Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover questions 21, 27 and 28.
Q21: How many U.S. Senators are there?
Q27: How many senators does each state have?
A. One (1)
B. Two (2)
C. Four (4)
D. The number is different based on the population of the state
Q28: Why does each state have two senators?
A. To ensure each state in a federal republic has equal representation
B. Because it is convenient to calculate 2/3 votes with 100 Senators
C. Because that was a deal made to help the end of the Civil War
D. Because each state had two senators under the Articles of Confederation
The United States Senate’s two most distinctive features are its equal representation for all states and its small size. Each state gets two senators, which means we currently have 100 senators.
Compared to the House, the Senate has a different size, modes of appointment, qualifications, and terms of office. The structural differences between the Senate and House are due to the fact that the two bodies represent different constituencies and are intended to serve different purposes.
The “two per state” rule came from the Great Compromise of 1787, where the framers agreed to create two houses, with equal representation for each state in the upper house: the Senate. This reinforced a federalist system of government, in which constituent states join together for specified purposes while protecting the people’s liberty by limiting federal power and promoting local government. Senators would represent the interests and liberties of their states. It also ensured that especially large states could not dominate small ones.
Indeed, so central is the connection of senators to the states that under the original Constitution, state legislators, not citizens, chose senators; this process changed in 1913, with ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment.
But representing the states is not the only purpose of the Senate. As Federalist No. 62 and No. 63 explain, the Senate was specifically designed to promote the knowledge that senators need, stability, good governmental relations with other nations, responsibility for the nation's long-term interests, and an ability to resist popular passions when those passions are misguided. (This is why senators serve relatively long six-year terms).
Having only 100 senators also ensures that the Senate remains small enough for robust discussion to take place—the Senate has historically been described as the world’s greatest deliberative body. Initially, of course, the Senate was far smaller; all senators could probably have fit into your classroom at one time.
One of the hallmarks of a republican form of government is communicating to and about one’s elected officials, including one’s senators. One example of that freedom of speech is found on the editorial pages of newspapers and on the internet, but the tradition has older variants too, such as political cartoons even before the Founding. This activity will give students a chance to offer their opinion of the Senate, envisioning themselves as citizens observing the new Senate.
- Provide each group with Share Your Opinion.
- Print out copies of the meme images.
- Provide each group with an 8x10 piece of blank paper for the editorial cartoon.
- If desired, provide construction paper for the students to cut out and paste the meme images to.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes a rubric.
- Divide the class into groups of 3-4 based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Ideally, each group of 3 should have at least one student from Group A, one from Group B, and one from Group C.
- Provide students with the first handout, Share Your Opinion.
- Talk about editorial cartoons and freedom of speech.
- Briefly explain that the First Amendment allows free speech, which means that we have the right to share our opinions about the government, regardless of what those opinions are.
- Editorial cartoons are typically political cartoons that share an opinion about the government (though they do not have to be political 100% of the time).
- Talk about memes and how they are a part of popular culture.
- Memes are pictures that have silly or sarcastic sentences paired with them. They are easy to find on the internet, and it is likely that the students have seen them -- even if they did not know that they were called “memes.”
- Briefly explain that memes are also protected under the First Amendment.
- Explain that they are to imagine that it is March 4, 1789, and the newly formed senate is meeting for the first time today. They will create one editorial cartoon and one meme. Both will focus on this new legislative body and both should comment on a single aspect of it (there are suggestions on the handout).
- If you are using the provided meme images, hand them out now. You can provide each group with one of your choice or allow them to choose on their own.
- Make sure that you have extra copies, just in case. To avoid the need for extra copies, have the students mount the memes on construction paper and then write the caption below the picture.
- The meme images provided are only suggestions. If you wish, add to them, completely replace them, or have the students draw their own. 7. Circulate throughout the room as the students work, offering help as necessary.
Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting.
- The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
- The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events, and historical events.
The January 1884 editor of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine shared a (supposed) conversation between Washington and Jefferson in which Jefferson questioned the need for the Senate. “We pour our legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it,” said Washington. In short, the Senate gives ideas a chance to cool, preventing emotions and short-term interests from taking over and making sure that legislation is well-considered.
The idea behind the Senate is to balance out the House of Representatives and help protect the rights of both the states and the people. This is accomplished, in part, by making sure that the number of senators per state remains fixed. How many senators does each state have? Why do you think that the Founding Fathers agreed upon this number?
The Founding Fathers wanted to create a balanced government, one that balanced both short-term and long-term perspectives, as well as both the federalist and nationalist parts of the constitutional structure. As part of that plan, they gave every state equal representation in the Senate, but varied representation in the House. How does having equal representation protect the liberty of the people? Why might protecting the rights of smaller states protect the liberty of the people?