Teaching with the News Archives

This lesson was published in August 2004.

Terrorism: How Should We Respond?

Terrorism has become a central issue in U.S. policy at home and abroad. How should we respond to terrorism? What U.S. interests are at stake in this issue? What values and interests should guide U.S. policy toward terrorism? What should our long-term goals be? What steps should the United States take in the coming months and years?

This lesson plan invites students to explore four divergent policy options on the question of how the United States should respond to terrorism and then to articulate their own considered perspective on this issue.


Introduction and Policy Options
The Policy Options presented in this material are not intended as a menu of choices. Rather, they are framed in stark terms to highlight very different policy approaches, the values that underlie them, and the critiques. (Note: Critiques come from the perspective of supporters of the other Options.)

It is important that students understand that no one Option as it is framed here reflects the views of any one organization or national leader. It is the students' job to sort through the three Options, think about their concerns and values, discuss these with their peers, and then frame an "Option 5 " that reflects their own views.

Online Ballot: Terrorism: How should we respond?

Guidelines for Deliberation

Deliberating "Pros" and "Cons" of Policy Options

Online Ballot: The U.S. Role in the World

DAY I—Preparation and Presentation of the Options

Break your class up into five groups. Assign four of the groups a Policy Option (one for each group). Assign the remaining group the role of the President and his advisors or of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Options Presenters: Their task will be to review their assigned Option, consider the values that underlie it as well as the tradeoffs involved, and then develop a short presentation to give to the class. This presentation should make the best possible case for this Option.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Their task will be to review each of the Options presented in the material and prepare clarifying questions to ask of the "advocates" of each Option after their presentation. The intent is to make sure that the Options, as they are written, are fully understood prior to deliberation on their merits, risks, and tradeoffs.

Foreign Representatives: If your class is large, you may want to assign some students the role of representatives of other nations. They can be asked to present their views on the Options after all of them have been presented.

DAY II—Shared Deliberation and Individual Judgment

With the Options presented and understood, students have a foundation for deliberation on the merits and the tradeoffs of each. Ultimately students will articulate their own perspective on the issue.

Deliberating on the Options: Begin your deliberation by asking students to identify the things they like and the things that concern them about each of the options presented. Encourage students to listen carefully to each other rather than to try to "win" the argument. The intent of deliberative discourse is to see that all perspectives are heard and considered and that all participants have a place at the table. The outcome should involve a more sophisticated understanding on the part of all participating. See Guidelines for Deliberation. You may also find Deliberating "Pros" and "Cons" of Policy Options a useful activity.

Articulating Their Own Views:After students have deliberated together on the merits and tradeoffs of the Options presented in this lesson, give all of the students an opportunity to come to terms with their own views on this issue. What should we do? Have them articulate their own considered judgments on the issue by framing their "Option 5 " using the format of the Options presented. As they develop their Option 5, students should consider the following questions:

  • What U.S. interests are at stake in this issue?
  • What values and interests should guide U.S. policy toward terrorism?
  • What do you think our long-term goals should be?
  • What steps should the United States take in the coming months and years?
  • Should the United States interact with other nations as it addresses the problem of terrorism? If so how?
  • What are the merits and tradeoffs of the option you are proposing?

Online Ballot: Terrorism: How should we respond?
After consideration of this issue, we encourage students to make their views known.

Let Your Voice Be Heard:
Encourage your students to express their views.

  • Contacting Elected Officials
    Students could write letters to elected officials. They can find contact information for the White House at www.whitehouse.gov/contact and their U.S. Senators and Representatives at thomas.loc.gov.
  • Writing Locally
    Students could write letters to the editor of a local paper. Or they could write an article for the school or community newspaper.

Additional Resources from the Choices Program

Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy is a one-week unit that helps students explore the threats to the United States, the motivations of terrorists, and the challenges for our international and domestic response. Background readings prepare students to thoughtfully consider the policy choices facing our country.

Scholars Online provides video taped interviews with researchers designed for use in classrooms, for homework, and for professional development.

Are We Winning the War on Terrorism? asks students to consider whether and how the United States can determine the success or failure of our efforts to combat terrorism.

Supplemental Materials for Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy provides links to additional resources related to this issue.

Additional Online Resources

U.S. Department of State
Information on official U.S. policy on terrorism

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Information on threat levels and the functions of the Department

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States
The web site of the 9.11 Commission

9/11 Public Discourse Project
A web site developed by ten members of the 9.11 Commission

Council on Foreign Relations
A website from the Council on Foreign Relations that provides clear information about terrorism.

Terrorism: How Should We Respond? is an excellent entrée into the larger question of America's role in the world. The U.S. Role in a Changing World is a one-week curriculum unit that provides a substantive look at this larger question.