Lesson Plans for Secondary Educators
Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man with the Muck-Rake,” April 14, 1906
High School Lesson Plan created for Voices of Democracy by Michael J. Steudeman, University of Maryland
Value to History Teachers
In political science and communication studies, Theodore Roosevelt is said to have ushered in a “rhetorical presidency.” More than leaders before him, he spoke directly to the people and press to push his agenda. This speech exhibits several key concepts that come to the fore during 9th and 10th grade students’ explorations of American history:
- The relationship of the president to the press;
- The growing strength of the national government during the Progressive era;
- The importance of character to early-20th century reformers;
- And the increasing role of investigative journalism in pursuing a Progressive agenda.
As one of the liveliest historical figures of the early 1900s, reading Roosevelt’s message and how he tethers together each of these issues provides a compelling way to deepen students’ understanding of a tumultuous period in American politics and reform.
Ideas for Pre-Reading
- The “Muck-Rake” character in Roosevelt’s speech is from the second part of John Bunyan’s Christian allegory, The Pilgrim’s Promise. To help students understand how Roosevelt drew from source material, have students read and analyze pages 25 to 26 of the book from Chapel Library online.
- As they read, students must consider how the “muckrakers” who go too far destroy the character of public servants. To do this, they will also need context for Roosevelt’s views on character. Show students the monument to “Manhood” from Theodore Roosevelt Island to prompt their thinking about what character traits Roosevelt associated with good citizens.
- Students should enter the speech knowing autobiographical background about Roosevelt’s strong personality: for example, his Rough Rider experience or the time he spoke for 90 minutes with a bullet in his chest.
Students need to understand the call for strong government that emerged during the Progressive Era. First, guide them to read the segment of Amy L. Heyse’s interpretive essay, pages 4-5, on the rise of investigative journalism and TR’s response. Supplement this with a class discussion about gruesome depictions of factory conditions in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jacob Riis’s photojournalistic exposé of immigrant tenements in New York City.
Suggested Timeline / Objectives
Day 1: “The Man with the Muck-Rake”
- [Read paragraphs 1-5]
- Students will describe the two types of journalism practices that have emerged in the Progressive Era: investigative and sensationalistic.
- Students will analyze how Roosevelt appropriates the “muck-rake” character from Bunyan to generate a metaphor about these two different types of journalism.
Day 2: The Cynicism of Muckraking
- [Read paragraphs 6-13]
- Students will determine Roosevelt’s stance on both the pros and cons of muckraking.
- Students will analyze how Roosevelt believes sensationalistic journalism produces a cynicism about public servants and journalists alike.
- Students will examine how Roosevelt establishes a syllogistic relationship between citizens of good character, strong reform government, and responsible journalism.
Day 3: Fortunes Well and Ill-Won
- [Read paragraphs 14-23]
- Students will continue to examine how Roosevelt establishes the syllogistic relationship between character, reform, and journalism.
- Students will describe Roosevelt’s stance on the progressive tax and fortunes, and analyze how it fits into the overall logical syllogism that forms his speech.
Ideas for Post-Reading and Assessment (English and History)
- Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Students have been commissioned by The New York Times to write a Code of Ethics that responds to Theodore Roosevelt’s address. The Code of Ethics must demonstrate that students understand both the benefits of investigative journalism and the dangers of sensationalism, as outlined by Roosevelt (RL.9-10.2; RI.9-10.3). Students must then discuss how the “Code” would help them make ethical decisions in covering the excesses and greed Progressive Era reformers sought to fix (Literacy.RH.9-10.4).
- TR Critiques Modern Muckrakers. As students read, have them extrapolate Roosevelt’s key ideas regarding the proper conduct of journalism with integrity. Afterward, have students look up examples of contemporary investigative reporting—both ethical (for example, the previous year’s recipients of the Investigative Reporters & Editors Awards) and unethical (for instance, from supermarket tabloids or cable news coverage). Have students write about these articles from Roosevelt’s point of view, subjecting them to the same analysis and reasoning Roosevelt used in his address (RL.9-10.2; RI.9-10.3).