The Ethics and Implications of Government Spying

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
90 minute block
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
The lesson will incorporate primary sources, specifically political cartoons, relating to government spying and our interpretations of it. It will use a Socratic Seminar to explore the different viewpoints and arguments of student regarding the issue and will culminate in a short student reaction essay.
  • The class is an IB Theory of Knowledge course combined with Liberty & Law (American Government) course.  The TOK component is the capstone course for the IB Diploma program.  It encompasses the key Areas of Knowledge, and this lesson will highlight several, being Ethics and Human Sciences (Political Science) and History.  The Liberty & Law course is a Missouri state requirement for graduation.
  • The lesson will incorporate primary sources, specifically political cartoons, relating to government spying and our interpretations of it.  It will use a Socratic Seminar to explore the different viewpoints and arguments of student regarding the issue and will culminate in a short student reaction essay.
Rationale (why are you doing this?)
  • The TOK course requires students to think deeply about what they know and how they know it.  This particular topic is a great way to challenge their preconceived notions of government roles and responsibilities and allows them to explore the nuances in public policy and public response and the complexity of political rhetoric.
Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Read and assess the packet of political cartoons dealing with government surveillance post-911
  • Form and defend their own assertions relating to the constitutionality and ethics of government surveillance through participation in a Socratic Seminar
  • Evaluate the arguments of their peers and their own through a personal reaction essay.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

Common Core Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed


Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • Students will be assigned the packet of political cartoons the night before and will be instructed to read through them, forming an opinion on each which they can use in the Socratic Seminar.
  • They will be asked to visit the Washington Post series website and survey the documents as well as watch the videos posted there.  Portions of the videos may be shown during the block if the teacher doesn’t wish to use all 90 minutes on discussion.
  • When students come in the next class period (90 minute block) they will enter the classroom in which the desks are arranged in a large circle (they will be encouraged to sit by different students then whom they normally sit by).  The teacher will start the seminar by asking the following questions:
  • Should we care that the NSA is collecting information on us if we haven’t done anything wrong?
  • Is Edward Snowden a traitor or a patriot?
  • Students will be invited to discuss either question (or both) and will be allowed and encouraged to stray from the questions and explore other avenues.  The teacher will ask other questions if the conversation lags or if it strays too far from the topic.  Possible questions are:
    • Why do we, as a populace, allow our government to spy on us? 
    • How do we personally justify the surveillance?
    • What language do we use when talking about this issue-how does that shape our knowledge on the issue?
    • What are the ethical considerations surrounding Snowden’s disclosures?
    • What are the ethical implications of the NSA’s surveillance on US citizens?
    • What are the wider implications of using this type of surveillance in today’s society?
    • Does privacy even matter anymore?
  • The teacher will merely moderate discussion, asking clarifying questions or challenging students’ assertions when needed, but must allow for uncomfortable silence or sidetracks.  The teacher must also discourage “debates” or arguments in which students try to “win” over another student.
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Reaction Paper

In a 500 word essay, please “react” to the idea and assertions addressed in our Socratic Seminar.  You need to incorporate reflections from the 2010 Washington Post website, the political cartoon packet, and your own understanding of the 4th and 5th Amendments.  You also need to reflect on your fellow students’ assertions that were brought up in the Socratic Seminar.

Essays will be assessed based on the incorporation of the above mentioned items as well as overall analysis of the various sources read.  The following rubric will be used to assess your essay.





Ideas and Content (Development)


This writing is clear and focused.  It holds the reader’s attention.  Relevant anecdotes and details enrich the central theme.

The writer is beginning to define the topic, even though development is still basic or general.

As yet, the paper has no clear sense of purpose or central theme.  To extract meaning from the text, the reader must make inferences based on sketchy or missing details. 


The organization enhances and showcases the central idea or theme.  The order, structure, or presentation of information is compelling and moves the reader through the text.

The organizational structure is strong enough to move the reader through the text without too much confusion.

The writing lacks a clear sense of direction.  Ideas, details, or events seem strung together in a loose or random fashion; there is no identifiable internal structure. 


The writer speaks directly to the reader in a way that is individual, compelling and engaging.  The writer crafts the writing with an awareness and respect for the audience and the purpose for writing.

The writer seems sincere but not fully engaged or involved.  The result is pleasant or even personable, but not compelling.

The writer seems indifferent, uninvolved, or distanced from the topic and/or the audience.

Word Choice

Words convey the intended message in a precise, interesting, and natural way.  The words are powerful and engaging.

The language is functional, even if it lacks much energy.  It is easy to figure out the writer’s meaning on a general level.

The writer demonstrates a limited vocabulary or has not searched for words to convey specific meaning

Sentence Fluency

The writing has an easy flow, rhythm, and cadence.  Sentences are well built, with strong and varied structure that invites expressive oral reading.

The text hums along with a steady beat, but tends to be more pleasant or businesslike than musical, more mechanical than fluid.

The reader has to practice quite a bit in order to give this paper a fair interpretive reading.  Sentences are choppy, incomplete, rambling, or awkward.


The writer demonstrates a good grasp of standard writing conventions (e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, usage, paragraphing) and uses conventions effectively to enhance readability.  Errors tend to be so few that just minor touch-ups would get this piece ready to publish.

The writer shows reasonable control over a limited range of standard writing conventions.  Conventions are sometimes handled well and enhance readability; at other times, errors are distracting and impair readability.

Errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, usage, and grammar and/or paragraphing repeatedly distract the reader and make the text difficult to read. 


The form and presentation of the text enhances the ability for the reader to understand and connect with the message.  It is pleasing to the eye.

The writer’s message is understandable in this format.

The reader receives a garbled message due to problems relating to the presentation of the text.