Lesson Plan: Book That Shaped America - “Free to Choose”

Introduction to "Free to Choose"

This video offers an introduction to Milton and Rose Friedman and their book "Free to Choose."


Milton Friedman was a 1976 Nobel Prize-winning American economist and advisor to President Ronald Reagan and conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, among others. In 1980, Friedman partnered with his wife, Rose, to create a 10-part television series for PBS titled "Free to Choose." The Friedmans argued that free-market capitalism works best for all members of society, leading to problem solving where other economic approaches have failed. The companion book to the PBS series, also titled Free to Choose, was among the best-selling non-fiction books of 1980. In this lesson, students begin by responding to reflective questions that ask them to consider the role of the federal government in the economy and economic systems. From there, they will view video clips to learn about life in the U.S. in 1980, in addition to details about Milton and Rose Friedman. Next, they will explore collections of videos that focus on different perspectives on economic policies and how the Friedmans were viewed among elected officials. Finally, students will respond to a prompt that asks them to explain if and how "Free to Choose" shaped America.


  • SET UP

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handout and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google resource for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Graphic Organizer (Google Doc).

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.


    Pose the following brainstorming questions to your students, directing them to record their responses on the Google Doc, share with a partner, and then with the class if they choose.

    • Which should be the goal of the federal government when it comes to the economy? More freedom or more regulation? Explain your thinking.
    • Briefly compare two different types of economies or economic systems.

    Direct your students to their graphic organizers to view and define the vocabulary terms that will appear in the lesson in the chart in their graphic organizer handout. The vocabulary words are also listed to the right on this webpage.

    We recommend having your students complete the activity in a jigsaw format to save time. Or, depending on time and resources, you may consider having your students engage in a Frayer's Model activity, where each student is responsible for completing one or two items. Students can then post their models around the room for reference throughout the lesson.

    Note: this is not an all-encompassing list of terms included in each video. We recommend you preview the video clips to determine any necessary additions/subtractions to this list for your specific students.


    Play the following video clip that offers an introduction to Milton and Rose Friedman and their book "Free to Choose." Direct your students to answer the related prompt on their graphic organizer and share their findings with a partner, small group, or the class when finished.

    Video Clip 1: Introduction to "Free to Choose" (1:01)

    • What did Milton and Rose Freidman advocate for?
    • Describe their academic experience.
    • What professional recognitions did Milton Friedman receive?
    • What influence did they have?
    • Explain the arguments discussed in their book "Free to Choose."

    Direct students to the background section of their graphic organizers. Instruct them to view the following three video clips that discuss the U.S. in 1980, in addition to Milton Friedman speaking about a Free Market Economy, and details about the Friedmans. Students should respond to the accompanying questions.

    Video Clip 2: The United States in 1980 (2:33)

    • How does Lanny Ebenstein describe the economy in 1980?
  • Video Clip 3: Milton Friedman on a Free Market Economy (5:13)

    • Summarize Milton Friedman's description of the production of a pencil.
    • Explain the significance of prices as Lanny Ebenstein discussed.
    • Discuss the distinction between the government controlling the production process and a free market economy as Lanny Ebenstein explained.
  • Video Clip 4: Facts about Milton and Rose Friedman (2:22)

    • Who were Milton and Rose Friedman?
    • Summarize Rose Friedman's role as Lanny Ebenstein discussed.

    Direct students to the freedom section of their graphic organizers. Instruct them to view the following three video clips that discuss economic systems and the relationship between economic and political freedom. Students should respond to the accompanying questions.

    Video Clip 5: Friedmans on the Role of Government (1:12)

    • According to Lanny Ebenstein, what were the Friedmans advocating for?
  • Video Clip 6: Friedmans on Economic and Political Freedom (1:27)

    • Explain the Friedman's views on the relationship between political freedom and economic freedom.
  • Video Clip 7: Economic Systems (4:14)

    • According to Lanny Ebenstein, what systems was Milton Friedman opposed to?
    • Summarize the examples of Germany and Korea that are highlighted.
    • How did Freidman view Galbraith's ideas?
    • Explain Friedman's opposition to Keynes' theory.

    Direct students to the policy section of their graphic organizers. Instruct them to view the following three video clips that discuss the government's role in the economy. Students should respond to the accompanying questions.

    Video Clip 8: Milton Friedman Views on Public Policy (2:35)

    • What was Friedman's "primary initiative" according to Lanny Ebenstein?
    • What did Friedman see as the government's role in the economy?
    • Describe Friedman's idea of a negative income tax as Lanny Ebenstein explained.
    • How did Freidman view a school voucher program?
  • Video Clip 9: Milton Friedman on Inflation (6:11)

    • How did Milton Friedman describe Britain's economy in the 1960s?
    • How did it change between the 1960s and the 1970s?
    • What was Milton Freidman referring to when he said, "Taxation without representation?"
    • What is the cause of inflation, according to Freidman, and what would happen to inflation if we "stopped letting the amount of money grow so rapidly?"
    • According to Lanny Ebenstein, how does Friedman's perspective apply to the funds that were distributed during the Coronavirus pandemic?
    • Explain what he means by "lag time" between inflation and deflation.
    • How does he describe the relationship between inflation and interest rates?
  • Video Clip 10: Milton Friedman: Monopolies and Oligopolies (1:45)

    • Discuss Freidman's views on monopolies and oligopolies as Lanny Ebenstein explained.

    Direct students to the equality section of their graphic organizers. Instruct them to view the following three video clips that discuss equality and freedom and government spending. Students should respond to the accompanying questions.

    Video Clip 11: Milton Friedman on Equality (1:44)

    • Explain Friedman's perspective on the relationship between equality and freedom.
  • Video Clip 12: Milton Friedman on Government Spending (2:21)

    • How did Milton Friedman view deficit spending?
    • What were his views on deficits and government spending even during peacetime?
    • How did he view deficits and the economy?
    • What was his view on balanced budget amendments?
  • Video Clip 13: Milton Friedman on Power in Washington, DC (2:05)

    • How does Milton Friedman characterize that power in Washington, DC?
    • How does he view the money that is spent on the programs he described?

    Ask students to view the following three video clips to wrap up this lesson on "Free to Choose.” They should take notes on the related handout and be prepared to engage in a class discussion using the accompanying questions.

    Video Clip 14: Naomi Klein Critique of Friedman (4:39)

    • Summarize Naomi Klein's views on Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago Economics Department.
    • Explain Lanny Ebenstein's opinion on the impact a free market economy has had on other countries.
  • Video Clip 15: Politicians on the Friedmans (3:28)

    • How did some political figures view the Friedmans?
    • According to Lanny Ebenstein, where would Milton Friedman fit into the current Republican Party?
  • Video Clip 16: Significance of "Free to Choose" (1:16)

    • Why does Lanny Ebenstein say that "Free to Choose" is an important book?

    Ask students to consider the information they learned from viewing the videos as well as class discussion and write a response to the following prompt:

    Do you think “Free to Choose” shaped America? Explain your position citing evidence from the videos and class discussion.

  • Teacher Tip

    Patricia Cunningham, teacher of AP courses in Economics and United States Government & Politics at Nazareth Area High School (PA) talked about teaching Milton and Rose Friedman's "Free to Choose."

    Video Clip 17: Teaching "Free to Choose" (2:31)


    This book is part of C-SPAN's Books That Shaped America series in which we are partnering with the Library of Congress to explore key works from American history that have had a major impact on society. You can have students visit the Books That Shaped America series website (C-SPAN), click on "Viewer Input," click on "Record Video," and record themselves stating why they think "Common Sense" is a book that most shaped America, or share another book they think had greater impact and why.

    DISCLAIMER: Must be 18 years of age to submit an entry or have a parent/guardian provide authorized consent.

Additional Resources


  • Adam Smith
  • Aggregate Price
  • Capitalism
  • Communist
  • Decelerate
  • Deficit Spending
  • Deregulation
  • Egalitarian
  • Embargo
  • Federal Reserve
  • Fiscal Policy
  • Free Market
  • Galbraith Model
  • Great Depression
  • Great Society Programs
  • Indexation
  • Inflation
  • Interest Rate
  • Keynesian System
  • Monolithic
  • Monopoly
  • Negative Income Tax
  • Nobel Prize For Economics
  • Oligopoly
  • Private Sector
  • Quantitative Easing
  • Recession
  • Social Conservative
  • Socialist
  • Tax Bracket
  • Treasury Department
  • Unemployment Rate
  • Universal Basic Income
  • Vouchers
  • Welfare


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