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This Paideia seminar uses as its text “A Soldier Recalls the Trail of Tears” in North Carolina History: A Digital Textbook. The text is a letter from Private John G. Burnett to his children, written on his eightieth birthday in 1890. In the letter, Burnett tells the story of the removal of the Cherokee to the West.

About Paideia

Paideia is a philosophy of education that emphasizes quality, rigor, and lifelong learning. In a Paideia Seminar, students and teacher participate in a collaborative, intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text. Teachers who are unfamiliar with the Paideia Seminar are encouraged to read The Paideia Seminar: Active Thinking Through Dialogue, the teacher training manual published by the National Paideia Center.

Seminar plan

Ideas and values

History, human rights, memory, property, race



  1. Have participants number the paragraphs 1-27 on their copy of the transcript.
  2. Then have them do a first, inspectional read of the whole text.
  3. Present relevant background information. Note that Cherokee removal, also called the Trail of Tears, refers to the forced relocation between 1836 to 1839 of the Cherokee Nation from their lands in Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in the western United States, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 4,000 Cherokees. The policy of Indian Removal was championed by President Andrew Jackson, despite the strong opposition of the majority of Cherokee people, led by Chief John Ross. In 1832, the Cherokee petitioned the Senate of the United States to protect their rights under the Constitution of the United States, but the Senate rejected their petition.
  4. Note the background details given by Burnett in the first paragraph of the narrative. Note that the narrative was written fifty-two years after the events he describes—and by an eighty-year-old man.
  5. Have participants read the text a second time more slowly, marking key events that Burnett chose to emphasize.


  1. Prepare participants to participate in seminar discussion. Be sure participants are settled and seated where everyone can see each others’ faces. Then relay:

    A Paideia Seminar is a thoughtful discussion where we work with others to understand important ideas. The main purpose for discussing “A Soldier Recalls the Trail of Tears” is to better understand history, human rights, memory, property, race — to better understand what we think of these ideas as well as how others view them. During this discussion, we’re really going to practice focusing on the details in the text. You do not need to raise your hands in order to speak; try to stay focused on the main speaker and wait your turn to talk. We’ll also practice listening by using others’ names and paraphrasing what we hear others saying. We will agree and disagree in a courteous, thoughtful manner. As the facilitator, my job is to ask challenging, open-ended questions. I will take some notes to help me keep up with the talk turns and flow of ideas. Now, let’s do a little self-assessment. Based on our other discussions, I’m going to suggest that out group goal is to focus on the details in the text.

  2. Display the group goal for all to see.

    Now think about how you usually participate in our seminars. What would be a good goal for you today? Maybe you’d like to choose from one of these:

    1. Refer to the text
    2. Build on others’ ideas
    3. Listen with a quiet mind
    4. Speak out of uncertainty

    Please write your personal goal at the top of your copy of the text.



Identify main ideas from the text

  1. What adjective would you use to describe John Burnett, the author of this memoir? (round-robin response)
  2. What passage in the memoir most clearly illustrates this adjective? (spontaneous discussion)


Focus/analyze textual details

  1. In paragraph 2, Burnett describes how he saves the life of a Cherokee man who’d been shot by his enemies. Why do you think he bothers to describe this incident in his life?
  2. In paragraph 5, Burnett describes the death of “the beautiful Christian wife of Chief John Ross.” Of the approximately 4,000 people who died during the Cherokee removal, why do you think he chose to describe this particular death?
  3. How does Burnett describe the Cherokee — men, women, and children? Why do you think he chooses to portray them in this way?
  4. How does Burnett account for the US Government’s decision to remove the Cherokee from their traditional lands to reservations in the West? Based on the text, does this explanation make sense? Why or why not?
  5. In paragraph 18, Burnett writes that in “1890, we are too near the removal of the Cherokees for our young people to fully understand the enormity of the crime that was committed against a helpless race.” Do you think the passage of time has made us more or less capable of appreciating the true meaning of this event his history? Why?


Personalize and apply the textual ideas.

  1. Imagine for a moment that you are one of John Burnett’s children, who received this letter on this 80th birthday. What lesson do you think he is trying to teach us?



  1. Assess individual and group participation in seminar discussion with an appropriate version of the following script:

    Thank you for your focused and thoughtful participation in our seminar.

    1. As part of the post-seminar process, I would first like to ask you to take a few minutes to reflect on your relative success in meeting the personal process goal you set prior to beginning the discussion. Please review the goal you set for yourself and reflect in writing to what extent you met the goal. In addition, note why you think you performed as you did. [Pause for reflection.]
    2. Would several volunteers please share your self-assessment and reflection?
    3. Now I would like us to talk together about how we did in relation to the group process goal we set for ourselves [to focus on the details in the text]. On a scale of one to ten, ten being perfect, how would you say we did? Why? [Pause for discussion.]
    4. As always, our goal is continuous improvement: both as individual seminar participants and as citizens. Thanks again for your participation.


Extend application of textual and discussion ideas.

  1. Ask participants to write an essay in which they compare and contrast the perspectives contained in General Winfield Scott’s “General Orders No. 25″ and John G. Burnett’s memoir from fifty-two years later. Note: Scott was Burnett’s commanding officer and gave the orders that led to many of the events that Burnett describes.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • History/Social Studies

        • Grades 6-8
          • 6-8.LH.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
      • Reading: Informational Text

        • Grade 11-12
          • 11-12.RIT.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
        • Grade 8
          • 8.RIT.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.RIT.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
          • 9-10.RIT.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
      • Speaking & Listening

        • Grade 11-12
          • 11-12.SL.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly...
        • Grade 8
          • 8.SL.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. 8.SL.1.1 Come to discussions...
        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.SL.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and...

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.H.1 Apply historical thinking to understand the creation and development of North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.1.1 Construct charts, graphs, and historical narratives to explain particular events or issues. 8.H.1.2 Summarize the literal meaning of...
        • 8.H.3 Understand the factors that contribute to change and continuity in North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.3.1 Explain how migration and immigration contributed to the development of North Carolina and the United States from colonization to contemporary...
      • United States History I

        • USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...
        • USH.H.3 Understand the factors that led to exploration, settlement, movement, and expansion and their impact on United States development over time. USH.H.3.1 Analyze how economic, political, social, military and religious factors influenced European exploration...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 1: The learner will use language to express individual perspectives through analysis of personal, social, cultural, and historical issues.
    • Objective 1.03: Interact in group activities and/or seminars in which the student:
      • shares personal reactions to questions raised.
      • gives reasons and cites examples from text in support of expressed opinions.
      • clarifies, illustrates, or expands on a response when asked to do so, and asks classmates for similar expansion.
  • Goal 2: The learner will use and evaluate information from a variety of sources.
    • Objective 2.01: Analyze and evaluate informational materials that are read, heard, and/or viewed by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard and/or viewed.
      • recognizing the characteristics of informational materials.
      • summarizing information.
      • determining the importance of information.
      • making connections to related topics/information.
      • drawing inferences.
      • generating questions.
      • extending ideas.

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 11–12 — American Indian Studies

  • Goal 2: The learner will analyze the historical developments that characterize Native American life in the period prior to the Civil War.
    • Objective 2.04: Assess the impact of the major events of the period including, but not limited to, the Iroquois Confederacy and the Great Law of Peace; the removal of American Indians from the East; and the participation of American Indians in the Civil War.

Grade 8

  • Goal 3: The learner will identify key events and evaluate the impact of reform and expansion in North Carolina during the first half of the 19th century.
    • Objective 3.05: Compare and contrast different perspectives among North Carolinians on the national policy of Removal and Resettlement of American Indian populations.