the Video Unit 1
and Discussion (30 minutes)
Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:
- What did Pericles say about the openness of Athens? How is that
relevant to modern American society?
- How did Machiavelli describe a republic? Is America a republic,
according to Machiavelli's definition?
- Tocqueville wrote that, "If there is a country in the world
where the doctrine of sovereignty of people can be fairly appreciated,
where it can be studied in its application to the affairs of society,
and where its dangers and its advantages may be judged, that country
is America." What are these dangers and advantages?
- Is democracy inevitable?
Watch the Video
(30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes) [Top]
The video includes three segments:
1. Law and Order: Fighting Crime in New York City
The presence of police in our community can reassure us or it can
trigger anxiety. Whatever our feelings, most of us probably agree
that law enforcement is essential to a democracy. This story examines
the security challenges and changed police tactics that arose in
the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New
- Does increased security engender feelings of increased safety
or does it increase the fears that people have?
- How aggressive should law enforcement officers be in pursuing
- To paraphrase James Madison, is there a point at which the cure
for crime is worse than the disease?
2. A Community of Differences: Citizens Decide the Future of
Politics is not just about politicians, elections, and political
parties. It is any activity aimed at influencing government and
public policy. Thus, politics is indispensable to any government
that is responsive to the will of the people. But in order to exercise
their right to participate, the people must show up and speak out.
This story is about how some citizens in New York City influenced
a public decision about their local park.
- Is disagreement inevitable in American society?
- Is there a better way (better than politics) to resolve disagreements?
- How can people be motivated to participate in governmental
3. Civic Pride: The Story of Frank Audia
There are three ways to become an American citizen: To be born
in the United States, to be born to an American citizen, or through
naturalization. U.S. citizenship provides freedoms, protections,
and opportunities undreamed of in most places around the world.
But free government also hinges on citizens who not only understand
the freedoms and benefits of citizenship, but the responsibilities
- What does it mean to be an American citizen?
- What is a good citizen?
and Discussion (30 minutes) [Top]
Try the Critical
Thinking activity for Unit 1. This is a good activity to
use with your students, too.
1. Core Values of American Democracy (15 minutes)
As citizens with a common political culture, Americans share certain
core values including freedom, equality, justice, private property,
and individual achievement. At the same time, many Americans disagree
over the substance and extent of these values when they are applied
to real situations. Such disagreements often inform our common political
debates over policy at the national, state, and local levels. Use
this list to examine your beliefs about the substance of the core
values we hold as citizens of the United States. Can you think of
other shared values to add to the list? Discuss.
Freedom. The value of freedom (or liberty) is central to
our nations fundamental charters including the Declaration
of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Freedom
can be broken down into two dimensions. Negative freedom
means freedom from the interference of others including government
and other citizens. Advocates of classic free-market liberalism
emphasize this dimension of freedom. As John Stuart Mill contended,
you should be free to pursue your own interests and pleasures as
long as they dont harm others. Positive freedom is
the freedom to reach your full potential, and to be all you
can be, to borrow a phrase from an old army advertisement.
Advocates of strong community values (e.g., communitarians) emphasize
this dimension of freedom. In a republican form of government that
is based on law and order neither dimension of freedom can be given
full scope. Instead, citizens give up their claims to absolute freedom
in order to gain other values such as security and rule of law.
But the dividing lines between freedom and order are constantly
being reconsidered and redrawn.
Equality. Like freedom, the value of equality is ranked
very high among Americans. The Declaration of Independence declares
that all men are created equal in that they possess
certain inalienable rights that governments or their fellow citizens
cannot take away. At the same time, the concept of equality doesnt
appear in the U.S. Constitution until the Fourteenth Amendment,
which asserts that all citizens, including former slaves, enjoy
equal protection of the laws. While most Americans profess
their allegiance to the principle of equality, the application of
this principle to real disputes over public policy has been, and
remains, controversial. Equality has several dimensions: Political
equality refers to the equal right of all citizens to vote,
to run for elected office, and to participate in other ways. While
Americans have an equal right to participate, some would argue that
existing inequalities in wealth, status, and educational attainment
undercut the value of political equality in practice. A related
value to political equality is equality of opportunity, which
refers to the equal access all citizens have to the public goods
provided by government, and to the potential avenues of social and
economic advancement. Some people liken equality of opportunity
to the opportunity all citizens have to participate in the race
toward achievement. However, others argue that social inequalities
in society undercut the fairness of the race, and thus undermine
the concept of equal opportunity. Many advocates of equality
of outcome contend that government policies should seek to redistribute
wealth and status in society to ensure real equality. Some people
who emphasize equality of outcome have advocated affirmative action
in school admissions or in awarding public sector projects.
Justice. Like freedom and equality, the principle of justice
has several dimensions. Some people consider justice a system
of law dedicated to moral ends. But the question remains: Whose
moral ends? For example, do we support capital punishment because
we believe that a person who takes a life should always lose his
own (i.e., an eye for an eye)? Or do we reject this
notion because certain inequalities in society based on wealth might
skew the application of the death penalty towards those who cant
afford good legal representation? Other people emphasize procedural
justice, which emphasizes set trial procedures and controlled
legal battles that are fought by trained lawyers who represent their
clients. This notion of justice utilizes an adversarial system of
legal inquiry that is not designed to determine ultimate truth,
but only a winner in a legal fight guided by legal procedures
and precedents. Finally, many people apply their own sense of gut
level fairness that often disregards basic moral systems or
procedures. Although they cant provide a formal rationale
for their position on an issue, they know when something seems fair
or unfair to them.
Private Property. The principle of private property has
always enjoyed protected status in American history. The right to
be secure in ones own property is asserted in several places
in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. At the
same time, private property has not ever been absolutely protected
in American history. The practice of taxation in effect represents
a taking of some personal property for public purposes. So is the
practice of seizing someones private property when it is even
remotely connected to their illegal activities (the so-called zero
tolerance policy). The value of private property often conflicts
with other values, such as equality and freedom. For example, someone
who grows up in poverty may have less opportunity to attend elite
educational institutions than someone who grew up rich, while those
who do attend elite educational institutions may have more opportunities
to gain wealth throughout their lifetime.
Individual Achievement. In his famous book, Democracy in
America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: The first thing that
strikes a traveler to the U.S. is the innumerable multitude of those
who seek to emerge from their original condition.... No Americans
are devoid of a yearning desire to rise. All are constantly seeking
to acquire property, power, and reputation. Even as far back
as the 1830s, when Tocqueville briefly visited the U.S., Americans
were driven by a strong sense of personal achievement that still
prevails today. Despite the advantages that may accrue to those
born into families of wealth and influence, most Americans believe
that through hard work and perhaps a little luck they can achieve
success, however they choose to define it. America is one of the
few countries where someone who grew up poor can aspire to become
president of the United States, chairman of a large corporation,
or a high-ranking officer in the armed forces, among many possible
positions of prominence. Yet some people argue that if achievement
is stressed too much in our public policies, it might undermine
other values such as equality of opportunity. Others, however, caution
that if equality is pursued too much, the freedom to achieve ones
own potential would be undercut.
Read the following Readings from Unit 2 to prepare for next week's
- IntroductionThe Constitution: Fixed or Flexible?
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: History of the Federal
- The Declaration of Independence (Jeffersons Draft)
- The United States Constitution and the Amendments to the U.S.
- Federalist Papers: Federalist No. 51
- Read next week's Topic Overview.
You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities:
Core Values of American Democracy and Can You Pass the U.S. Citizenship
Exam? They are provided for you as blackline masters in the Appendix
of the print guide.