Democracy in America
is a unique 15-part course for high school teachers that combines
video, print, and Web resources to provide a deeper understanding
of the principles and workings of American democracy. By combining
compelling video stories of individuals interacting with American
government, theoretical discussions of the meaning of democracy,
and problem-solving, hands-on exercises, the course gives life to
the workings of American democracy.
This course is being offered at a time of great optimism.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the promising successes of new democracies
in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South Africa all point to
the triumph of liberal democracy. Still, in the aftermath of these
great advances, there is reason for profound concern. Never has
the democratic ideal been so ascendant and yet so precarious. Americans
still believe that democracy is the worthiest form of government
and they take great pride in the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless,
less than half the eligible citizens vote in even presidential elections,
and a majority of Americans distrust their government. Disengagement
from political and civic life seems to be increasing, particularly
among the young. There is a growing consensus that American civic
life is in need of serious repair.
At the root of this disinterest is a lack of basic knowledge
concerning political affairs on the part of Americans, particularly
among the young. This lack of basic knowledge has several consequences.
Knowledge of government and civic life is certainly a precondition
to participation. It is also clear that those who fail to understand
basic democratic norms will not support them. Moreover, the more
people know about their government, the more faith they express
in the American system. In the final analysis then, the breadth
and depth of political knowledge is vital for the survival of our
constitutional democracy. What Alexis de Tocqueville called the
"habits of the heart, the temperament that informs the democratic
ethos" are not inherited. Each generation must pass to the
next the knowledge and skills required to sustain a constitutional
Democracy in America is
designed to aid in the repair of American civic life by providing
teachers with greater knowledge and skills. The course provides
thorough understanding of the theory and practice of American democracy
and provides teachers with supplementary information to take back
to the classroom. But Democracy in America is
not simply an advanced description of American government, it is
a creation intended to encourage civic engagement by providing teachers
with ideas for turning students into active learners.
Throughout the course, the emphasis is placed on the
role of individuals in American democracy. While stressing the basic
elements of American government, the course works within the larger
theme that, in a democracy, individuals matter. Recognizing that
democracy is not inevitable, the materials are intended to demonstrate
that the workings of a democratic government require an active and
engaged citizenry. Moreover, the course demonstrates that citizens
can and do make a difference. The videos, for instance, do more
than discuss the need for an active citizenry, they feature citizens
in action. This Web site and the course guide contain a variety
of classroom activities designed to interest and engage students.
Democracy in America, then, is intended to help teachers pass on Tocqueville's
"habits of the heart."
Democracy in America includes
15 half-hour videos (with three stories per video), the guide with
readings included, and this Web site, which contains a downloadable
PDF of the guide and reader plus a series of interactive exercises.
The Video Programs
Through 15 half-hour videos, Democracy in America
takes the teacher through the essentials of American
government — ranging from a discussion of the nature of a constitutional
democracy to the role of America in the world. The videos feature
individuals actively engaged in civic and political life. Viewing
the videos gives course participants a direct experience with American
government in action. You can watch the video programs online. You can also purchase
The 15 programs are:
1. Citizenship: Making Government Work: Unit 1 stories introduce the viewer to the nature of
government. What purpose does it serve? Additionally, the stories
focus on what it means to be an American citizen. What are the obligations
of citizenship? What makes a good citizen?
2. The Constitution: Fixed or Flexible?: Our Constitution inspires reverence among many, but
there has always been tension over how it should be interpreted.
As a blueprint for government, it is also clear that the Constitution
creates a government that fractures power and invites frequent
struggle between the various institutions of government. Differing
views on the death penalty, conflict between Congress and the
president, and the long struggle for suffrage illustrate how the
Constitution continues to shape the workings of modern American
3. Federalism: U.S. v. the States: Using three different disputes over the appropriate locus of power in
three different policy areas, Unit 3 illustrates the complexity
of the federal structure. Whether the national government or the
states should have power over a policy area remains, as these
stories demonstrate, an important and enduring debate.
4. Civil Liberties: Safeguarding the Individual:
Although we define ourselves as a free people and prize
liberty, several other values we hold dearly pose at least potential
threats to the exercise of our liberties. Rather than viewing
constitutional rights as absolute guarantees, the Supreme Court
has, as the stories in this unit demonstrate, attempted to balance
the conflicting interests of society.
5. Civil Rights: Demanding Equality: Civil rights, the equal treatment of people, would
seem axiomatic in a nation that cherishes the promise of the Declaration
of Independence. Yet equality has, as the stories show, often
been honored in the abstract and denied in reality.
6. Legislatures: Laying Down the Law: This unit emphasizes the representative roles played
by American legislators. Although legislatures are the primary
mechanisms of popular sovereignty in the United States, they are
often criticized as ineffective. The stories in this unit explore
the complex conception of representation and the often contradictory
expectations placed on legislators.
7. The Modern Presidency: Tools of Power: Although the presidency offers a range of formal powers,
modern presidents grapple with the inherent limitations of the
office and often have difficulty fulfilling public expectations.
The three stories in this unit illustrate the ways in which modern
presidents attempt to exercise and even expand their formal authority.
8. Bureaucracy: A Controversial Necessity: Criticisms of governmental bureaucracy are easy to
find and while this unit does not ignore the problems inherent
in bureaucratic organizations, the video stories provide illustrations
that promote critical thinking, not jingoistic responses. The
stories provide examples of bureaucratic activities and asks the
viewer to evaluate the performance.
9. The Courts: Our Rule of Law: Central to American democracy is a commitment to the rule of law, but
that commitment places a great deal of power in the hands of judges.
In this unit, the stories illustrate the complexity of the U.S.
judicial systems and questions how much power courts should have.
The stories also raise the issue of what constitutes an independent
10. Understanding Media: The Inside Story: A free press is, as this unit's video demonstrates,
essential to a democracy. Nevertheless, the important mediating
role played by the media requires an informed, media-savvy public.
The stories presented here describe how news is defined by the
media and explains why public officials and journalists are highly
11. Public Opinion: Voice of the People: What role should public opinion play in American politics?
How do we identify public opinion? Each of the stories in this
program raise these questions by focusing on a public official
or political leader confronted with the problem of determining
12. Political Parties: Mobilizing Agents: Although often maligned, political parties play a vital
role in connecting the American public and political decision-makers.
How the parties serve as a mechanism for recruiting leaders is
examined here in a case study of a young political leader. The
stories in this unit also demonstrate the ways in which political
parties develop particular policies and organize decision-making
13. Elections: The Maintenance of Democracy: Do elections really matter? If so, why do so many Americans
fail to vote? Using two different elections, the video illustrates
the workings of political campaigns and their efforts to mobilize
voters. A third story focuses on efforts to encourage young people
to exercise their right to vote.
14. Interest Groups: Organizing To Influence: Interest groups, sometimes referred to as special interests,
are often portrayed as the province of the rich and powerful.
As the case studies presented here demonstrate, however, there
are groups organized to represent most interests. Moreover, the
tactics and strategies used by groups are as various as the interests
15. Global Politics: USA and the World: With the end of the Cold War and the dramatic increase
of global interaction, American foreign policy has entered a period
of transition. These case studies explore the use of the American
military for non-combat duties and the utilization of trade policy
as a foreign policy tool. One story also illustrates the relationship
between nations and one of the many non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) that play an increasingly important role in the world.
The Guide and Reader
The guide provides in-depth discussions and analysis
of the issues raised by the videos. Integrated into the guide are
classic readings that expand on the subject of each unit. The guide
and reader includes:
- A list of learning objectives for each unit
- Previewing activities for each unit
- Post-viewing activities for each unit
- Activities that can be used in the classroom (student handouts
for these activities are provided in the Appendix)
- A list of Web-based resources for further exploration
For First Session [Top]
Read the following Readings from Unit 1 to prepare for
next week's session.
- Introduction to the Readings
- Introduction - Citizenship: Making Government Work
- Thucydides, "Pericles's Funeral Oration" from Peloponnesian
- Plato, Apology
- Aristotle, Politics
- Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Ten Books of
Read Unit 1's Topic Overview.
The Educational Film Center: The Educational Film Center (EFC) has for more than 30 years been responsible
for the successful management of over 300 media projects, including
over 600 television productions, interactive multimedia, and Web
design. Key to the success of EFC's projects has been the commitment
to a collaboratively close working relationship between production
and academic personnel.
George Mason University: The
chair and faculty of the Department of Public and International
Affairs, George Mason University and a number of outstanding scholars
and educators with specific experience in civic education were brought
together for Democracy in America.
Carney Interactive: Carney
Interactive is EFC's Web design collaborator, led by its creative
director, John Low, who was trained at EFC. Since its inception
in 1994, Carney has designed, built, and managed the development
of over 150 custom eLearning products. These include innovative
web-based and CD-ROM training applications, educational programs
designed with multiple language capability, Web site design, and
touch-screen kiosk systems.
Carney Interactive's client list includes AOL/Time Warner,
Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting), Arthur Andersen, Drexel
University, FAA, FBI, GE, Goldman Sachs, Lucent, NASA, NATO, New
York Institute of Finance, US Treasury Dept., U.S. Marine Corp,
VIPdesk.com, WorldCom, and Xerox.
Funding for this program is provided by Annenberg Media
to advance excellent teaching. For information about this and other
Annenberg Media programs, call 1-800-LEARNER or visit www.learner.org.
Scott Keeter, Chair of Board, Dept. of Public and International
Affairs, George Mason University and Associate Director, Pew Research
Center for the People and the Press
Marvin Awbrey, Former President, California Council
for the Social Studies and Past Chair, NCSS Social Studies Administrators
Denee J. Mattioli, President, NCSS Board and Associate
Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, East Tennessee
Gail Leftwich, President, Federation of State Humanities
Councils, Virginia and Board of Trustees, National History Day
Alan Rosenthal, Professor of Government, Rutgers University
Diane Hart, Co-Chair, NCSS Task Force on Civic Education
Sheilah Mann, Director of Educational Affairs, American
Political Science Association
Debra Henzey, Executive Director, Civic Education Consortium,
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Tim Hudenburg, Teacher of Social Studies, Westfield
High School, Fairfax County, Virginia
Project Director: Stephen
L. Rabin, President of the Educational Film Center since 1983, is
responsible for management of production, development, and financing
of its programs. Under his direction, EFC has created and produced
a number of telecourses, teacher training, and workshop series and
several hundred television specials, series, and videos. Stephen
Rabin served as the overall project manager, a function he fulfills
for all EFC Projects
Director of Content: Robert L. Dudley is Chair,
Department of Public and
International Affairs and Associate Professor of Political Science
for George Mason University.
Co-Executive Producers: Ira
H. Klugerman and Ruth Pollak, EFC Vice Presidents for Production
and for Projects, shared responsibility for supervision of all media
production for Democracy in America. As members of the core project
team, they served as the direct liaison with all content personnel
and the members of the Board of Advisors, attended all staff meetings,
hired and supervised the producers and other production personnel,
managed schedules and budgets, and took responsibility for all production
and post production. They were also responsible for the creative
supervision of all production elements- the video programs, interactive
Web site, and print materials.
Director of Evaluation: Barbara