Promises and Peaceful Transition of Power

The U.S. Constitution provides the framework for governing, including the oath of office the president takes every four years as a peaceful transition of power occurs. Realizing the rituals of inauguration faced challenges during pandemic surges but creative plans took shape to include the entire country in safe celebration. President-elect Biden rolled out his nominees for Cabinet leadership. Attacks on the Capitol on January 6 reminded everyone that democracy requires vigilance and commitment to protect it.

On January 20 an inaugural like no other will be held.


As the pandemic continues into a second year, more than 379,000 have died from it in the U.S., positive tests and hospitalizations are surging. The Biden-Harris team desire to keep people healthy by maintaining a social distance and wearing masks, to honor those who have passed, and to celebrate a hallmark of democracy was already changing the presidential inaugural rituals and creating new expressions of celebration from Maine to Florida, D.C. to Hawaii and Alaska.


Articles and activities in ‘A House Divided’ focus on the attitudes surrounding President Trump’s refusal to concede the November 2020 election and the actions that people of different points of view were calling to take place.


Then came January 6. In a special fourth resource guide — January 6, 2021: Truth and Democracy — we have shared some of the photographs, editorial cartoons, commentary and features such as an historic perspective with 1814 attack on the Capitol and a word study.


The attacks on the Capitol fueled by President Trump’s call to rally, extremists’ threats of more disruption in state capitols and social media postings to return to D.C. with weapons and “in numbers that no standing army or police agency can match” impacted inaugural plans again.


The Secret Service took command of security preparations and coordination in a charged atmosphere. How does our country respond to the attacks on the U.S. Capitol, a significant symbol of our democracy? To what extent is President Trump culpable for inciting the “Stop the Steal” protesters to turn into a mob and insurrectionists? What will President Trump’s supporters do in response to Congressional movement to impeach him a second time?


President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris formed their leadership teams: nominating Cabinet leaders, Cabinet-level officials and selecting the White House staff. Activities in Biden-Harris Administration Takes Shape introduce them and ask students to follow their first 100 days in office.


These leaders and those who work in the departments and agencies have promises to keep and issues to face.



January 15, 2021

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Test Your Knowledge of U.S. Government
Civics, Government, U.S. History

Post columnist Dana Milbank suggested that potential House and Senate candidates should take the USCIS naturalization test to check their knowledge of the government they wish to lead. This was in response to Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) listing the three branches of U.S. government as “the House, the Senate and the executive.”


See how your students do on the 2021 U.S. Citizenship Test Questions practice tests.


What Role Does the First Lady Play?
Ethics, Social Studies, U.S. History

From Martha Washington to Florence Harding, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Betty Ford, from Lady Bird Johnson to Jill Biden, what did the public expect of the first lady? And what did these women want for their public roles? They have been hostesses, advisers and policy advocates. Some have owned businesses, held jobs and earned advanced degrees.


Ask students to select a former first lady (or the first gentleman if interested in the role that Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband will play). Place this individual within the context of her era, her personal interests and accomplishments, and how she performed her role as first lady.


Teachers may wish to refer to the list of works about first ladies. The White House website has a section on First Ladies and The White House Historical Association provides biographies and portraits of first ladies and those who assumed those roles.


Debate America’s Divisions

Debate, Government, Journalism, Social Studies, U.S. History

Before the election of Donald Trump discussion of America’s economic, racial, criminal justice and racial divisions took place. The four years of his term in office and 2019 campaign rallies and tweets heightened the tensions. Two opinion pieces are provided to give a common starting point for discussion and debate: “After a year of pandemic and protest, and a big election, America is as divided as ever” and “America isn’t ‘hopelessly divided.’ It only looks that way because of our Constitution.”


Before giving students the Post columnists’ pieces to read, teachers might review the terms listed below in In the Know section. These might be given to students as a vocabulary list a week before to define and use in their own sentences. Evaluate the Political Reckoning, a guide to reading, is also provided.


Debate teachers can work with students to form the question(s) and positions.

After the events that took place on the Ellipse and at the U.S. Capitol, discussion and debate may be expanded to include the points of view expressed.


Is This a Time for Martial Law?
Government, Social Studies, U.S. History

When supporters of President Trump called for him to declare martial law, The Post’s Retropolis writer, Gillian Brockell dug into the history books to fact check Michael Flynn’s statement that, “Martial law has been instituted 64 times.” Give students “Of the 68 times martial law has been declared, few were by U.S. presidents.” Be sure students understand the definition of “martial law.”


Concede or Challenge Election Results?
Civics, Government, Social Studies, U.S. History

President Donald Trump refused to concede that he had lost the election of 2020. The law allows for challenges to election results. Before discussing 2020 steps taken to challenge the vote, teachers might divide students in five groups to research the elections of 1824, 1876, 1888, 1960 an 2000 — who were the candidates, what were the circumstances, where did they take place and what were the results?


Give students Challenge to Election Results. Read through the challenges and do the research to find the actions and responses to the challenges. Teachers might use this as an exercise in using different sources: What words, what emphases, what sources are included in reporting?

In a Democracy
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Meet the Cabinet
U.S. Government, U.S. History

You are provided three resources to help students as a new administration forms: ‘A cabinet of barrier breakers. A cabinet of firsts.’ and The Executive Branch and Senior White House Roles and Advisers.


Teachers may wish to assign the nominees and appointees by the groupings that President-Elect Biden used to announce them: Climate, Domestic, Economy, Health, Justice, National Security and White House Senior Staff.


Biden promised a Cabinet reflecting the diversity of America. This was fulfilled with such nominees as Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to head Interior, Pete Buttigieg to Transportation, Gov. Gina Raimondo to Commerce, Janet Yellen to Treasury, and Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget. In addition to The Washington Post coverage, see the bios, news, press releases, videos and speeches found at the Biden-Harris Transition website.


Fill the Jobs
Political Science, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Presidents are required to fill around 4,000 politically appointed positions in the executive branch, including more than 1,250 that require Senate confirmation. The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service are tracking nominees for roughly 800 of those 1,250 positions.


To view all the positions that the Biden-Harris administration has to fill, visit the Political Appointee Tracker.  


Scroll down to “Search the database.”  Select “See all positions” for the full listing. You will find ambassadors, chief financial officers, general counsels and other important positions. You may also locate by typing in a specific name, position or agency. Teachers might ask students to skim the list, then find a position that they think someone in your community might be well suited to fill.


To see the complete list of White House Senior Staff visit the Biden-Harris Transition website. 



Track a Nominee
Political Science, U.S. Government, U.S. History

After President-elect Biden nominated his choices to lead the executive departments and cabinet-level ranking positions, they had to be confirmed by the Senate as part of its “advice and consent” responsibilities indicated in the U.S. Constitution.


The newly-elected senators were sworn in on Jan. 3 They and returning senators could begin meeting nominees and holding committee hearings. The vote up-or-down on the Senate floor cannot take place until after Jan. 20 and the formal nomination of each one.


Two of President Trump’s Cabinet picks were confirmed on Inauguration Day in 2017, fewer than the six at the start President Barack Obama’s first term.


Give students Tract a Nominee activity. They will get well acquainted with one of the nominees, the process of confirmation and establishing the work of executive departments for the next four years.


Match Departmental Duties
Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Give students Departmental Duties. Ten of the 15 Cabinet departments are described by areas of responsibility in this activity. See how well your students do. Teachers could provide students with ‘A cabinet of barrier breakers. A cabinet of firsts’ to remind them of the departments. After completing this activity, students might be asked to discuss the expectations they have for these leaders and their departments. 

Read About First Ladies

Coronavirus Requires Change
Health, U.S. History

The Constitution prescribes the 35 words of the oath of office; the 20th Amendment specifies when it must be taken. Much of the rest of the inauguration rituals and expectations evolved over the years. With the surge of covid-19 deaths, hospitalization and positive tests in 2021, the inauguration of Joe Biden will exhibit many changes.


Give students Inauguration Celebration in a Pandemic. Some of the changes revealed by the Biden Presidential Inaugural Committee are given. Students are asked to suggest how their community might be part of the celebration.


Analyze the Inaugural Address
English, Reading, Social Studies

Review resources and activities in Presidential Legacy and Language. These include What Do You Know About Presidential Inaugurals? The Inauguration of a U.S. President, Addressing the Inaugural Address and Annotate Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. 


On Thursday, January 21, 2021, Post inauguration coverage included "The Biden speech in its entirety, annotated." Read the inaugural address and the annotations by Aaron Blake and Eugene Scott.

• Are the annotations helpful? Which one(s) do students find most insightful?

• Is there another passage for which they would like annotation? Could students work together to write that annotation?

• What is the main idea of the Biden inaugural address?


Introduce the Issues

Civics, Government, U.S. History

A Guide to Biden’s Agenda When He Takes Office in January” highlights key areas of national concern for which promises have been made and plans have been outlined. Read and discuss the issues raised in each section. Teachers may cover the terms presented in the article before reading it; some are technical and have specific definition within the particular area. See the list in In the Know.


For another perspective, students might listen to NPR’s “Biden’s First 100 Days: Here’s What to Expect.”


Think Like a Reporter
Government, Journalism, Media Literacy

Give students Think Like a Reporter | The Issues and Promises. This activity guides students through the steps to be a White House beat reporter. Go through the three steps with them, being sure they understand the importance of context, accurate presentation of the promises and use of multiple reliable sources.


Use this activity with “A Guide to Biden’s Agenda When He Takes Office in January” and ‘A cabinet of barrier breakers. A cabinet of firsts.’ Both will give students the names of leaders and prominent issues the new administration will face.


Reflect on 2020
Art, English, Journalism, U.S. History

• Our favorite Opinions visual essays and projects of 2020

• Our favorite Washington Post op-eds of 2020

• Our favorite Washington Post video op-eds of 2020

• It’s been a tough year. Here’s what we listened to, watched and read to get through it.

20 good things that happened in 2020


After the events of January 6, we prepared a fourth resource guide: January 6, 2021: Truth and Democracy. The Washington Post is the first draft of history so it is in our heritage to publish news, commentary and opinion, photographs and video to capture the events and mood of the day. You will find resources to use as you deem appropriate — a timeline in photographs, guest commentary and letters to the editor, columns and editorial cartoons. Some suggestions for their use follows.


Get Historic Perspective
English, Journalism, U.S. History

In "The similarities to the last invasion of the Capitol matter — so do the differences," Lawrence B. Hatter, a history professor, compares and contrasts the British forces attempt to destroy the Capitol on Aug. 24, 1814, and the Trump supporters who breached the Capitol on June 6. Discussion of the guest piece could include:

• Why did the British attack Washington, D.C.? What damage was done?

• How and when did the War of 1812 end?

• What perspective is given on 19th-century warfare?

• What similarities are there to the two “invasions” of the Capitol?

• What differences does Hatter contend between them?


What Did the Secretaries of Defense State?
Journalism, U.S. History,

Ten former secretaries of defense wrote, "The time for questioning the election results has passed," an open letter published in The Post on January 4, 2021. They felt the current domestic situation required communication with the American public.


Before reading through the letter with students, you might give students “Of the 68 times martial law has been declared, few were by U.S. presidents.” It provides an historic summary for background on martial law.


Walk Through the Day in Photographs
Art, Photojournalism, U.S. History, Visual Arts

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had invited members of the press to record the confirmation of the electoral college votes by state. A ritual of every four years had taken on more significance with President Trump’s refusal to concede and claiming his election had been stolen, and with Vice President Pence presiding and being pressured by the president to overturn the results.


When the Congress separated to debate the challenge to the Arizona votes, a mob of Trump-supporters were at the doors of the Capitol. Photographers from The Post and other media became our eyes and witnesses to one of the darkest days in U.S. history.


The photographs are arranged in chronological order.

• What story do the images tell?

• What do students see unfolding from the president’s speech to the resumption of the confirmation of the vote?

• Teachers might also ask students to regroup the photographs by theme.


A protest, a coup, a putsch? What is it?
English, Government, Reading, U.S. History

What began as a rally of pro-Trump supports, turned into a crowd of thousands walking up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol where they turned violent, breaching it through broken windows and doors.


What is the right word to use? There is a long-held saying that someone’s terrorist is another’s hero. Is this what happened on June 6? Christopher Ingraham examines the subtle differences between the terms in “How experts define the deadly mob attack at the U.S. Capitol.


Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Donna McCullough

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Vocabulary found in "After a year of pandemic and protest, and a big election, America is as divided as ever" and "America isn't 'hopelessly divided.'"

Vocabulary found in "A Guide to Biden's Agenda When He Takes Office in January"
Abate Background check
Bastion Carbon-free 
Catalyst Carried interest tax
Chasm Deportation
Creedal Emissions
Demography Immigration
Deploy Irrefutable 
Electorate Lethality
Federalism Leverage
Gerrymander Multinational 
Ideological Payroll tax
Inherent Refugees 
Impugn Revoke
Polarize Semi-automatic weapon
Repudiation Solvency
Toxicity Subsidize
Transformation Tariff
Transitory Tax hike
Unalloyed Unionize 
Find these terms in context and discuss meaning.  

Departmental Duties. A 1. Department of State, 2. Department of Commerce, 3. Department of Energy, 4. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 5. Department of Agriculture, 6. Department of Treasury, 7. Department of Labor, 8. Department of Transportation, 9. Veterans Administration, 10. Department of Homeland Security.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

American Government. Students will analyze historic documents to determine the basic principles of United States government and apply them to real world situations (Origins & Founding Principles)

• Describing how the Constitution structures the government and provides for separation of powers, checks and balances, and judicial review, in such a way as to limit governmental power in favor of the people.

• Explaining how the delegated, reserved, concurrent, and denied powers of government are divided in federalism and shared between national and state levels.

The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Government. The student will apply social science skills to understand the Constitution of the United States by

c)   examining the fundamental principles upon which the Constitution of the United States is based, including the rule of law, consent of the governed, limited government, separation of powers, and federalism;

d) defining the structure of the national government outlined in Article I, Article II, and Article III; (GOVT. 4)


Government. The student will apply social science skills to understand local, state, and national elections by

a)  describing the nomination and election process, including the organization and evolving role of political parties;

c)  analyzing the influence of media coverage, campaign advertising, public opinion polls, social media, and digital communications on elections; (GOVT. 6)


Government. The student will apply social science skills to understand civil liberties and civil rights by

d) investigating and evaluating the balance between individual liberties and the public interest; and

e) examining how civil liberties and civil rights are protected under the law. (GOVT.11)



English. Communication and Multimodal Literacy. The student will examine, analyze, and produce media messages.

a)   Create media messages for diverse audiences.

b)   Credit information sources.

c)   Evaluate sources for relationships between intent, factual content, and opinion.

d)   Analyze the impact of selected media formats on meaning.

e)   Analyze the purpose of information and persuasive techniques used in diverse media formats.

f)   Evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind media presentation(s).

g)   Describe possible cause and effect relationships between mass media coverage and public opinion trends. (Grade 10.2)


English. Communication and Multimodal Literacy. The student will examine how values and points of view are included or excluded and how media influences beliefs and behaviors.

a)   Describe possible cause and effect relationships between mass media coverage and public opinion trends.

b)   Create media messages with a specific point of view.

c)   Evaluate media sources for relationships between intent and content.

d)   Analyze the impact of selected media formats on meaning.

e)   Determine the author’s purpose and intended effect on the audience for media messages.

f)   Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.

g)   Demonstrate ethical use of the Internet when evaluating or producing creative or informational media messages. (Grade 11.2)


English. Writing. The student will write in a variety of forms to include persuasive/argumentativereflective, interpretive, and analytic with an emphasis on persuasion/argumentation.

c)   Use a variety of rhetorical strategies to clarify and defend a position organizing claims, counterclaims, and evidence in a sustained and logical sequence.

d)   Blend multiple forms of writing including embedding a narrative to produce effective essays. (Grade 12.6)

Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

Language. L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Reading: Informational Text. RI.9-10.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.



Common Core standards may be found at