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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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Whose Freedom? Our Freedom!

Download: Knotted Line Curriculum Guide

Foundational Understandings:

  • The idea of Freedom is central to the identity of the United States as a nation (i.e. the Land of the Free).
  • Freedom in the U.S. has always been defined for certain populations at the expense of others.
  • To be self determining is to have the power to make decisions about your life without outside influence, but also with respect to the self-determination of other individuals and the collective.

Essential Questions: 

  • What is freedom? 
  • Who has access to freedom?
  • What is self-determination? 


Participants will…
...think critically about the idea of freedom in the United States as understood by different people. 
...articulate how self-determination and freedom differ in the U.S. and for themselves.

Facilitator Preparation

Common Core Standards

    Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
    Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
    Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
    Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
    Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Workshop Details

Length of Time:  Two 55-minute sessions
Recommended Age Range: 14-23
Ideal Number of Participants: 15-30


Session 1

1. Print Freedom in the U.S. handout for each participant.
2. Write up SELF DETERMINATION flipchart table for Determining Self Determination activity.  

Part 1: Personal Connection & Reflection, Developing the Reason to Learn

Land of the Free Debate

15 minutes
The facilitator explains the activity: We are going to have a debate about a statement. The wall to my right is the “agree” wall, to my left is the “disagree” wall. I’m going to reveal a statement in a moment and you will go to the area of the room that indicates what you think of the statement. We will put eight minutes on the clock and then you will debate the statement. First, try to understand every word of the statement, then make your argument. If someone says something that changes your mind, feel free to move to a new area in the room. 

"The U.S. is the Land of the Free."

As the debate happens, the facilitator should take notes under two columns on the board. On one side are examples of freedom (ex. freedom of speech, free public education), on the other side are examples of unfreedom (ex. people are profiled for their religion or race, U.S. incarcerates millions of people).
When the time is up ask people to read through the notes. What are other forms of freedom/unfreedom that didn’t come up? What was something unexpected that was mentioned? 

Facilitator transitions the group: Keeping these examples and evidence fresh in our mind, let’s define what freedom is, because clearly it’s a complicated idea!

This activity is adapted from the Debate Activity designed by Detroit Future Schools and is best when used regularly. For more on how it builds group culture and analysis, listening and collaboration skills, see

Part 2: Develop the Concept, Move from the Personal to the Theoretical

Defining Freedom 

20 minutes
Thinking about the debate, what is your definition of freedom?

Participants find a partner next to them and write a definition of FREEDOM.
As pairs finish, ask for people to share their definition with the group. The facilitator should write this on the board/paper.
The facilitator then asks if any other pair has a definition that is significantly different than the one already offered. 
After the second pair shares, other pairs are asked to offer their whole definitions if they’re really different or parts that may be additional/different. The facilitator adds the different elements up to the original definition.

The facilitator then passes out the Freedom in the U.S. handout. Volunteers are asked to read the two statements to the group. Check for understanding on any words or phrases and then discuss the pieces:
What do you think about these takes on FREEDOM? What do they mean?
What parts stand out for you?
How are they similar to your definitions? How are they different? 
How do they contradict each other?

Determining Self Determination

20 minutes
The facilitator transitions the group to the closing activity by offering:
Now that we have a lot of thoughts about what FREEDOM is and the different things it can mean, let’s explore another related idea: SELF DETERMINATION. 

The facilitator points the group’s attention to the flipchart paper that’s been posted up for all to view. 
After asking a participant to read the bolder term and guiding questions at the top, the facilitator walks participants through the examples, pausing for questions, asking for participants’ own ideas of other examples, and elaborating if necessary. 

Facilitator asks the group:
What are concrete examples of individual and collective self determination?
What does SELF DETERMINATION have to do with FREEDOM?
If we had done the debate as “The U.S. is the land of the self determined,” how would that have been different?

After collecting some responses, the facilitator lets the group know that the next session will begin by diving into what SELF DETERMINATION looks like in real life. 

Session 2

1. Create a blank table (on butcher paper, wall, or board) for individual and collective examples of SELF DETERMINATION images.
2. Print Power Words Images packet and Notes on Freedom worksheet. 

Part 3: Active Experimentation with New Knowledge and Concepts

Self Determination: What does it look like?

20 minutes
As participants enter the room, they receive the Power Words Images packet. 
Once everyone is settled in, the facilitator delivers the instructions to the group as a whole.
The facilitator points out that the examples of self determination paper is back up on the wall for everyone to review and refer to.
(Participants can work in pairs or solo for this activity. The facilitator just should make sure the transition process is smooth and efficient). 

Look through the media images in your packet and identify ones that you think represent SELF DETERMINATION—either individual or collective. 

When you’ve chosen an image, use the tape that is available to put the image up in either the INDIVIDUAL or COLLECTIVE column in the SELF DETERMINATION table that is up on the board next to the one with examples:

If a particular image is already up there, you do not need to put it up—you should only place images in the table that have not already been included. 

After all of the images pertaining to self determination have been placed up in the table, the facilitator asks the group to reflect on how these images represent SELF DETERMINATION. 

Part 4: Integration of Concepts & Experience, Learners Representing New Knowledge in their Own Voice

Looking at U.S. History

25 minutes
Participants each receive the Notes on Freedom worksheet and write a definition of FREEDOM in the middle section of the worksheet.

Original definitions of FREEDOM from Workshop 1 should be posted back up on the wall for participants to review and refer to.

Participants then are invited to explore The Knotted Line. This may be the first time they’re interacting with it so they are invited to just play around for a little while to see how it works. 
(Note: Depending on the number of participants and computers or copies of the printed Knotted Line, participants may have to work together in smaller or larger groups.)

After 5-10 minutes, the facilitator calls for everyone’s attention briefly and delivers instructions:

Now that you’ve played around a little, choose one event/image that you think represents RESTRICTION OF FREEDOM and one that represents SELF DETERMINATION.

Use the worksheet you have to guide you in describing the images and answering the questions- writing how each image connects to your understandings of FREEDOM or SELF DETERMINATION. 

Conclusion: Are We Free? 

10 minutes
The group comes back together.
The facilitator asks the group some of these questions to guide reflection and synthesis:
So now that we’ve explored what FREEDOM means and what SELF DETERMINATION can look like in practice…

Are we free?
Are YOU free?
Is the U.S. a country where everyone is SELF DETERMINING? How so or how not? 
Do you think SELF DETERMINATION is important?

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