Lesson Plan

Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill: The Power of Symbols

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GRADE LEVEL: Middle School

COMMON CORE STANDARDS: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening

In April 2016, the United States Department of Treasury announced plans to make several changes to American currency. The proposals constitute the most sweeping revisions in almost one hundred years.  Among these changes, the $20 bill, which previously pictured Andrew Jackson on the front, will now feature Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist. In addition, the $5 and $10 bills will be updated to include other women and civil rights leaders. The final redesigns will be unveiled in 2020.

In making this announcement, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said: “I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy.” This decision has not been without controversy and has generated a great deal of public discussion about its potential impact. 

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn about these sweeping changes in U.S. currency, analyze the role of symbols and their impact and articulate their own opinions about the importance of symbols and symbolic gestures in our society.