis Bourke  on her 100th birthday,"The Century of a Bohemian."


Richard Grossman

Moment of Truth

At college in New York City in the early 1960s, I became conscious of gaps between adult decrees and my sense of the world. Living in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer, then working with adult students in USA inner cities, I began learning how to learn.        

My epiphany was a smoldering anxiety that by the late 1980s was choking me with accusations: Why has persistent organizing by courageous people failed to end corporate+government assaults and denials of rights? Why haven’t people’s struggles led to sane transitions in energy, agriculture, finance, health, peace...? To self-governance? Why is a small corporate class always organized, while dissed and denied majorities scrape together campaigns against relentless corporate invasions and usurpations ? How much of the “history” we’ve been trained to regurgitate is not people’s history? Not Earth’s history?      

To engage people in the need to end obedience to tyrants of yesteryear, I helped create “Stop the Poisoning Schools,” “Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Strategy Schools,” “Democracy Schools.”       

 Critics from corporate, law and academic worlds dismissed me as impertinent. Friends and colleagues lamented I had gone unrealistic. But the schools and my agitations continue to spark creative challenges to minority-rule canons of governance and culture.


Jim Harney

Moment of Truth

When I left El Salvador, I knew I had to go back.  The people told me over and over that it was my responsibility to tell everyone in my country what was happening down there.  It was for me the first time I understood the meaning of 'vocation', in the sense of a call from the people.

The impoverished that I met over the years prevented my heart from going into a world of silence which would have meant my own death.  With them in mind I gained voice; took to put my thoughts on paper, ditched the passive voice and opted for the active.  They became the subjects as I developed a bias to think and act from their perspective.  Everything changed for me when this happened.  I have so much to give thanks for.



Chris Hedges

Moment of Truth

My father was a Presbyterian minister in a small farming community in upstate New York. He was an early and vocal supporter of the civil rights movement at a time when Dr. Martin Luther King was, in rural white enclaves like ours, one of the most hated men in America. He opposed, although a veteran of World War II, the Vietnam War and told me when I was about 12 that if the war was still being fought when I was 18 and I was drafted he would go to jail with me. To this day I have an image of sitting in a jail cell with my Dad. Finally, he was a public supporter of the gay rights movement calling for the marriage and ordination of gays. His youngest brother, my uncle, was gay and my father had a particular sensitivity to the pain of being a gay man in America in the 1950s and 1960s. When I attended Colgate University there was no gay and lesbian organization. My father, who by that time had a church in Syracuse, brought gay speakers to the campus. This led, after several meetings, to students confiding in my Dad that they were uncomfortable coming out of the closet to form a gay and lesbian alliance. This was a problem my Dad solved by driving down one day, taking me to lunch and telling me, although I was not gay, that I had to found it. So I founded the gay and lesbian alliance at the university, although I never attended. When I would walk into the dining hall for meals the checker would take my card, check off the appropriate box and hand it back to me saying “faggot.” I made it my undergraduate mission to seduce his girlfriend.       

I have always sought to meet the moral and ethical standards my father set. He remains an invisible witness to every action I undertake. Seven years after he had died in 2002 I was called into the office of The New York Times. I had been speaking openly against the Iraq war and the paper issued me a written reprimand telling me that if I did not cease speaking out against the war I would be fired. It was not an easy moment. I had spent nearly fifteen years at the paper, including time as the paper’s Middle East Bureau Chief. I faced a choice. I could comply with the paper’s demand and pay fealty to my career, but to do so would mean betraying my Dad. This betrayal was something I could not do. As I left the building, knowing my time at the paper was finished, I realized that the greatest gift my father had given me was freedom.          

Other Activities on Chris Hedges

While filming the documentary, Voices in Wartime, Voices' had an opportunity to have a number of extended conversations with Chris Hedges.  In the link below there are excerpts from the film portions in which Mr. Hedges is featured.  There are also segments of text from seven conversations in which the reader can explore topics related to combat, war, death and human nature:

  1. Glorification of Death
  2. Experience of Combat
  3. Chris Hedges' Personal Combat Experience
  4. The Press and the Myth of War
  5. How War Isolates Societies and Hijacks Language
  6. Human Nature and War
  7. Unconventional Warfare and the Role of Civilians

Link to: http://www.voiceseducation.org/content/chris-hedges


Maja Kazazic

Moment of Truth

As for my moment of truth -- I did have one -- it was when I realized how many people actually helped me in my life, and in honor of them and their effort, I had to be better than average and make them all proud for taking the time and making the effort to help me. I thought to myself -- after what all these people have done for me (for example, Sally [Sally Becker, see bio] risked her life to save me, dozens of people donated blood for me, etc.), I can't possibly just hide in some office, make money and call it my life. I have to do something big so these individuals can look at me and say I helped with this and in turn they can all be proud of what they did. I owe them at least that much.


Kathy Kelly

Investigative Activities

Kathy Kelly frequently writes for Common Dreams.  Her article Pacified can be accessed through: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/03/30-0.  Read this article or other articles by Kathy and discuss the following questions:

  • Why does Kathy Kelly view the U.S. government as being guilty of committing war atrocities?
  • How has the U.S. government dealt with investigating these atrocities?  What has it done as a result of its investigation?  Are the actions enough?
  • Once we know of an atrocity of war what responsibility do we have have?
  • What actions has Kathy Kelly been involved in to challenge these atrocities?  What can we do to take a stand?
  • In what ways have we become pacified?  How did this happen?  How can we change? 


Jim Lewis

Moment of Truth

Epiphany equals light, enlightenment. Light broke in on my small world as a child in bed for a year, feeling left out and isolated from friends. Parents, a doctor, teachers and coaches were candles that helped me get past my own isolation and see others around me in pain. Three years as a marine overseas blinded me with the realization about the folly of war and the lies which led us into war in Vietnam. The big change necessary in my life took place, and still does, when I see the connections that exist between my faith beliefs and creation and all human beings. I follow a Jesus who prophetically challenged all forms of oppression, violence and abuse of power. He challenged the Roman Empire and now invites me to challenge the imperial power that exists in my own nation. My courage, whatever courage I can muster, comes from the many people who have inspired me with their courage. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and a host of people I meet daily who resist injustice keep me keep'in on. 



Cindy Sheehan

Moment of Truth

Although I was opposed to the Bush Administration and Although I was opposed to the Bush Administration and opposed to the Iraq war and wars in general, I never did anything to express that disapproval in a public way. I deeply regret my previous lack of action. My "aha" moment came on April 04, 2004 when my oldest son and best friend, Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq.

I don't know if I could have stopped Casey's death if I had been more proactive, instead of reactive, but I have dedicated my life to making reparations to my son by trying to enlighten other people to the evils of war and of imperial conquest for profit that took the life of my son, so we can minimize the pain and devastation.

If one life can be saved because of Casey's needless death, then I believe that's the Noble Cause.


Ann Wright

Moment of Truth

Although I was opposed to the Bush Administration and opposed to the Iraq war and wars in general, I never did anything to express that disapproval in a public way. I deeply regret my previous lack of action. My "aha" moment came on April 04, 2004 when my oldest son and best friend, Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq.

I don't know if I could have stopped Casey's death if I had been more proactive, instead of reactive, but I have dedicated my life to making reparations to my son by trying to enlighten other people to the evils of war and of imperial conquest for profit that took the life of my son, so we can minimize the pain and devastation.

If one life can be saved because of Casey's needless death, then I believe that's the Noble Cause.


Howard Zinn

Moment of Truth

I grew up in a family of working-class immigrants, living in tenements in Brooklyn. Our living quarters were rather miserable and we kids spent most of our time out in the streets.  It seemed natural that I should develop a certain class consciousness, an understanding that we lived in a society of rich and poor, and whether you were rich or poor had nothing to do with how hard you worked.   There were young radicals in my neighborhood, a few years older than me, and I was impressed with how much they knew about what was going on in the world. I was beginning to read books about Fascism and socialism. One day, my friends asked if I would join them in going to a demonstration in Times Square. I had never been to a demonstration, and it seemed like an exciting thing to do. When we got to Times Square, there was no sign of a demonstration, but when the big clock on the Times Building struck ten, banners unfurled in the crowd, and people began marching and chanting. I wasn't sure what they were concerned with but it seemed they were opposed to war, and that appealed to me. One of my friends took one end of a banner and I the other. I heard sirens and shouts and I wondered what was happening. Then I saw policemen on horses charging into the crowd, beating people with clubs. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Here were people peacefully demonstrating and they were attacked by the police. Before I knew it, I was spun around and hit on the side of the head, with what I didn't know. I was knocked unconscious, and when I woke up in a doorway, it was an eerie scene, everything quiet as if nothing had happened. But something had happened to me. I was stripped of my illusion that we lived in a democracy where people could protest peacefully.  At that moment I moved from being a liberal to being a radical, understanding that there was something fundamentally wrong with the system that I had always thought cherished freedom and democracy.        

Working with Two Specific Quotes 

“The rule of law does not do away with the unequal distribution of wealth and power, but reinforces that inequality with the authority of law. It allocates wealth and poverty in such calculated and indirect ways as to leave the victim bewildered.”

  1. What does Mr. Zinn mean when he talks about people being unequal?
  2. What do you believe Mr. Zinn means when he says that the system reinforces inequality? In what ways and why is this so?
  3. What does it mean to be a victim bewildered by the system of unequal wealth and power? Who are the victims of this system? Who are these people in your community? What are some examples of their ‘bewilderment’ in your own community?
  4. Are YOU someone who feels bewildered/confused by these systems? Do you sometimes wonder why some people have so much and others so little? If so, please share your story.
  5. Find and share examples in today’s art, music, books, poems and dramatic areas that you believe represent the “bewilderment of the victims of inequity.” What musicians, artists, writers do you know of that express their confusion and frustration with the fact that people do not have their needs met or their lives fulfilled equally?

“We can not be secure by limiting our liberties, as some of our political leaders are demanding, but only by expanding them…We should take our example not from the military and political leaders shouting ‘retaliate’ and ‘war’ but from the doctors and nurses and … firemen and policemen who have been saving lives in the midst of mayhem, whose first thoughts are not violence, but healing, and not vengeance, but compassion.”

Consider and share examples from your own life experience of people you know responding with the violence and the compassion that Mr. Zinn speaks of here. From where do you find yourself most often reacting to life events: healing or vengeance? And from there, where do you see your community at school in this way?