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Voluntarism and Public Servants

50 min

Guiding Questions:

  • Who can be considered public servants, in addition to elected officials?
  • What is considered voluntarism?
  • To what extent does Tocqueville see voluntarism as necessary for building a nation?


  • Students will define and explain the benefits of voluntarism.
  • Students will describe multiple ways in which citizens participate in public life.
  • Students will identify who can be a public servant.

  • checks and balances
  • Framers
  • Constitution
  • James Madison
  • separation of powers
  • Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Democracy
  • First Amendment
  • virtue

Have students read the following quote from Federalist No.10:

“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm…”

Have students write a paragraph about what they think Madison means. Invite a few students to share their thoughts with the class.

Define volunteer; define public servant. In what ways, if at all, are these terms different from one another?

Activity 1 [15 minutes]

Divide the class into small groups and distribute the Voluntarism and Public Servants Essay. Have students work together to read the essay, highlighting one main sentence in each paragraph. It is not necessary for everyone in each group to highlight the same sentence, but group members should exchange their respective opinions on each paragraph before moving on to the next paragraph.

Conduct a whole class discussion to answer the following critical thinking questions:

  • How is voluntarism good for society, in addition to meeting the needs of those suffering from a disaster or other misfortune?
  • Define social capital.
  • How does America’s federal system contribute to a greater sense of efficacy among community members?
  • How does the First Amendment encourage strong civic associations?
  • Who, besides elected officials, should be considered public servants?
  • According to James Madison in Federalist No. 51, what is the solution to the problem of enlightened statesmen not always being at the helm?

Activity 2 [20 minutes]

Students remain in their work groups to analyze Handout F: Summarizing Tocqueville on Voluntarism and write a summary of Tocqueville’s argument.

Have students fill in an exit ticket: Define voluntarism.

Have students think of ways that they can volunteer in their local communities (you may need to define community).  Have them write about why they want to volunteer and think of some ideas of what they can do.  Examples could be a food bank, soup kitchen, animal shelter, recreation programs.

Have students research a nonprofit or government agency (local or national) and explore ways in which they can volunteer.  This can be turned into a larger project where students research the organization and then volunteer for a set amount of hours.  They would have also have to submit a journal of their experiences as a volunteer and reflect on what they learned about volunteering and how it helps communities.

Have students work together to design and carry out a solution to some community difficulty. See Bill of Rights Institute curriculum, MyImpact Challenge:

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

The Virtues Required of Citizens In a Free Society

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