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Civics - Unit 1 

Exploring Rights & Responsibilities in a Democracy/Government

Introduction: Unit Overview  

This unit focuses on the rights that make it possible for people to fulfill their role as participants in a democracy. The unit also asks students to consider their responsibilities to our democracy. In the first lesson, students brainstorm questions about the rights and responsibilities of powerful civic actors. Students then learn about the importance of the Constitution in providing rights individuals need in order to fulfill their role in a democracy. The subsequent Launch Lessons look more specifically at rights and their uses as well the responsibilities of members of a democratic community.


The Explorations engage students in analyzing primary sources that provide insight into the meaning of “We the People,” involve students in discussing if people today are becoming less responsible, simulate a Supreme Court hearing, ask students to inventory their media use and learn to use a framework for analyzing media, and build students’ skill in making an argument.

Lesson 1:  What Should We Know about Rights and Responsibilities?


In this lesson you will use a case study of young people who changed policy in Chicago Public Schools.  This will serve as a springboard, students brainstorm questions about rights and responsibilities of powerful civic actors.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • What rights do I have? How does the Constitution protect those rights?
  • What responsibilities do I have to our democracy and community?
  • How do my rights enable me to use my power in our democracy and society? How do my responsibilities require me to use my power?

ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • The Constitution provides a framework for a government with limited powers and guarantees the rights of the people. But not all people’s rights have been protected throughout U.S. history.
  • Individuals in a democracy have many rights that allow them to exercise their power, but these rights are limited, and some individuals’ rights are more limited than others’.
  • Rights often come into conflict with one another, and resolving these conflicts can be challenging.
  • Democratic responsibilities are not clearly defined, but people taking responsibility and exercising their power to work for the common good is essential to our democracy and community.
Part 1:  "Rights" and Responsibilities" 
1) “Rights” and “Responsibilities” two words and concepts important to powerful civic actors that the class will be exploring in this unit.

2) Right or Responsibility? 

  • Free speech 
  • Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment
  • Picking up trash around the school
  • Watching a younger sibling after school 
  • Freedom of religion
  • Completing school assignments on time 
  • Paying taxes
  • Freedom to travel to other cities
  • Being informed 
  • Voting 

3) Today you will be generating questions about rights and responsibilities that you would like to explore and answer in their study. 


4) Take a moment and think about young people you know in Chicago who are already powerful civic actors.  Don't know any?  Let's take a look:  Case Study: Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) handout 


5) In small groups, read and share how rights and responsibilities relate to the students’ story in the case study. Each group will report out one way in which the case study was related to rights and responsibilities.


6) In small groups, develop questions about rights and responsibilities. Decide a note-taker. Brainstorm as many questions as you can in the time you given for this task. Review the Rules for Developing Questions (below) visual and follow these rules as they work. Be sure groups understand the note-taker should also contribute questions.

VISUAL: Rules for Developing Questions
 Ask as many questions as you can..
 Do not stop to answer, judge, or discuss the questions.
 Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
 If a statement is made instead of a question asked, work together to restate it as a question.
7) Time is up!  What is the difference between closed and open-ended questions? Closed questions can be answered with a single correct answer. This doesn't mean "yes-no" questions, rather any question with an indisputably correct factual answer is closed. Open-ended questions do not have clear-cut right answers; people will disagree on the answers. Answering an open question requires thinking, combining ideas, and creativity, and the answers are likely to involve more explanation than closed questions. For example:
  • Does an eighth-grader have the right to free speech? (Closed) 
  • What limits should be placed on students’ rights at school? (Open-ended) 

8) Both types of questions are useful depending on the circumstances.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of the two types of questions?


9) In groups: Categorize each question on your lists as closed-ended (“C”) or open-ended (“O”). When you are have done so change one closed-ended question into an open-ended question and one open-ended question into a closed-ended question. If all of your questions are of one type, rewrite two of those questions to the other type.   Note-taker will share your changed questions from the original form to the new form. 


10) Display the clean copies of the questions in the classroom. Explain that these will serve as anchor charts, “home base,” for this unit. Students can add questions as they arise and post answers to questions as they learn. I will document your questions on the Civics - Board and Notes document.  


Closure & Assessment:  

Each student should choose one question, picking a question you find especially interesting or important. Write a brief justification for why you chose that specific question. We will do our best to answer each of questions they chose in this unit.


Extension:

Going Deeper: Encourage students to learn more about VOYCE and their work (http://voyceproject.org/), creating a list of the issues that VOYCE has advocated on. Students might divide the issues among themselves and follow current news on the issues.

Lesson 2: What Is the Constitution and How Does It Protect Our Rights?

This lesson introduces the Constitution as the foundation of our government and a protector of individual rights. The lesson opens with a challenge: If we wanted to create a new kind of school, what steps would we need to take to make it happen? Students then compare this process with what the Framers did when they wrote the Constitution. They learn that the U.S. Constitution establishes a framework for the U.S. government and puts limits on that government. They are introduced to the Bill of Rights and consider how the rights protected help individuals become powerful civic actors.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

What rights do I have? How does the Constitution protect those rights?


ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

The Constitution provides a framework for a government with limited powers and guarantees the rights of the people. But not all people’s rights have been protected throughout U.S. history.

Understanding the Functions of a Constitution
1) Imagine that they have been appointed to a committee that will design a new model for a grade 6-8 school in Chicago Public Schools. What would be some of the steps that would need to happen? 
What decisions would need to be made?  Whose voices should be included? 

2) Share some ideas. How would we keep track of all the decisions that were made and make sure that people who want to work there or attend school there know how the school works? 

3) We are going to be gathering some background information about how the  U.S. Constitution was written.  As we learn more about how the Constitution was written, think about how the experience of planning a new school is similar to the process that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution went through in 1787.  Take a moment to read the 1787: Writing the Constitution handout. 

Discussion Questions:
  • Any questions or clarification on any of the information that may have caused some confusion? 
  • How was the constitutional convention similar to the process you went through in thinking about a hypothetical new school? How was it different? 
  • Which process--your process you thought about for the new school or the process used at the constitutional convention--do you think was more democratic? Why?

4) We will delve more deeply into the principles that are embedded in the Constitution. In seven groups you are going to be assigned one of the principles of the Constitution. Your job is to create a visual that shows how the principle limits government to protect the citizen's power.  

7 Principles

5) Open the Principles in the Constitution CardsYou will have 15 minutes to complete your visuals.  Share them with the whole class. 


Discussion Questions:

  • Which principle in the Constitution do you think is most important? Explain your answer. Be sure to consider how the principles help ensure individual power within our democracy.
  • Find two principles that you think are linked. Explain the link.
  • Would you have been a Federalist or Anti-Federalist? That is, would you favor a strong national government and no bill of rights or a bill of rights to protect individual and state rights from a strong national government? Why? 
  • What do you think the delegates to the convention should do to solve the disagreement over a list of rights?

6) Debate:  Would you have been a Federalist or Anti-Federalist?

Part 3: Understanding The Bill of Rights

1) What did our Founding Fathers or Framers of the Constitution do to resolve the disagreement over rights?  Can you think of an example?  Maybe you recall the Federalists Papers WS-Webquest.doc.  The leaders and main authors of the Federalists Papers, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison accepted a compromise and agreed to add a Bill of Rights as soon as the first Congress was elected under the new Constitution. The Bill of Rights was passed through Congress in 1789 and submitted to the states for ratification. While 12 amendments were proposed, only 10 were ratified. They went into effect in 1791.


2) Watch: 3-minute guide to the Bill of Rights

Group Discussion Questions:  

Open and discuss: Bill of Rights Handout

  • Anything that should be included that isn't in the current Bill of Rights?
  • The Bill of Rights is ranked by the Anti-Federalist beliefs.  Your job is to re-rank them to match your values and the current time period.  

3) There are two ways that the Bill of Rights helps us to become powerful civic actors. 

What do you think those two ways might be? 

  • One is by giving us the rights we need to make our voices heard. 
  • The other is by keeping the government  from becoming too powerful.

What could happen if the government  becomes too powerful? 

  • It could stop people from using their rights by throwing them in jail. 


4) We are going to be applying their understanding of the Bill of Rights while thinking about these two ways in which our rights help us become powerful civic actors. Complete the Which Right - Handout.

Closure & Assessment:

Complete an exit ticket in which you identify one time you have used a right protected by the Bill of Rights to advance the common good.

Lesson 3: How Have Our Rights under the Constitution Changed?

The Constitution included provisions for amending the document, a fact that has proven essential to the expansion of rights in the United States. In this lesson, students learn about the amending process and look at key rights-related amendments, the critical Fourteenth Amendment and the various voting rights amendments (Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-third, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth). They also learn that rights can be obtained or suppressed via laws.  

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • What rights do I have? How does the Constitution protect those rights?


ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • The Constitution provides a framework for a government with limited powers and guarantees the rights of the people. But not all people’s rights have been protected throughout U.S. history. 
  • Individuals in a democracy have many rights that allow them to exercise their power, but these rights are limited, and some individuals’ rights are more limited than others’.    
Part 1:  Decoding the Fourteenth Amendment
1) Take a moment to recall previous lesson about designing a new model for a 6-8 school. Now imagine that you have completed your planning and drawn up a constitution for the new school and even included a bill of rights.  But, then the school opens and after some time, students, parents, and even some teachers feel that a certain group of students are not being treated equally to other students. Nothing in your constitution addresses this issue. How can we solve this problem? In groups come up with a plan.  
2) Note to Students: If students mention changing the school constitution, putting new rules in place, or asking someone with authority to intervene in the situation, explain that these are some of the strategies that the United States has used to extend rights. The United States has amended the Constitution, passed laws, and asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether government policies and procedures have violated rights protected by the Constitution. Remind students that one of the checks and balances that limits any branch of government from getting too much power is the court’s power to declare laws or acts of the executive branch unconstitutional. 

3) Remember the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution through the amendment process. Remember that after the Civil War, three very important amendments were added to the Constitution to address the rights of 4 million formerly enslaved, newly freed people. The Thirteenth abolished slavery and the Fifteenth said the right to vote could not be denied to someone because of their race or color or because they have been enslaved (this applied only to men). We will revisit the 15th amendment and voting rights but right now we will focus on the Fourteenth Amendment.

4) In small groups: Open up the Decoding the Fourteenth Amendment Handout and decode the Fourteenth Amendment. This is a challenging task--Supreme Court justices are still working out the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment as they decide cases today.  The Fourteenth Amendment has had ongoing significance since its adoption and is still very relevant to people’s lives today. 
Definitions:  
  • Due process:  fair treatment through the normal judicial system, especially as a citizen's entitlement.  HINT:  Think Habeas Corpus
  • Equal protection: the idea that a governmental body may not deny people equal protection of its governing laws. The governing body state must treat an individual in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances. HINT:  Think Jim Crow Era

Part 2: Talking Timeline on Voting Rights


1) Time to look at how voting rights have changed over time. 


Discussion Questions:

  • Why are voting rights important in a representative democracy? 
  • How many elected officials do you think there might be in the United States?  Don't peek! 
 
  • 6% is the percentage of people who were eligible to vote when George Washington was President of the United States. If only 6% of the people elected all those officials, would the United States even be a democracy?
  • 73% is the percentage of people in the United States who are eligible to vote. 
  • Who do you think makes up the 27% of people who are not eligible to vote in the United States?
  • How do you think the United States got from 6% to 73% of the people being eligible to vote? 

2) Can you vote in prison?  Can you vote with a criminal record?  Sentencing Project: Voting in Jails
3) Read A History of Voting Rights Handout.  Highlight new information, concerning information, and questions raised. 

Discussion Question: 
  • Based on the reading and A History of Voting Rights activity, how did voting rights expand gradually over the decades of U.S. history? 
  • OR
  • Based on the reading and A History of Voting Rights activity, how might voting rights expand over the future decades in U.S. history?

4) You will take on one of the roles of people who could or could not vote during various periods in history. Open the Voting Rights - Role Cards and you will be given a number (1-24).  Examine your feelings and/or frustration given your role.  Discuss with your groups:

  • Who cannot vote at the end of the time period?
  • Who lost and who won in this time period?
  • What questions do the events of this time period raise about voting in our country?

Lesson 4:  Why Are Our First Amendment Rights So Important?

This lesson engages students in learning about the First Amendment in some depth. We have chosen to focus on the First Amendment because of its special significance to being a powerful civic actor. Students work in groups to investigate the six rights protected by the First Amendment--free exercise of religion, protection from establishment of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to petition, and right to assemble. 

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • What rights do I have? How does the Constitution protect those rights?
  • How do my rights enable me to use my power in our democracy and society? How do my responsibilities require me to use my power?

ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS: 

  • The Constitution provides a framework for a government with limited powers and guarantees the rights of the people. But not all people’s rights have been protected throughout U.S. history.
  • Individuals in a democracy have many rights that allow them to exercise their power, but these rights are limited, and some individuals’ rights are more limited than others’.

1) I am going to show you two images of people using their civic power: 


Discussion Questions:

  • Can you identify the rights being used by the people in the photographs?
  • Is there one Amendment that seems to be especially important to the kind of activity depicted in the photographs?
  • Take a closer look at 2019 First Amendment Survey (right) from the Freedom Forum Institute
  • What is most concerning about the results of the survey?
  • Take a look at The Media Bias Chart (below).  What are your thoughts and/or concerns?
  • Just for fun: Is burping covered by the First Amendment ? 

Closure & Assessment: 


One of the great rationales for using one’s rights, including using those rights in acts of civil disobedience, is provided in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  It may be difficult to understand all of Dr. King's reasonings and arguments, but do your best to complete the reading.  Explain some of Dr. King’s understanding of the importance of Amendment rights for the common good.

Lesson 5:  Do Our Rights Have Limits?
This lesson focuses on several key ideas: that rights have limits, that limits often arise when rights come into conflict, and that rights may be more limited in some locations and for some groups. To pursue these ideas, students delve into the limits on their Fourth Amendment rights at school, looking first at a Supreme Court landmark case and then applying what they learned to other cases involving searches at school.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • What rights do I have? How does the Constitution protect those rights?


ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • Individuals in a democracy have many rights that allow them to exercise their power, but these rights are limited, and some individuals’ rights are more limited than others’. 
  • Rights often come into conflict with one another, and resolving these conflicts can be challenging

Part 1: Introducing Limits on Rights


1) If you were accused of a crime, how important would the right to a fair trial be? What do you think makes a trial fair?

2) Sixth Amendment guarantees: a speedy and public trial, an impartial jury from the state and area where the crime occurred; to be informed of the specific charges against you; to be able to ask questions of the witnesses against you; to be able to force people to testify in the case; and to have an attorney.

3) Think about the following case:

A Nebraska man was accused of killing six members of a family. Newspapers printed a lot of information about the case. The man’s lawyers were afraid that all of the information in the news would make it impossible for the man to have a fair trial. They asked a judge to stop the newspapers from publishing news about the case. What would you decide if you were the judge? 

4) Group Discussion Questions: 

  • What two rights were in conflict in this case?
  • In reaching your decision, which right did you decide to limit? Why?
  • Is there any way to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial without limiting freedom of the press?
  • Come with strategies to protect both rights. 
  • What does this case show you about when rights may be limited?
5) Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, 1976: The Supreme Court ruled that “gag orders” can only be used when all other ways of assuring a fair trial had been tried; some of the justices opposed gag orders under any circumstances. In the Court’s opinion, Chief Justice Burger said the decision was hard because the “authors of the Bill of Rights did not undertake to assign priorities as between the First Amendment and the Sixth Amendment rights.”

6) Deciding when rights should be limited is difficult for the Supreme Court, it’s definitely a complicated question. It involves balancing different rights or a right and another important value, such as security. It also involves thinking about whether rights should be different in different places and for different groups of people. 
Part 2: Exploring Fourth Amendment Rights at School
1) We will be looking at Fourth Amendment rights at school.  The Fourth Amendment;  protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, requiring that warrants be issued only if there is probable cause.

2) Have your Fourth Amendment rights ever been limited at school?
3) Vote: Should BE Allowed (B) or Should NOT be Allowed (N):
  • Should school officials be allowed to search your locker without a warrant?
  • Should school officials be allowed to search your backpack without a warrant?
  • Should school officials be allowed to search your person without a warrant? 
  • What if there’s a very serious drug problem in your school. Should warrantless searches be allowed? 
  • What if school officials have received a report that you have brought a weapon to school. Should warrantless searches be allowed then?

4) Discussion Questions: 
  • How would you summarize our class views on Fourth Amendment rights at school based on this activity?
  • Why did you vote as you did?
  • Did you move from one wall to the other during the activity? Why or why not?
  • Did the existence of a drug problem or the possibility of a weapon on campus change your views? Why or why not?

5) Open the New Jersey v. T.L.O.: Case Study Handout. This is historic case about students’ Fourth Amendment rights at school.  As a group, read the facts and issues in the case. Decide whether you support T.L.O. or the State. Which arguments did you find most persuasive and, based on that, how do you think the Court decided the case?

6) Remember there were two issues in the case:  
  • Does the Fourth Amendment apply to school officials? 
  • Under what circumstances, if any, can school officials search students and their property without a warrant? 

Lesson 6: What Are Our Responsibilities to Our Democracy and Community?

After focusing on their rights, students turn to their responsibilities to our democracy and community. Because there is no “Bill of Responsibilities” in our Constitution, students begin with a broad list and narrow it down to a class list of essential civic responsibilities. Students then consider how their rights link to their responsibilities and conduct a Save the Last Word for Me conversation around a reading proposing a “Bill of Responsibilities.”


ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • What responsibilities do I have to our democracy and community? 
  • How do my rights enable me to use my power in our democracy and society? How do my responsibilities require me to use my power? 

ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • The people have important roles in a democracy and in society, but different people choose to fulfill their roles differently. 
  • Individuals in a democracy have many rights that allow them to exercise their power, but these rights are limited, and some individuals’ rights are more limited than others’.
Part 1: Identifying Civic Responsibilities

1) We are going to create a working definition of responsibility using a concept map. 


Discussion Questions:

  • On the basis of your past experiences and the ideas and behaviors that the drawings depicted, how would you define responsibility?  
  • What are your responsibilities to our democracy and community?

2) There is no “Bill of Responsibilities” in the Constitution. Thus, as we think about our responsibilities to our democracy and community, we have to draw on our own ideas about what makes our democracy and community work for people. Remember students that we looked at actions that different kinds of participants take in Lesson 1 of this unit; some people regard these actions as civic responsibilities.


3) Distribute the What Are Our Civic Responsibilities? Handout. Choose your top ten actions and please share with the class.


4) Do you think these civic responsibilities are connected? How? Which ones? 


5) Use your voice! Post on any social media What Civic Responsibility looks like.  You can use your What Are Our Civic Responsibilities? Handout and/or write your own take on it.  Tag a friend and begin the conversation of what it means to become a powerful civic actor in our democracy and community.  


Part 2: Using Rights to Exercise Responsibilities

1) Remember and recall some of the key rights we have been studying. 

Discussion Question:
  • What do you see as the relationship between rights and responsibilities?

2)  For example, the responsibility to serve on a jury is related to the right to a trial by jury, the responsibility to vote depends on the right to vote, the responsibility to stay informed depends on freedom of the press and freedom of speech, etc. 

3) Open the How About a Bill of Responsibilities? handout.  We are going to conduct a Save the Last Word for Me discussion around the article.  As you read take notes on what stands out to you. Explain why it stood out to you and what it means.  Share in Small Groups. 


Discussion Questions:

  • What do you think of the idea of creating a Bill of Responsibilities? 
  • Could such a document bring people together?

We The People - All People Document Discussion

Source: Mike Keefe, Denver Post, September 21, 2001.
  1. When was this document created? Who created the document? 
  2. Did the documents’ creator have first-hand knowledge of the events or time period described or depicted in the document? If not, what is the source of the person’s knowledge?
  3. For what audience was the document created? Why was the document created? 
  4. Read or examine the document carefully. What does the document tell you about the event or time period covered in the document? List at least two points:
  5. What was the document creator’s view of the event or time period covered in the document? What evidence helps you understand that point of view?
  6. What feelings and thoughts does the document trigger in you?  
  7. What questions does the document raise?
  8. Now, discuss with your group what the source tells you about how thinking about the meaning of “We the People” has changed (or not changed) since 1787. 
Closure & Assessment:  Use your voice! Go back students to your What Civic Responsibility looks like social media post and/or write a new social media post explaining the idea of a Bill of Responsibilities and why they think it is a good or bad idea. 

Lesson 7: What Is Government and How Is It Organized?

This lesson provides a primer on the influence and organization of the government. The lesson opens with students defining the word government and then generating questions about government and the individual’s  interactions with government. They then analyze a story in which they identify aspects of a student’s day affected by government, including different branches and levels of government, and by other institutions (family, religious group, NGOs). The lesson ends with a quick overview of the structure of government established in the Constitution.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • Why is our government so complicated? What do I need to know about that complexity to be a powerful civic actor?   
  • How can individuals interact with the institutions of government? 
  • How will I interact with government to work for the common good? 
  • How can my participation in democracy influence/impact issues I care about? 

ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:
  • In our democracy, power is limited by being separated among different branches and levels of government.

Part 1: Defining Government


1) What is government? An “Official” Definition: Government is the system of people and institutions that develop and implement policies and perform functions in a defined area such as a nation, state, or city.


2) What does government do?  Try to think about specifics at the local, state, and federal level. 

3) What questions do you still have about what government is and what government does?
Part 2: Analyzing Government and Nongovernment Influences

1) Discussion Questions:
  • How does the government affects your lives every day? 
  • What interactions have you had with levels of government in your life? 
  • Have other members of your community (maybe outside of the any government) individuals and/or groups influenced you? 

2) Your lives are affected by both government and nongovernmental people and organizations.  You are going to read a story about two  hours in the life of an eighth-grader and identify all the times when the young person was influenced by government with a G and influences from nongovernmental people and organizations with a N.  Open the Two Hours in the Life of an Eighth-Grader Handout.  Once you are finished you will have the opportunity to discuss and check your answers with a small group. 

3) Discussion Questions:
  • Did you learn anything about how government influences our lives that you didn’t know before?
  • Does this make you think of any other ways the government influences our lives that we didn’t name before?
  • Who do you think has more influence over our lives, government or nongovernmental people and groups? Explain.
  • Does this activity and discussion raise any other questions for you about government? 

Lesson 8:  How Is Policy Created and How Can Individuals Advocate for Good Policies?

This lesson engages students with the process by which laws are passed, as well as how the executive branch creates policy through executive orders and regulations. The lesson first introduces the concept of public policy, having students brainstorm policies that might address a problem in the news. They are then introduced to the steps in passing, implementing, and interpreting a law and dramatize aspects of the process in skits. Throughout their study, they consider ways civic actors can influence the process through advocacy and voting.


ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • Why is our government so complicated? What do I need to know about that complexity to be a powerful civic actor?   
  • How can individuals interact with the institutions of government? 
  • How will I interact with government to take an active role in our democracy?


ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • In our democracy, power is limited by being separated among different branches and levels of government.
  • Individuals have used and continue to use their power to choose democratic leaders, to influence policy, and to seek change through voting, advocacy, and activism,  but some individuals have been denied access to these methods of participation. 
  • Individuals in a democracy have many rights that allow them to exercise their power, but these rights are limited, and some individuals’ rights are more limited than others’. 

Part 1:  Examining Where Laws and Public Policies Come From

1) Discussion Questions:
  • Have you ever heard this saying?  
  • What do you think it means?
  • Is it accurate or true? If not, can you think of examples when it wasn't true?

2) This principle is called the Rule of Law, although flawed is very important to our system of limited government. We are going to be studying where law--and more broadly public policy--comes from. Public policy is a plan of action adopted by official decision-makers in government to solve a problem or reach a goal. It includes laws, rules and regulations, and actions.  Policies reflect values and beliefs about what problems are important and what solutions are best.

3) Open the Solve This Problem Handout and complete in small groups students. Groups please be able to share some of the solutions you generated.


4) Discussion Questions:

  • Now think about your own experience of problems that affect your community and how you feel when those problems are ignored?
  • If you were a family suffering economically during the pandemic or an indigenous American being denied the right to vote, how would you feel about a policymaker who took no action? 
  • What assumptions might you make about that person? 
  • What do the laws you chose or suggested say about your beliefs about the problem and the role of government?

Part 2: Learning How Law Is Made

1) We have have come up with some good ideas for laws. When someone has an idea for a new law, what happens next? 

2)  We will learn how an idea becomes a law and the role that the different branches of government have in the process. Let's review the role of each branch of government (above).

3) In groups, open and read through process of Making Law Handout. What happens next? The bill has become a law. Is the government done with it? Now open the Implementing the Law Handout and continue your group discussion. 


4) Just for fun: Let's watch Schoolhouse Rock: I'm Just a Bill, while you read Schoolhouse Rock: I'm just a Bill (lyrics).  What did Schoolhouse Rock miss in the video?


Part 3: Considering the Challenges of Making Law


1) Now that you’ve learned about how law is made, implemented, and interpreted, I’m wondering what you think might be some of the difficulties of the process.

2) In Seven Groups:  Each group will present one of the Policymaking Dilemma Cards Each group will write and present a brief skit that shows the dilemma they were assigned and how the legislator decides to vote. One member of each group should represent the legislator; the others can represent interest groups, constituents, other Members of Congress, the President, staff or anyone appropriate to presenting and making a decision on the dilemma.

For the first six dilemmas:  

You are a well-respected member of the House of Representatives. You will be running for reelection next year. Your district has one medium-sized city, Oakville, where gangs are a growing problem. Your district also includes numerous farms and a forest where hunting is popular. About 54 percent of your constituents are opposed to gun control laws. 

The seventh dilemma deals with a dilemma faced by staff of the agency charged with implementing the law.

3) In order, groups will present their skits. 

4) Discussion Questions:
  • What values or beliefs seemed to influence the group's decision in your dilemma?
  • Were individuals and interest groups able to influence this decision? If so, how?
  • Do you agree with the decision? Why or why not?
  • How has this exercise affected your view of the policymaking process?


Closure & Assessment:  Write one or two questions you would like to ask a policymaker or aide to a policymaker. The questions should be focused on the most effective ways for civic actors to influence policy. 

Lesson 9: Why Is Federalism Important? 

Policies enacted by state and local government affect people on a daily basis. This lesson provides an introduction to federalism and how it helps ensure that the federal government does not become too powerful. Students analyze an infographic and “complicate” the visual by adding ways civic actors can influence all levels of government through advocacy.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • Why is our government so complicated? What do I need to know about that complexity to be a powerful civic actor?   
  • How can individuals interact with the institutions of government? 
  • How will I interact with government to work for the common good? 

ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:
  • In our democracy, power is limited by being separated among different branches and levels of government.
  • Democracy is based on a set of core values, though those ideals may not always be reached.

1) Remember we have learned how laws/policies are made in the previous lesson(s); the separation of powers among the three branches of government. But there is another way powers are separated in our government and that is called Federalism. 

2) Federalism is the separation and sharing of powers across different levels of government--federal, state, and local. 

3) Quick Vote: Which level of government do think has more influence on their lives - Federal, State, or Local 

4) You will be examining an infographic and visual representation (below), to learn more about federalism. Open the Federalism - Infographic Handout. In groups, answer the questions on the handout, list any questions you have about the infographic, and prepare to share what you have learned with another group.

5) Share what you learned with another group and discuss:


Discussion Questions:

  • What is the main idea of the infographic? 
  • What does the infographic help you understand about federalism? What information helps to support your understanding of this concept?
  • Based on the infographic, can you identify a way that federalism has affected you,  your family, or your community?
  • What are the benefits of federalism? 
  • What might be a disadvantage of federalism? 
  • How can understanding  federalism help you as a civic actor? 
  • Did the Structure-Content-Design (SCD) approach help you “read” the infographics? Would you ask any different questions about the infographics?

Closure & Assessment:

Ask students to  identify how their lives are affected in at least two ways each by state and local government.

Lesson 10:  How Can Individuals Influence Government through Elections?

This lesson launches students into the most talked-about method of influencing government—by participating in elections. This lesson builds on the knowledge students have gained about what the different branches of government do to look at how the people influence the branches by choosing representatives to serve in offices within two of the branches. The lesson delves into how elections work, why voting at all levels is important, and why people choose not to vote. Note that this unit’s Controversial Issue Exploration deals with an election-related issue—the electoral college—and could be paired with this lesson.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • Why is our government so complicated? What do I need to know about that complexity to be a powerful civic actor?   
  • How can individuals interact with the institutions of government? 
How will I interact with government to take an active role in our democracy?


ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • Individuals have used and continue to use their power to choose democratic leaders, to influence policy, and to seek change through voting, advocacy, and activism,  but some individuals have been denied access to these methods of participation. 
  • Individuals in a democracy have many rights that allow them to exercise their power, but these rights are limited, and some individuals’ rights are more limited than others’.

Part 1:  Exploring Elections and Their Importance

1) Remember the some ways of influencing policymakers through advocacy. But many people think of voting in elections as the primary way they can influence government. 

Why are elections important in a representative democracy? 

2)  Imagine that it’s the day before an election and a friend or close relative says, “I’m supposed to vote tomorrow. I’m excited but I’m nervous. I don’t really know what you do when you vote. Can you help me? I know you’re studying stuff like this in your Civics class.” What would you say? 

3)  Open the Voting Videos Note-Catcher Handout and take notes while you watch the Chicago Board of Elections How-To Video Collection.  

Discussion Questions:
  • Would the information you gained from the videos make you more confident about going to vote for the first time?
  • Imagine that you’ve gone and successfully voted. Now the polls have closed. What happens next? 

4) Let's acknowledge that some people think it’s not important to vote because, in their opinion, one vote out of millions of people doesn’t matter.  

Reasons People Don’t Vote

  • One vote doesn't matter
  • Too busy/conflict
  • Didn’t like candidates or issues
  • Illness
  • Out of town
  • No transportation to polling place
  • Forgot
  • Inconvenient Location or Hours
  • Didn’t Know Where to Vote
  • Line Too Long
  • Did Not Receive Ballot in Mail
  • Problems with Registration
  • Bad Weather
  • Problems with ID
Discussion Question: 
  • Do you think one vote matters? Why or why not? 
5) The history of voting shows that many elections have been decided by a very small number of votes. Open the Importance of Voting handout. Read the handout, underlining what stands out as important. Then in small groups share what your group underlined and decide what the information underlined tells you about voting. That is, what generalizations or general statements about voting can you make based on the information? Then share your goal, which is to come up with two generalizations—two general statements about voting.  

6) Please note that turnout is low in local elections but, many more leaders are chosen in those elections than in national elections.

7) Back in groups.  Discuss, answer, and present:  Should I vote? 
Lesson 11: How Can Individuals Influence Government through Activism?
Sometimes, advocacy results in sound policies. Other times, policies are enacted that groups of civic actors consider to be unjust, unfair, or ineffective. When this happens, people may take the next step in making their views known—through direct action, also called activism. This lesson engages students in researching the various ways in which activists have responded to changes in immigration policy in recent years (e.g., demonstrations/marches, protests at sites where particular activities are occurring, hunger strikes, providing direct assistance to people affected by the policies).

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • How can individuals interact with the institutions of government? 
  • How will I interact with government to work for the common good? 


ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • Democracy is based on a set of core values, though those ideals may not always be reached.
  • Individuals have used and continue to use their power to choose democratic leaders, to influence policy, and to seek change through voting, advocacy, and activism, but some individuals have been denied access to these methods of participation. 
  • Rights often come into conflict with one another, and these conflicts can be difficult to resolve.

1) Let's review some of methods of influencing government studied in the past lessons. Imagine you’ve been writing your legislators about a bill the Illinois legislature has been considering. You even went to a town meeting and talked about why you supported the bill. But the legislature has just defeated the bill. You are feeling somewhat powerless. 


Discussion Questions: 

  • What would you do next?
  • Why might you continue making direct contact with policymakers? 
  • Think about the sources of power you learned about previously (physical force, wealth, state action, social norms, ideas, numbers). Which might you be able to activate to increase your power? 
  • How might you develop a strategy to increase your power through numbers, that is, by getting more people involved? To show the strength of public opinion on your side of the issue? 

2) Being involved in these kinds of actions is called activism.  


Discussion Questions:

  • What is the main source of activism’s power? 
  • Can you think of a time when you or a family member has been involved in activism? 

3) We are going to be exploring different methods used by activists working on a very important and controversial issue: immigration policy. 


4) Open the Exploring Activism handout and complete in small groups.  Locate and analyze stories about the methods used (same as below). 

Call to Activism
 Advantage(s)
 Disadvantage(s)
What are the advantages and disadvantages of mass rallies and parades?
-
-
What are the advantages and disadvantages of targeted actions?
-
-
What are the advantages and disadvantages of direct aid?
-
-
What are the advantages and disadvantages of hunger strikes?
-
-
What are the advantages and disadvantages of other strategies you read about?
-
-
Which method do you think gives activists the most power?

__ Mass rallies/parades 

__ Targeted actions

__ Direct aid                         

__ Hunger strikes

__ Other methods 

specify:                                             

Closure & Assessment: Think about an immigration issue that you feel strongly about (e.g., limiting all  immigration, separating children from families).  Write an exit ticket identifying one strategy you would use in seeking change on this issue and explain why that method could be successful. Think about both your "power" and "identity" in making their choices. 

Lesson 12: How Can Individuals Influence Government through the Courts?

Students will be introduced to case studies of people who have worked through the courts to make change in our democracy—a judge,  an attorney, a member of a jury, and a person who challenged a law as unconstitutional.  

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • How can individuals interact with the institutions of government? 
  • How will I interact with government to work for the common good? 


ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • Democracy is based on a set of core values, though those ideals may not always be reached.
  • Individuals in a democracy have many rights that allow them to exercise their power, but these rights are limited, and some individuals’ rights are more limited than others’.

Case Studies of Working through the Courts

1) When we have talked about policymakers, what branches of government have we been talking about? What branch haven’t we talked about?  What do we already know about the judicial branch or the courts?  While the courts do not formally make policy, they affect policy through their job of interpreting the laws, of determining if laws and government actions are constitutional or not. 


2) In general, court cases move up on this chart. Given that, where do you think the cases you have heard about start? Explain that there are specialty courts that handle specific types of cases--family court, traffic court, bankruptcy court (a federal court because bankruptcy laws are federal laws), drug court, etc. The job of municipal courts, circuit courts, and district courts is to determine guilt or responsibility. Still, the judges in these courts do make some decisions about whether laws or government actions were legal or constitutional. For example, a judge might decide to throw out evidence in a case because it was obtained without a warrant. 

3) If someone is not happy with the decision in their case, they can appeal to a higher court--except that the prosecution cannot appeal if they lose a criminal case because the Fifth Amendment protects people from being tried for the same crime twice. Appeals are based on legal or constitutional issues. If you were involved in a case in the Illinois circuit court, where would you appeal to?  What about a case in the U.S. district courts?

4) In the federal courts, judges are appointed (nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate) for life terms; this process is designed to make the judicial branch independent, not easily pressured by public opinion or by the other branches. The idea is that they can focus on the law and Constitution in an unbiased way if they don’t have to worry about losing their jobs. If people cannot advocate with the courts, how can they have meaningful interactions with the courts? 

5) We are going to look at some case studies of how people interact with the courts. In four groups, you will analyze one of the People and the Courts Case Studies handout. If a movie or biopic was made about your person in the case study what would be included?  Use the People and the Courts - Report Form included to help you decide what should or should be included in this "film" idea. 

Lesson 13: The Constitution and Our Ideals
The U.S. government reflects certain principles that are embedded in the Constitution; the purpose of these principles is to establish a system of government in which the people hold the power and such ideals as equality, liberty, justice, and security are protected.  This lesson gets students into two key parts of the Constitution to look for references to these ideals. They then analyze the poem, “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes, examining to what extent the failures Hughes identified in 1936 still exist today. The lesson ends with a look at Americans working for equality. 

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • Why is our government so complicated? What do I need to know about that complexity to be a powerful civic actor?   
  • How can individuals interact with the institutions of government? 


ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • In our democracy, power is limited by being separated among different branches and levels of government.
  • Democracy is based on a set of core values, though those ideals may not always be reached.

1) Let's take a look at the Principles and Ideals of Democracy visual below:
VISUAL:  Principles and Ideals of Democracy

You have learned about several principles that underlie the U.S. government. These principles include limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, and individual rights. These principles are written into the Constitution. 

These principles are intended to create a system of government that protects and prompts important democratic ideals. Can you name any of these ideals? Self-government, liberty, justice, equality, property, and security are some of the most-often named ideals.
 Finding Democratic Ideals in the Constitution
You have read the Preamble and the Fourteenth Amendment. Where in these two parts of the Constitution can you find mention of important democratic ideals?
Preamble:  We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. 
Fourteenth Amendment: Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.  
 Assessing Democratic Ideals in Your Life
Now think about your own experience. How well have the Constitution and the government done in terms of putting the democratic ideals in practice?   

2) Let's go over the Preamble and Fourteenth Amendment phrase by phrase noting connections to the democratic values.


3) We are going to have an opportunity to read and talk about a famous poem written more than 80 years ago.  Open the Let America Be America Again handout.  Let's note that some of the language Hughes used was common in 1936 but would be considered offensive today. Please note this language may make students uncomfortable, angry, or sad--in short, they may experience a range of emotions. All of these reactions are natural. Their reactions will be shaped, in part, by their lived experiences. Please be mature and respectful. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Who is speaking in this poem? 
  2. How are the passages in parentheses different from the other passages? 
  3. How would you summarize the poem’s message or theme?
  4. What challenges to achieving freedom and equality does the poet write about?
  5. What words or phrases does the poet repeat? How does the repetition affect the way you react to the poem?
  6. What is your favorite line or stanza? Explain your choice.
  7. Does reading the poem remind you of anything that has happened to you or any family stories that have been important to you?
  8. What do you think the poet is saying about American ideals? 
  9. Who do you think is more optimistic about the future--you or Langston Hughes? Why?
4) To increase you optimism, think about the kinds of actions you could take to promote the democratic values you feel have not been achieved.  Open and explore the Time Magazine February 2020 feature “These 16 People and Groups Are Fighting for a More Equal America”.

5) As a class, compile lists of the specific issues on which the 16 highlighted people have worked and the kinds of actions they are taking to advance equality. 


Closure & Assessment:  Think about what you could do to fight for a more equal America and create a plan to take at least one action in support of equality in the next month or write a new stanza for “Let America Be America Again”.


Extra Lessons:

Lesson 14: What Are Your Communities?
How Can You Identify the Common Good in Your Communities?

This lesson brings students back to the idea of identity, linking identity with the different communities of which they are a part. After reading “profiles” of several people who belong to different communities, students create their own profiles, linking communities with aspects of identity. Students then pick one community they belong to and describe how that community is affected by public policy, as well as by actions of groups and individuals. After reviewing the concept of common good, students discuss their views on how to define common good in the context of a pandemic, recognizing that people may disagree about what constitutes the common good and unintended consequences can occur no matter your decision. They analyze policy influences on the school and are introduced to the unit EQs and EUs.


ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  • Who has power in your community? What are the sources of their power? How do they use their power?
  • What power do you and your family have? What power does the school have? What power do community organizations have?  
  • What is the importance of public and private policy in your community? How do people with power work to change policy?
  • How will you choose to use your power to promote the common good in your community?


ENDURING UNDERSTANDINGS:

  • The source of power can affect how that power can be used. 
  • You and your family have power in the community and can determine how best to use it.
  • A variety of organizations, including nonprofit and advocacy groups, the school, religious groups, and businesses have power in the community. The sources of their power and their goals may be different, but all can shape the community.
  • Public and private policies affect all aspects of community life. Those with power in a community can work in various ways to change policy.
  • Young people can choose to use their power in the community in a variety of ways. 
  • Working for the common good of the community requires specific skills in order to be effective.

Part 1:   Common Good & Community

1) Jot down two words that describe you! Definitions:

Identity: the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that creates a sense of who one is.
Community: a group of people with common interests, often living in a particular area.
Common Good: the benefit of the public. 

2) Need further help on the concept of the common good?  Duquesne University: What exactly is the common good? Video.  Is the common good possible without the believe that, in general, people are decent, social, and overall good people?

3) Open the Eighth-Graders and Their Communities handout.  In groups, read different profiles and compare the most interesting words the two groups found describing identity and community. Do you think these students are or will be personally responsible, participatory, or justice oriented participants? Explain your answer. 


4) We are going to be looking at the many policy decisions that affect a community they are all part of--the school community. Open the Policy Affecting the School Community handout and identify the different individuals and/or groups that influence the school and describe a policy or decision that they might make.

Part 2: What Are the Sources of Power in Your Community? 
1) Discussion Questions: 
  • What is power?  
  • What is the source of the power?
  • What does power look like in a community?
  • Can you think of a specific example of an individual or group displaying power in your community to change policy and/or promote the common good?
  • Note:  The sources of power may vary in importance at different times and in different places. 
Source of Power
 Examples 
Physical Force
In 2020, moms in Portland, Oregon, formed a line to protect protesters from masked federal officers.
 Wealth
From 1965-1970, people stopped buying grapes because the growers did not treat workers well.
 State Action
Chicago Freedom School sued the Chicago Police Department in June 2020. They said the CPD had violated various rights, including their First Amendment rights.
 Ideas
In 2016, 12 community members in South East Chicago believed that their high school should remain open. They went on a hunger strike to save Walter H. Dyett High School.
 Numbers
In 1916, 5000 people (mostly women) marched down Michigan Avenue to demand votes for women.
 Social Norms
A Chicago theater group created an anti-bullying pledge to prevent bullying of LGBTQ youth. Their goal was to make opposing bullying the accepted way to act.

2) Let's take a look at some local power in your community. In four groups (#1-4) open the Community Change Case Study w/ Note-Catcher Handout.  Use the note-catcher and be ready to present


3)  You are going to collect information about sources of power from your family members. Open the Interview with Your Family handout. The two purposes of the interviews with family members: 

  1.               to expand what they learned about power in the community in this lesson and 
  2.              to find out how their families see their own power in the community. Working in their table groups, have students create two questions in each category that they think would prompt good conversation with their families, putting these questions on separate sheets of paper. 

Part 3: How Can You Work with Organizations to Promote the Common Good?

1)  We are going to explore community organizations in Chicago.  Take a look at the VISUAL: Working in the Community, 1 (right), which shows volunteers of varying ages filling backpacks with school supplies


Discussion Questions: 

  • What do you see in this picture?
  • Who do you think the people pictured are? What are they doing? Why do you think they are doing that?
  • Have you ever participated in something similar to the action that is happening in the photograph?
  • Stretch your minds some more. What do you think had to happen to get ready for this event?
  • What does this picture tell you about working with a community organization?

2) The organization is called Cradles to Crayons and it works to provide children with the resources they need when their families can’t provide them. 

3) Now take a look at VISUAL: Working in the Community, 2 (left), 

which shows young women preparing for a demonstration. P


Discussion Questions:

  • What do you see in this picture?
  • Who do you think the people pictured are? What are they doing? Why do you think they are doing that?
  • Have you ever participated in something similar to the action that is happening in the photograph?
  • Stretch your minds some more. What do you think had to happen to get ready for this event?
  • What does this picture tell you about working with a community organization?

4) The organization shown is called Girls/Friends. Its members work with other organizations to develop awareness of the issue of missing and murdered Black and Ingenious women and girls in Chicago, Minnesota, and across the nation. Its eventual hope is to focus government, including law enforcement, on preventing such crimes and solving the crimes that have already occurred. 

5)  Now you will have the chance to investigate some other community organizations in Chicago, some in your own neighborhood. The organizations have different purposes, serve different audiences, and engage people in different ways. Open the Mini-Directory of Chicago Community Organizations handout. In groups take some time to research some of the following Chicago Community organizations. Then complete the note-catcher included a find 1 new community organization in Chicago not listed. Please be able to share your findings with the class.


Closure & Assessment:  Which organization you would most like to work with?  What is holding you back from reaching out to that organization today?