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Citizenship education Essay

\The purpose of citizenship education is to contribute to the health of our democracy1 and to empower students “to translate their beliefs into actions and their ideas into policies.” The primary goal of the Delaware Civics Standards is student understanding of the purpose and means of authority2 and freedom3 and the relationship between them. Civics directly addresses citizenship education within the context of political systems. Students study the assumptions upon which governments are founded, and the organizations and strategies governments employ to achieve their goals. With specific respect to the United States, students learn the underlying principles of representative democracy, the constitutional separation of powers, and the rule of law. They need to comprehend that an essential premise of representative democracy is the willingness of citizens to place a high premium on their own personal responsibility for participation in social decision-making.

Students develop the skills which citizens must possess in order to discharge those responsibilities while protecting their rights and the rights of others. The study of civics prepares students to translate their beliefs into actions and their ideas into policies. Governments exist and are instituted for specific purposes and employ a variety of organizational structures to pursue their objectives. Constitutional democracy attempts to balance individual freedom with the needs of the society as a whole. American citizens need a basic understanding of the structure of different forms of government and a detailed knowledge of a constitutional democracy. Students will learn the underlying principles of representative democracy,4 the constitutional separation of powers,5 and the rule of law,6 with specific respect to the United States.

The American political system was intentionally created to rest on a foundation of individual liberty, freedom of religion, representative democracy, equal opportunity, and equal protection under the law. These principles and ideals are codified in the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other significant documents. Understanding, achieving, and upholding these principles and ideals represent a major challenge to each succeeding generation of American citizens. Students will develop the skills which citizens must possess in order to accept their responsibilities while protecting their rights and the rights of others. The political, religious, and economic freedoms provided to American citizens are accompanied by the responsibility of active civic participation at the individual, community, state, and national levels.

Effective citizens need to understand the dedication and commitment necessary to safeguard those rights for themselves and future generations as well as the potential consequences of inaction. They should also be able to distinguish between rights and privileges. Students will learn to translate their beliefs into actions and their ideas into policies. The intent to participate in the American political system must be matched with the specific skills necessary to be effective. Such skills include, but are not limited to, registering to vote, interacting successfully with government agencies, organizing and working in civic groups, researching and advocating a position, or serving in an office of public trust. The Delaware Civics Standards call for understanding the purposes,7 principles,8 and generalizations9 that infuse the concepts in the standards with their contextual meaning. CIVICS STANDARD ONE: Students will examine the structure and purposes of governments with specific emphasis on constitutional democracy [Government].

Enduring Understandings

Students will understand that:

Constitutional democracy10 as a structure of government developed from the tension between the need for authority and the need to constrain authority. Governments are structured to address the basic needs of the people in a society. The key to understanding the purposes, principles, and generalizations called for in the standards is to begin with the question “Why?” For example, Standard One says, “Students will examine the structure and purposes of governments with specific emphasis on constitutional democracy.” The purposes of governments, of course, are the “why” of governments. Beginning with the question, “Why do we have government?” yields the question, “What needs does government address?” The answer to this question is the foundational understanding for the benchmarks of the standard. The structure of governments is determined in part by history and custom, but mostly they grow from what reason and experience have taught societies about the organizational requirements for achieving the purposes of government.

11 You can derive the basic purposes of government by imagining a community and questioning what needs of a community might require authority to address. In fact, most famous political philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, for example) have used the device of the imaginary community to explain their version of the purposes of the state in terms so simple that even grade school students can easily understand them. All governments invariably address basically the same needs: security, order, and the welfare of the commonwealth. They all make, enforce, and adjudicate law to meet the need for order, organize the common defense, and provide services to promote the welfare of the citizens. The structures of governments reflect the ways governments are organized to perform these functions. The basic purposes and principles of government—including the responsibilities of citizenship12 in a general sense—can be illuminated with the experiences of the students.

Families meet needs of security, order, and welfare with the principle of authority, as do schools and communities. The themes of authority, obedience, responsibility—and the very important constraints on authority for the protection and freedom of the ruled—are found in the social context of every student. If students can learn how to see the purposes, principles, and generalizations suggested by the standard in their own experiences, they become easier to understand and retain and more relevant. The emphasis on constitutional democracy called for in the standard reflects the enduring human struggle to find a way to protect ourselves from our protectors. The tension between the need for authority and the need to constrain authority is a prominent theme of history and is an inherent condition of life.

The historically remarkable rise and spread of constitutional democracy evolved from both the abuse of authority13 and a rekindled belief in the desirability of individual freedom14. The embedded concepts of a higher law15 that constrains the makers and enforcers of law (constitutions), accountability of rulers (democratic processes), and civil rights16 arose from an abundantly justified distrust of power and a growing consensus that one of the purposes of the state is the protection and promotion of the freedom of its citizens. New structures of government were devised to better fulfill and secure this new purpose of government. The need for authority and the need to constrain it is the foundational understanding called for by Civics Standard One. The structures of modern governments developed from the experiences of people trying to meet these twin needs. Civics Standard One 6-8a: Students will understand that governments have the power to make and enforce laws and regulations, levy taxes, conduct foreign policy, and make war.

Essential Question

Why does a government have certain powers?

The focus here is on understanding the need for these powers (the why?) and having a general knowledge of what these specific powers entail. The need for order and security within is addressed through the power to make and enforce laws and regulations. The need to promote national interests abroad, especially security and economic interests, is addressed by the power to conduct foreign policy. The power to make war arises primarily from the need for security. The power to levy taxes arises from the need to pay for it all. Open-ended questions that teachers might ask in a classroom include:

1. Why does the government enforce their laws with police rather than allow people to be free?
2. Why does the government take taxes out of our paychecks?
3. Why does the government participate in wars?
4. Who gave the U.S. government the power to enforce laws? Why?
5. What does it mean that governments have powers?

Civics Standard One 6-8b: Students will analyze the different functions of federal, state, and local governments in the United States and examine the reasons for the different organizational structures each level of government employs.

Essential Question:

What different needs should be addressed by the different levels of government? The student should understand the general concept of federalism17: a territorial division of power based on the overall sovereignty of the national government with constitutionally guaranteed powers for state governments within the boundaries of their respective states. In theory, this division of power is clearly delineated and distinguishable. In reality, however, the flow of power has shifted over time between the federal and state governments and has resulted in alternating periods of cooperation, conflict, and controversy throughout the course of American history. More than 200 years after the signing of the Constitution, Americans continue to disagree about the proper role for these levels of government.

Then the student should understand the United States has adopted a federal system for a variety of reasons including our negative experiences with unitary18 (as British colonies) and confederal19 systems (under the Articles of Confederation), the distrust of centralized power, the relative sensitivity of state or local governments to the particular needs and views of their citizens, and the relative efficiency of state or local governments in responding to these needs and views. Advantages to federalism include allowing a variety of “local” governments to deal with local problems while allowing local voters to hold local officials accountable, permitting more points of access and greater opportunities for political participation, better protections for individual rights, and fewer constraints on innovation.

The benchmark also explicitly calls for knowledge of the reasons for the different structures of government at each level, which essentially arise from the differences in needs addressed. Generally stated, the functions of the national government include national defense, monetary policy, and foreign representation. Infrastructure, protection from crime, welfare, education, and other practical needs are more clearly the responsibility of state governments. Sewage, garbage, culture, urban development, and traffic control are usually the tasks of local government. Open-ended questions that teachers might ask in a classroom include: 1. What functions does the federal government have that state governments do not have? Why is there a difference? 2. Why might the different functions of federal, state, and local governments require them to have different organizational structures? 3. Why do states usually leave garbage collection and parking laws up to towns and cities in the state? 4. Why do most cities in America have their own police force? CIVICS STANDARD TWO: Students will understand the principles and ideals underlying the American political system [Politics].

Enduring Understanding

Students will understand that:

The principles and ideals underlying American democracy are designed to promote the freedom of the American people. Fundamental ideals are enumerated in the introduction to this standard—individual liberty, freedom of religion, representative democracy, equal opportunity, and equal protection under the law. This is not a complete list of the main ideals of American democracy, but they are umbrella concepts. For example, the principles of limited government and civil rights are means to achieve individual liberty. As with the previous standard, understanding requires answers to the question, “Why?” Yet the standard calls for a more developed understanding of the meaning and issues involved with liberty and equality.

An essential question for this standard as a whole might be, “Why should people be free?” Fundamental assumptions about the value and competence of human beings and the importance of freedom to human purpose underlie these ideals. These ideals also have a dark side and involve serious tradeoffs and costs. This deeper understanding of American ideals belongs to the free minds of a free people and is required by Civics Standard Two. Civics Standard Two 6-8a: Students will understand that the concept of majority rule does not mean that the rights of minorities may be disregarded and will examine and apply the protections accorded those minorities in the American political system.

Essential Questions

How might the majority threaten individual and minority rights? Why are citizens protected by the Constitution?
Should individual rights be limited?

Students should understand that democracy means rule by the people, and that majority votes are just an arbitrary indicator of what the people want. Although that principle is central to the American political system, it is not absolute. People, including large numbers of them (i.e., majorities), sometimes act out of anger, prejudice, or ignorance and are not always well informed. By limiting the principle of majority rule, Americans have attempted to balance the interests of individuals with the common good20. Majority rule places a very important constraint on governmental authority, but it is completely insufficient to protect individual liberty. Every student destined to become an American citizen should understand that the majority can be as much of a tyrant as any dictator. They should understand that the addition of the Bill of Rights21 to the U.S.

Constitution was motivated by the recognition that citizens need protection from abuse of governmental authority, even when the government is theoretically obedient to the will of the majority of the citizens. There are many instances in American history where minority groups once did not receive the same protections as the majority. The benchmark is somewhat misleading in speaking of the “rights of minorities,” because minorities are not now accorded any more or less rights than members of a majority. What we now call the rights of minorities is founded on individual rights. The Constitution does not specify group rights. So understanding this benchmark really comes down to understanding the meaning and purpose of the Bill of Rights with the expectation that students should also appreciate how these rights protect minorities from discrimination.

There are many examples of how minorities were served by political documents and rulings that protected individuals from discrimination. Open-ended questions that teachers might ask in a classroom include: 1. If most people follow one religion, why shouldn’t the government pass a law that restricts the rights of people with other religious beliefs? 2. If most Americans are offended by people who protest a war, why not allow the government to declare protestors “unpatriotic” and put them all in jail? 3. Why might Americans be unable to prevent newspapers or websites from printing letters that insult other people? 4. What is meant by “the tyranny of the majority” and why should we fear it? 5. How are minorities protected by individual rights?

Civics Standard Two 6-8b: Students will understand the principles and content of major American state papers such as the Declaration of Independence; United States Constitution (including the Bill of Rights); and the Federalist Papers.

Essential Questions

How are the principles of major American state papers guaranteeing liberty to contemporary Americans? It would be a bit much to insist on an understanding of the whole content of these papers, especially the Federalist Papers22, but students can well achieve an understanding of the main principles reflected in these documents. The overriding principle is individual liberty; most of the other principles concern the means to achieve liberty. The principles of the major state papers are the principles and ideals of American democracy. The introduction to Civics Standards Two draws specific attention to the fact that “…[t]he American political system was intentionally created to rest on a foundation of individual liberty, freedom of religion, representative democracy, equal opportunity, and equal protection under the law.”

Political equality, rights, limited government23, checks and balances, and other principles of American government are pronounced, asserted, and discussed in the state papers. The understanding of the principles called for by this benchmark is the understanding reflected in these papers, which requires some perspective on the times in which they were written. An analysis of what the authors really meant in their assertion of a principle and why they asserted them could help students achieve this benchmark. For example, what did “all men are created equal” mean at the time of the Declaration of Independence? To truly understand a principle, one must be able to identify its practical applications.

Such understanding is addressed more directly in Standard Three, but the focus there is on the Bill of Rights. Students should be able to identify the practical applications of the principles not included in the Bill of Rights. While these principles are sometimes in conflict and while disparities have always existed between the realities of daily life and the ideals of American democracy, the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy depends largely on the efforts of each succeeding generation to live up to these principles and narrow the disparities. Open-ended questions that teachers might ask in a classroom include:

1. What is the meaning of “We the People”?

2. Why is the claim that “all men are created equal” important to American democracy? How has the meaning of the phrase changed over time?

3. Why was there a debate about whether we should have a strong federal government or not? Should the debate continue?

4. What was the purpose of amending the constitution with the first ten amendments called the Bill of Rights? 5. What was the purpose of the Federalist Papers?

6. Why did the signers of the Declaration of Independence think they had the right to declare independence from Great Britain? Here is a released item from the Social Studies DSTP that illustrates the assessment of this benchmark. This test item focuses on the inalienable rights stated in the Declaration of Independence and how the Constitution of the United States ensured those rights. The student should provide evidence to support the answer. The item is open ended, which means that there is more than one way to answer this question correctly.

The following is an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence: That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it … How did the writers of the U.S. Constitution ensure that the government would not damage the rights stated in the Declaration of Independence? Support your answer with evidence. A student should provide an answer that gives a valid explanation of how the writers of the U.S. Constitution ensured that the government would not damage the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A student should also include evidence to support the explanation. See the DSTP webpage for more items and sample, annotated student responses. http://www.doe.k12.de.us/aab/social_studies/Social_Studies_item_samplers.shtml CIVICS STANDARD THREE: Students will understand the responsibilities, rights, and privileges of United States citizens [Citizenship].

Enduring Understandings

Students will understand that:

Effective citizens are committed to protecting rights for themselves, other citizens, and future generations, by upholding their civic responsibilities and are aware of the potential consequences of inaction. Distinctions between a citizen’s rights, responsibilities, and privileges help to define the requirements and limits of personal freedom. Once again, the why of responsibilities and rights, and the distinction between rights and privileges is central to understanding the standard. American citizens have the right to certain individual freedoms and liberties found in the U.S. Constitution. But, individual freedoms and liberties have limits imposed by the fact that others also have the same freedoms and liberties. Respect for the rights of others, for example, limits some individual actions.

Suppose two neighbors are in dispute over a tree growing on one’s lawn that extends shade over the other’s lawn. The man who does not want the shade cannot cut down his neighbor’s tree, only that part of the tree that hangs over his property. His property rights end at the boundary of his property, and the boundary between the two neighbors extends to other rights as well. American democracy imposes a cost on its citizens. For government to be effective, it must have an effective citizenry that understands what is required to maintain individual freedoms and liberties. Citizens have responsibilities that, if met, ensure the health of American democracy. Citizens should hold governmental officials accountable by:

Voting and keeping informed;

Contributing to the common defense through military service if necessary; Checking the judicial powers of government and safeguarding the rights of the accused by serving on juries; Contributing to public safety and order by obeying the law and reporting violations of the law; and Performing public service when the need arises.

Privileges may be defined by what they are not—they are not rights, and thus a citizen has to earn a privilege. For example, it is not a birthright to drive a car. Driving well benefits society and the driver, continues the privilege, and costs the driver and thus all other drivers less in insurance. Driving poorly or dangerously costs more insurance and may even cause loss of a driver’s license. A classroom discussion with students could elicit other examples. Civics Standard Three 6-8a: Students will understand that civil rights secure political freedom while property rights secure economic freedom and that both are essential protections for United States citizens.

Essential Questions

In what ways are citizens protected from the government? From each other? How might shared rights lead to conflict between citizens or citizens and the government? To what extent do property rights24 define an individual’s freedom? This benchmark calls for a further elaboration of the ideal of freedom by making a distinction between political and economic freedoms25. At this stage, a student should understand the connection between civil rights and the requirements of democracy, which is the means by which political freedom is secured. Freedom of expression, the right to vote, the right to due process, etc., are clearly necessary to democracy, and thus to the securing of freedom. Yet the lack of property rights would make even these rights precarious, blurring the distinction between political and economic rights in practice.

Some basic property rights can be considered essential protections for political as well as economic freedom. The enormous powers and resources that governments possess pose considerable threats to a relatively defenseless individual. Civil and property rights impose reasonable limits on those who hold power and create the conditions in which fundamental individual liberties might be protected and enjoyed. The center of gravity in this benchmark is the understanding of the connection between property rights and freedom in general. Citizens, by applying civil rights, can acquire property or make economic decisions freely. The student will have to understand the concept of “economic” freedom to see how property rights relate to the subset of human activities we label economic. In essence, economic freedom is the right to own, use, and dispose of property, but it also involves the right to sell one’s labor.

A well-developed understanding would include the realization that property rights can also conflict with freedom, and that they are subject to the same conflicts and tradeoffs as other rights or values and may actually curtail or even deny other people’s liberties (e.g., claiming slaves as property or attempting to keep minorities out of neighborhoods). Open-ended questions that teachers might ask in a classroom include:

1. Why is private ownership of businesses and homes seen as important to freedom?

2. How might the property rights of a business owner threaten the freedom of others? 3. Which is more important: making sure everyone has a job or allowing everyone to choose their job? Why?

4. How do political rights secure political freedom?

5. When might someone’s property rights conflict with the freedom of others? Civics Standard Three 6-8b: Students will understand that American citizenship includes responsibilities such as voting, jury duty, obeying the law, service in the armed forces when required, and public service.

Essential Question

Why should American citizens perform certain civic duties?

“Responsibilities” is the word that dominates this benchmark. The benchmark lists examples of what citizenship in a democracy requires, and understanding why each is necessary elaborates the understanding of the general purpose of citizenship responsibilities. The general purpose, of course, is to meet the requirements of freedom. Demands for freedom create the potential for great disorder unless citizens of a free society act responsibly. Open-ended questions that teachers might ask in a classroom include: 1. How can people be free if they have responsibilities like jury duty and possibly military service? 2. Why are people responsible for obeying the law even if they don’t agree with it? 3. Why should we be concerned if many citizens do not vote in most elections? 4. If voting is a responsibility of citizenship, why are citizens not required by law to vote? 5. Do citizens have responsibilities mainly for the good of the government or for the good of their fellow citizens? CIVICS STANDARD FOUR: Students will develop and employ the civic skills necessary for effective, participatory citizenship [Participation].

Enduring Understandings

Students will understand that:

Effective citizens can research issues, form reasoned opinions, support their positions, and engage in the political process. Effective governance requires responsible participation from diverse individuals who translate beliefs and ideas into lawful action and policy. There is a change in focus from understanding to skills with the fourth standard, but understanding is necessary to show evidence of such skills on the test. Why is still important, but how and what have equal billing on this standard. Why does a citizen participate? How does a citizen participate in democracy? What does a citizen do? Civics Standard Four requires students to demonstrate and use effectively the skills of a citizen. Such skills include, but are not limited to:

Registering to vote;
Interacting successfully with government agencies;
Organizing and working in civic groups;
Researching and advocating a position; or
Serving in an office of public trust.

Teachers should use activities in the classroom which simulate or model the skills. Civics Standard Four 6-8a: Students will follow the actions of elected officials, and understand and employ the mechanisms for communicating with them while in office.

Essential Questions:

Which means for communicating with office holders is usually more effective and why? Why is it important to know about the person and circumstances when communicating with an officeholder? This benchmark moves from becoming informed about candidates to staying informed about elected officials. Student understanding of participation is expected to spiral at the grade 6–8 level so that students acquire the skills and understandings needed to monitor the actions of, and communicate effectively with, officials after they have been elected to office. Understanding the mechanisms for communicating with office holders involves why citizens should communicate and awareness of the available means to communicate and their relative effectiveness.

What is an effective method of communication depends on the person in office and circumstances. For example, a citizen just cannot walk to the front door of the White House and ask to see the President (at least not anymore). But a citizen could (and often will) call a school board member or other local official at home to discuss issues of importance. A representative democracy is supposed to function at its best when informed citizens communicate a range of ideas, opinions, desires, and concerns to their representatives so that they might enact prudent public policies and serve in ways that honor and promote the common good. Open-ended questions that a teacher might ask in a classroom include: 1. How does a citizen communicate with a member of Congress? 2. How does a citizen find out what an elected official has done since they were elected?

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