Overview Unit 1
Citizenship: Making Government Work
After completing this session, you will be able to:
- Explain why learning about government is important.
- Define the basic elements of government, politics, and democracy
for your students.
- Describe the difficult and ongoing problem of balancing freedom
and public order.
- Introduce the idea of public influence on policy decisions.
- Discuss what it means to be a citizen of the United States,
including a discussion of the responsibilities of citizenship.
This session covers the basic elements of government, politics,
and democracy. A grounding in these issues will give you a solid
foundation to enhance your teaching of civics. More important, approaching
civic education by emphasizing this balance illustrates why civic
education is important. The emphasis on balancing rights and responsibilities
demonstrates that government is important to all of us. Since all
of us will be governed, what matters is how this balance is struck
and how those of us in a democratic society can assure the proper
Governments provide several basic public goods, which are
things that all citizens enjoy by virtue of being part of a political
community. A primary public good is the maintenance of public
order. Governments are formed to protect the life and property
of their citizens. Without government, people suffer lawlessness
and chaos. Recent examples of total lawlessness in a given country
include Somalia in 1992 and Haiti in 1994. At times even crime-ridden
areas of our own country are considered lawless.
To enjoy the benefits of public order, citizens must surrender
some of their freedoms to ensure order and the rule of law for everyone.
In the United States, the Constitution affirms our commitment to
the rule of law. The Constitution is a fundamental charter
of government that seeks to balance public order with basic individual
rights and freedoms. It outlines the basic powers of government,
and stipulates the limits of those powers. The first ten amendments
to the Constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights, list
basic freedoms and rights that citizens enjoy and that cannot be
taken away by government or other citizens.
Politics, or the activities aimed at influencing or controlling
government, can be found in all governments. Since representative
democracy (also called republican democracy) seeks to
embody the will of the people, political activities are particularly
essential. As the authors of the Constitution (especially Madison)
understood, opinions among the public are and will be divided. Thus,
political conflict will always be a part of representative democracy.
By design, such conflict can occur in numerous institutions and
points in the policymaking process, including among the three branches
of government, between the House and Senate, between the national
and state governments, and among the citizens themselves. Working
through this inherent conflict to arrive at a solution requires
debate, deliberation, and compromise.
Representative democracy requires participatory citizens. Legal
citizenship in the United States is for most people a birthright,
as anyone born in the U.S. is considered a citizen. People can legally
apply for and gain their citizenship after immigrating to the U.S.,
which is a process called naturalization. Legal citizenship
is not, however, sufficient to maintain a representative government.
Because representative governments derive their authority from the
consent of the governed, such governments need actively engaged
citizens who are knowledgeable about their government and involved
in the nations public and civic life. Once we clarify that
citizens have both rights and responsibilities in representative
democracies, it is a more accurate idea to think of government as
us, not them.