The Medal of Freedom: The Nation's Highest Civilian Award

The Medal of Freedom: The Nation's Highest Civilian Award
Betty Ford: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


President Gerald Ford awarded 28 Medals of Freedom during his years as President, but perhaps the one closest to Betty Ford’s heart was the award given to Martha Graham, the world-famous modern dancer, founder of both a Dance Center and a School of Dance, and early teacher of Betty Ford.


The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the American Medal of Freedom (sometimes called the Presidential Medal of Freedom), and give them an opportunity to research its history, origins, and recipients.  One possible outcome might be the creation of a Medal of Freedom Hall of Fame.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to PowerPoint software or art supplies, including tag board.


1.  Begin the lesson by discussing the notion of awards with the students.  Has anyone received an award?  What were the circumstances?  Why are awards given?  What are awards given for?
2.  Then, divide the class in seven groups, and, using the web sites listed below, assign each group to research the following:

  • The origin of the Medal of Freedom
  • The history of the Medal of Freedom since its beginnings
  • The meaning of the Medal of Freedom
  • The lives of four people who received the award from President Ford (an option would be to not form small groups, and let each student select one person from the entire list of Medal of Freedom recipients.)

3.  When the research is completed, each group (or each student) should create a PowerPoint presentation or a set of posters about the Medal of Freedom winners they researched.  If posters are chosen, they can be put up around the room or in the hallway.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended by enlarging the number of Medal of Freedom winners and creating a Hall of Fame in the classroom or in another space in the school.

Sources & Resources:

Casalini, Tom and Wallis, Timothy. Ordinary Heroes: A Tribute to Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients: Reflections of Freedom, Faith, Duty and the Heroic Possibilities of the Everyday Human Spirit. Glendale, CA: Sweet Pea Press, 2001.
Wetterau, Bruce. The Presidential Medal of Freedom: Winners and Their Achievements. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Books, 1996.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom 

Medal of Freedom Recipients on Wikipedia 

Medal of Freedom Recipients’ Chart 

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.