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1980s America: The Ronald Reagan Presidency

Lesson Plans by Richard Cleggett

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Reagan Presidency Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Ronald Reagan Presidency Include:

Ronald Reagan was an iconic and controversial president during the twilight of the Cold War. Over the course of a decade, “The Great Communicator” was pivotal in the fall of the Soviet Union, and a powerful force to realign American politics towards conservative ideas. The impacts of his presidency remain in the news today; Reagan continues to be praised as a conservative hero, but is criticized for the long term impact of his social and economic policies.


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Ronald Reagan Presidency Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Emergence of the New Right: Election of 1980

The Presidency of Ronald Reagan - The Election of 1980
The Presidency of Ronald Reagan - The Election of 1980

Example

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In this activity, students will use a storyboard to illustrate the candidates of both the Democratic and Republican parties in the 1980 Presidential Election. By highlighting each candidate, their positions, ideas, and ideologies, as well as the principles of their parties, students will be able to analyze and explain how and why each candidate fared the way they did. The ideas and ideologies, along with the principles of each candidate, will give insight to future actions taken by the eventual winner, Ronald Reagan.



Extended Activity

Have students create a grid storyboard to detail what principles and ideas define major terms like liberalism and conservatism. This will allow students to gain a better understanding of what exactly constitute the core ideas of each ideology and political position, and how these principles factored into the 1980 election.


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The Economy: Reaganomics

The Four Pillars of Reaganomics
The Four Pillars of Reaganomics

Example

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Have students define the major principles and ideas of Reagan’s economic changes during his first years as president. Students should include the four major pillars of Reaganomics: reduce government spending, cut taxes, reduce government influence and regulation, and cut back inflation through a reduced money supply. Students may also include extra slides on side-supply economics, and examples of how he instituted these economic policies. Students will be able to explain and analyze what defined Reagan’s economic policies, and therefore, “Reaganomics”.



Extended Activity

Have students create a spider map on another president’s economic policies, particularly one with a strong federal influence e.g., FDR, Obama, Nixon. Have them compare and contrast what constituted their policies, their success, and failures.



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Reagan and the Cold War: A Closer Look at Foreign Policy

The Cold War
The Cold War

Example

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In this activity, students will research and create a cause and effect storyboard to outline Reagan’s foreign policy, specifically his Cold War policy. Students should include major events and policies including his relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the Iran-Contra Affair, military build-up, and his speech at the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall. However, teachers may pre-select any issues, events, or policies that students should include in defining Reagan’s foreign policy and role in the ending of the Cold War.



Extended Activity

Have students create a cause and effect grid to define how the next president, George H. W. Bush, conducted his foreign policy. Outline and define major events, policies, and initiatives taken by Bush, and connect them with that of Reagan’s. Draw connections between the fall of communism with issues in the Middle East.



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Reagan and the Social Issues of the 1980s

1980s American Social Issues
1980s American Social Issues

Example

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Have students use a spider map to analyze and explain Reagan’s actions concerning the major social issues of the 1980s. These include women’s equality in the workforce, the AIDS epidemic, the War on Drugs, the wealth gap, and immigration reform. Students will be able to explain and analyze the stance Reagan took on these, or other issues the teacher would like to cover, as well as how his New Right conservative views influenced such actions.


Reagan and the Social Issues of the 1980s

Women’s Rights

Women experienced both great progress and backlash throughout the 1980s under Reagan. Jobs once denied to women were being attained. However, in 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated. In addition, anti-abortion groups lobbied to prevent gains stemming from Roe vs. Wade of 1973, which gave women the right to abortion.


Aids Epidemic

Throughout the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic caused particular concern. The number of victims spiked sharply, and much effort was put into research and finding a cure. It also brought attention and controversy to the gay rights movement, as well as drug abusers.


War on Drugs

Reagan initiated staunch policies on drugs. In his "War on Drugs", Reagan increased punishments and penalties. Opposers argued his policies targeted minorities and low income citizens. Supporters of Reagan held that drug use declined dramatically. "Just Say No" became the message.


Civil Rights

Under Reagan, the federal government committed itself to extending the right to vote. Throughout the 1980s, many African Americans utilized their right to vote, and many were elected to top local and state political positions. However, Reagan also appointed conservative judges less sympathetic to civil rights, and ended affirmative action programs.


The Wealth Gap

The wealth gap between the rich and poor grew exponentially under Reagan. Such disparity had not been evident since the end of WWII. The top fifth of Americans' income increased 23% between 1980-89, while the bottom fifth rose only 9%. Wages also remained stagnant.



Extended Activity

Have students create a spider map to explain and analyze the stance and actions of another president on certain social issues, namely ones related to the issues Reagan dealt with during his presidency. An example could be Obama’s actions concerning immigration, health care, and education.



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The Legacy of Ronald Reagan: Proponents and Opponents Viewpoints

Proponent and Opponent Viewpoints
Proponent and Opponent Viewpoints

Example

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While many praised Reagan for his actions, he also received much criticism. The economy did well under Reagan, but upon his departure, the economy was in worse shape than when he entered office. In addition, Reagan was praised for his foreign policy, but also criticized for his heavy military spending.

Students will use a grid storyboard to outline and explain the viewpoints on Reagan and his major decisions as president. Students will be able to explain and analyze the support and opposition Reagan met with his major executive decisions, as well as reflect from today on his presidency overall.



Extended Activity

Have students analyze and explain the support and opposition towards another president. Some recommendations are George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama. Students should analyze their major executive decisions as well as the support and criticisms they received.


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Major Events of Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Terms (1981-1989)

Reagan Presidency Timeline
Reagan Presidency Timeline

Example

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Have students use a timeline storyboard to create an outline of major events and decisions surrounding Reagan’s presidency. Students can focus on one thematic issue (such as economics or social issues) or mix and match various events that define his presidency. Students will be able to explain and outline the major events that occurred throughout Reagan’s two presidential terms (1981-1989).



Extended Activity

Have students swap timelines, doing either one thematic timeline on one certain issue, or have students create a holistic timeline of what defines Reagan’s presidency. It would be recommended to have students complete a thematic timeline, then utilize other students’ timelines to create a more comprehensive, holistic timeline.


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The Ronald Reagan Presidency

Ronald Reagan served as President of the United States from 1981-1989. When Reagan ran for office, the U.S. was still in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the economy was in recession, and many were looking for a solid leader to navigate the pressing social issues of the time. Reagan, a Republican, held a conservative stance. In his 1980 presidential campaign, he promised to lower taxes to stimulate the economy, reduce government interference, uphold state’s rights, and, most of all, maintain a strong national defense. All of these fundamental principles aligned with Reagan’s supply side economics, and strong stance against Soviet influence, as well as his War on Drugs, and aims at resolving several civil rights issues. Under Reagan, the 1980s were successful, as well as turbulent.

Students will be able to organize, analyze, and explain the various actions Reagan took as president. His implementation of “Reaganomics”, ending of the Cold War, and even controversy surrounding the Iran-Contra Affair are all points of discussion to elaborate on one of the most popular presidents in American history. By using the graphic organizers on Storyboard That, students too will be able to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the context and substance of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.


Discussion Questions

  1. What were the major events in Ronald Reagan’s political career?
  2. In what ways can we define Reagan as a conservative, and why do his conservative ideas take such a strong hold in the 1980s?
  3. How did President Reagan change the economy (and implement “Reaganomics”)?
  4. In what ways did Reagan change the position of the presidency? To what degree of success?
  5. How did Reagan handle the Cold War and other foreign policy initiatives?
  6. In what ways did Reaganomics produce success? Cause for concern?
  7. What important social debates happened under Ronald Reagan?
  8. What issues and controversies surrounded Reagan’s presidency? What legacy did Reagan leave with?


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