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America’s Civic Values

90 min

What civic values are shared by all Americans?

Students will:

  • Understand the meaning of a variety of civic values.
  • Analyze the Founders’ understanding of the term “virtue.”
  • Evaluate scenarios where civic values can be exercised.
  • Integrate these values into their lives.

  • Handout A: Being an American
  • Handout B: Civic Value Quote Cards
  • The Bill of Rights [Appendix C]
  • Handout C: Civic Values and You
  • Handouts D, E, F, G, and H: Significant Speeches [optional]
  • Handout I: Civic Values and the Constitution [optional]

  1. Using homework as a starting point, have students brainstorm as a large group the kinds of traits they identified. Ask students to explain their suggestions and define terms as needed. Keep a list of responses on the board.
  2. Review the list and point out how certain traits are in fact examples of civic values in action. For example, the trait of “brave” is an example of the civic value of courage. The trait of “honest” is an example of honor or responsibility.
  3. Point out to students that none of the traits are new. Rather, since ancient times, individuals and societies have valued certain attitudes and behaviors. These have been called virtues, morals, principles, or, more commonly today, values. Virtues are eternal and unchanging—they are the same for all people because they are grounded in human nature. The Founders believed that a democratic republic would only succeed as long as the people were virtuous—as long as they were faithful to values like the ones discussed in this lesson, in their public and private lives.

Activity I – 30 minutes

  1. Divide the class into ten small groups. Give each group one Quote Card from Handout B: Civic Value Quote Cards. Have students read and discuss the definition and quotations on their card. Ask students: How can you exercise this value as a son or daughter? As a sibling? As a friend? As a player on a team? As a student at your school? In your community? How do adults exercise this value? How do citizens in government exercise this value (e.g. policemen, members of the military)?
  2. Reconvene the class for group sharing and discussion. As a large group, discuss the following questions:
    • Why is it important for citizens to act according to this value?
    • What are some consequences if Americans do not act according to this value?
    • Why are civic values important in a society with self-government?
  3. To wrap up, brainstorm as a class concrete ways to exercise civic values as engaged citizens. To facilitate discussion, you may suggest:
    • writing a letter to suggest a new crossing signal near the school;
    • protesting what they believe is an unjust school rule;
    • respectful but assertive ways of questioning authority when rights are being abridged by government;
    • starting a small business; donating to charity.

Activity II – 30 min. (second day)

  1. Have students pair up to analyze the scenarios presented on cards on Handout C: Civic Values and You. Note: Cards have multiple-choice responses. To give the class completely open-ended scenarios, cut the Cards across the shaded line before giving them to students.
  2. On the board or overhead, write the quotation, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” –C. S. Lewis. Share the quote with students and discuss how the right thing to do is not always easy, but in fact may require courage—itself a civic virtue.
  3. Give students time to read and discuss the scenario and their responses. They should identify which value(s) are exemplified in their scenario. (If time permits, ask volunteers to act out their scenarios in front of the class.)
  4. As a large group, have students share their scenarios, responses, answers, and reasoning with the class. For each Card, evaluate whether the scenario depicts a private exercise of this value or a public application. If it is a private exercise, how could the value be exercised publicly?
  5. Discuss the consequences of the decisions. Students may suggest that civic values are merely about being a “good friend” or a “good person.” Ask students: Is there more to being virtuous than being a good friend? Why did the Founders think the republic they created was fit only for a virtuous people?

Wrap up by having students reflect on the civic values highlighted in the lesson. Using a small group think-pair-share format, or as a large group, discuss the following questions:

  1. Did your responses to any of the scenarios surprise you?
  2. Do you think these values are something you are born with, or develop over time?
  3. If you are not born with them, how do you learn them? Where do you learn them? When do you learn them? From whom do you learn them?
  4. How should you respond when your values are challenged?
  5. How can you increase your ability to act according to these values on a regular basis?
  6. How can you know what a community or country’s values are?
  7. Do people in other countries share these values?
  8. Does the United States always live up to its values? What are some examples of successes and failures?
  9. Do other countries with the same values have different means of living up to those values as does the United States?
  10. Do other countries with different values have the same means of living up to those values as does the United States?
  11. How should you respond when America’s values are challenged?

  1. Distribute Handout D: The Hypocrisy of American Slavery (1852); Handout E: The Gettysburg Address (1863); Handout F: Speech to the U.S. Congress on December 8, 1941; Handout G: Address to D-Day Forces (1944); and Handout H: Shuttle Challenger Address (1986) so that approximately one fifth of the class reads each speech. Have students list the civic values reflected in their speech, and invite them to deliver some or all of the speech next class.
  2. Have students write a three to five paragraph essay comparing a civic value demonstrated by an individual in history to the values of a modern individual.
  3. Have students create collages of newspaper and magazine headlines or photos which illustrate the values highlighted in this lesson. Students should label each element of their collage with the corresponding civic value.

  1. If students have studied the Constitution, ask them to consider what civic values the Constitution requires of citizens. Using Civic Value Quote Cards as a reference, have them complete Handout I: Civic Values and the Constitution individually or in pairs.
  2. Have students research the life and accomplishments of an individual from their quote card. Ask them to prepare and present a monologue about a time when the individual demonstrated the civic value. Encourage students to dress in character.
  3. Have students work with their student government representatives and school administration to create lessons, activities and public service announcements that will connect their school’s mission statement to civic values.

Student Handouts

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