Teacher Notes

Photo from, "http://www.esquilax.com/flag "

A Burning Desire:
A Focus Group Turns
Its Attention To Old Glory

Americans from around the country have seen attacks on their beloved "Old Glory." Some feel pain and distress as they see the flag they once carried into battle being trampled, burned or damaged during an act of political protest. The situation has become so intense that there is a move to make another amendment to the Constitution, banning any and all forms of flag desecration especially burning of the flag. The issue of flag burning now falls under the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech and assembly. Various groups around the country oppose any amendment that would restrict "constitutionally protected" speech.

As is the case now in American politics, many controversial issues are brought before selected focus groups whose sole objective is to study and debate various policy issues and provide advice to their legislative representatives. This allows law makers to create political policies on controversial issues that allow plenty of input from their constituent voters so that, at election time, these voters will feel their views have been represented fairly.

As an aide to Senator Harney, you have been asked to gather a diverse focus group to provide input on the flag burning issue so the Senator will be prepared when a vote arises in Congress. The Senator expects you to solicit as many differing opinions within the state as possible. so that he can be certain that he represents his constituents on this controversial issue.

With a sigh of resignation that this will become one more example of an arduous series of emotionally charged meetings to manage, you begin the process of bringing this policy-recommending task force together. At first glance, it is obvious that you should include past veterans of the military as possible since this is often a fundamentally important issue to them. On the other side of the coin, you must also bring in members of groups like the ACLU who are champions of the First Amendment as it stands. You are smart enough to realize that it is important to solicit the opinions of your counterparts in the House who hail from your state and try to determine their level of support for the different perspectives. Lastly, you need to draw opinions from average citizens in order to get that 'man on the street' perspective on the issue.

After all the arrangements have been made, you put together the two positions all groups will consider (The Senator does support an amendment banning flag burning, or the Senator does not support a constitutional amendment regarding flag burning) and you wait for the results of the arguments to come.

The Task

As a member of one of the groups involved in this focus exercise, your job is to come up with an oral and a written response based on research you have collected to either support the Senator's position or rebuke him for selecting his position. The purpose of your job is to test the political winds. This will allow the Senator to maintain his office while still maintaining allegiance to the Constitution and its intent in this grey and controversial area of law. Depending on the persuasiveness of the arguments given by the focus subgroups, the Senator will formulate a position to advocate on the floor of Congress.

The Process

In your assigned groups, break up into pro and con subgroups so that each can research either possible position Senator Harney might take. Depending on the argument you pose, be able to defend it legally as well as emotionally. This will be a constitutional issue debated on the Senate floor with CSPAN cameras as well as Senate colleagues and opponents watching. As you move through your research, prepare your position both orally and in writing. You will need both when you present to the overall focus group. You should make use of any and all multimedia tools available for your presentation in the hopes that they might be used in the future by the Senator in his policy position.



Learning Advice

Since this is a passionate issue, it is of paramount importance that you temper your emotions with the rational arguments on the issues. As you examine this issue based on the legal aspects, remember there is much passion and raw emotion in the "flag burning." It will help if you try to think of what the flag represents in people's minds and hearts. The Senator is counting on you to help him understand the feelings of his constituents as he attempts to address the constitutional questions.


You and your group members will be assessed on the evidence and how it is presented to the focus group. As a class, brainstorm the elements that must be present in a persausive argument and a clear presentation. Create a scoring rubric from these elements.

Many great ideas and points get lost in poor presentations and this is too important an opportunity to take lightly. Again, remember the power and importance of multimedia tools in persuading others on your arguments.


After you have completed your arguments to the focus group, you need to spend a few moments reflecting on the issue of flag burning and your own personal views surrounding it.

  1. Based on what you have learned, do you feel that we as a country need a constitutional amendment to protect the flag?
  2. In your opinion, is flag burning a First Amendment issue, and thus already covered by it?
  3. Lastly, imagine you were eating lunch at school and a fellow student began to burn the flag on the school lawn. What would you do?


David MacDonald
Technology Coordinator
Fillmore Middle School
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Last Revised: 03/21/06