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Lesson plan: Preventing terrorism on the homefront

February 1, 2001
Web posted at: 7:28 PM EST (0028 GMT)

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Students will be able to:

  • Explain the elements of the new report by the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century.
  • Analyze the recommendations of the bipartisan commission.
  • Defend and support the recommendations or oppose them.


National Council for the Social Studies

VI. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority and governance.

VIII. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of relationships among science, technology and society.

Materials article, "Guarding against an attack"
Internet access

Suggested time

One to two class periods


1. Challenge students to recall terrorist attacks that have occurred in the United States in recent years. Examples may include the World Trade Center, the Unibomber, the Oklahoma City bombing and the case of Centennial Olympic Park bombing suspect Eric Rudolph. Ask your students if they believe the United States is generally safe from terrorism. If they answer yes, ask what infrastructure is in place to ensure safety in the country; if no, ask why not.

2. Have students read the article "Guarding against an attack," then ask the following:

  • What is the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century? Who commissioned the study? How long has this panel been researching security issues? What are the commission's conclusions? How did it arrive at its decisions?
  • Why do you think the panel believes the United States is likely to receive a "catastrophic attack" in the next 25 years? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Explain the commission's top two priorities in detail. Why is its first recommendation -- reorganizing the State and Defense departments -- likely to face opposition? What does it mean to "forgive a loan"? Do you agree that students who go into math, science and engineering should be free from paying back school loans if they work for the government for several years? Do you think that this plan would work? Would it entice you to make this agreement? Why or why not?
  • How do you define terrorism? Look up the word in several dictionaries. How does your definition differ, if at all? Why do you think that people engage in terrorism? What, besides fear of retribution, might reduce world terrorism?

3. Make a list of the departments and agencies mentioned in the article. Divide students into groups so that each group has one of those on the list to research. After they have had time to gather their information, have each group present its findings to the class. Details may include:

  • The name of the agency or department;
  • Chief responsibilities of the organization;
  • Approximate number of people employed by the organization (if available);
  • Any other details found in regard to national security.


Have students create organizational charts for these departments and agencies to discover ways in which they overlap and complement one another's responsibilities. Based on their findings, have students defend or oppose the commission's recommendation that such groups should be reorganized and that a new National Homeland Security Agency should be created.


What is terrorism? Students can read a variety of sources to write essays about different kinds of terrorism, reasons that people join terrorist groups and ways in which the United States defends against terrorism.


Students can choose a section of the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century report to read and summarize for the class. Based on their reading of the report, ask them to determine whether or not they think the coverage in the article was accurate and complete.

U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century
FBI Library -- Terrorism in the United States
Rise of domestic terrorism and its relation to United States Armed Forces
U.S. response to chemical and biological weapons terrorism and domestic preparedness

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