Zinn Education Project: The Most Dangerous Man in America Teaching Guide

Subject: Media / Whistleblowing / US Foreign Policy / Anti-War Movements / History
Themes: Peace Makers Whistleblowers Public Officials 20th Century Journalism and Media
Age groups: Middle School High School
Resource type: Teacher Tools

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From the Zinn Education Project website:

Teaching Activity. Zinn Education Project. 2010. 100 pages.
Eight lessons for use with the documentary film about Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, the Vietnam War, and whistleblowing.

  • Time Periods: Cold War: 1945 - 1960, People's Movement: 1961 - 1974, 20th Century | Themes: Media, US Foreign Policy, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements, World History/Global Studies | Reading Levels: Grades 6-8, High School | Resource Types: Teaching Activity PDFs
  • This 100-page teaching guide, prepared by the Zinn Education Project for middle school, high school, and college classrooms, enhances student understanding of the issues raised in the award winning film, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

    The film and teaching guide are ideal resources for students trying to understand the news about WikiLeaks today. Through the story of Daniel Ellsberg, students can explore the type of information revealed by whistleblowers, the risks and motivations of whistleblowers, and the tactics used to silence whisteblowers. As Daniel Ellsberg said: "EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time."

    Not only does The Most Dangerous Man in America Teaching Guideoffer a "people's history" approach to learning about whistleblowing and the U.S. war in Vietnam, it also engages students in thinking deeply about their own responsibility as truth-tellers and peacemakers. In the spirit of Howard Zinn, this teaching guide explodes historical myths and focuses on the efforts of people — like Daniel Ellsberg — who worked to end war.



    The teaching guide offers an introduction, resource guide, and eight lessons for U.S. history, government, and language arts classrooms. The guide uses a variety of teaching strategies, including role play, critical reading, discussion, mock trial, small group imaginative writing, and personal narrative.


    Lessons One through Four are for use prior to showing the film.

    • Lesson One: "What Do We Know About the Vietnam War? Forming Essential Questions" helps the teacher assess what students already know or think they know and surfaces essential questions that can be referenced while viewing the film.
    • Lesson Two: "Rethinking the Teaching of the Vietnam War" and Lesson Three: "Questioning the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution" introduce the history of the Vietnam War that Daniel Ellsberg sought to make public with the Pentagon Papers and is still missing from most textbooks.
    • Lesson Four: "The Most Dangerous Man in America Reception" prepares students for the people, themes, events, and issues that are in the film through a simulated reception with close to 30 characters.
    • Lesson Five: "Film Writing and Discussion Questions," for use during and after the film, provides a wealth of discussion questions and writing prompts.
    • Lessons Six through Eight are for use after students have viewed the film.
    • Lesson Six: "The Trial of Daniel Ellsberg" is a mock trial that invites students to determine what precedent might have been set with the trial of Ellsberg and Russo if the case had not been dismissed.
    • Lesson Seven: "Blowing the Whistle: Personal Writing" provides students with an opportunity to explore the ways they themselves regularly make important choices about whether or not to resist injustice or remain silent.
    • Lesson Eight: "Choices, Actions and Alternatives" helps students explore how human agency shapes history. Using the choice points of the Vietnam War, students can recognize the important consequences of decisions and actions by people in history and how they can be agents who can co-shape their world today.

    While it would be ideal to use all the lessons, each lesson is a stand-alone activity.


    The guide was developed by the Zinn Education Project in collaboration with The Most Dangerous Man in America filmmakers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. Written and edited by Bill Bigelow, Sylvia McGauley, Tom McKenna, Hyung Nam, and Julie Treick O'Neill. Funding for the guide provided by the Open Society Foundations.