Teaching Democracy

These videos, presentations, simulations, and other activities challenge students to think critically about democracy, its history, and how to actively participate in it.

Introduction 

Students are often taught that the US has a democratic form of government where citizens choose their leaders, a process that they will be able to participate in when they are eligible to vote at age 18. However, fully understanding the concept of democracy, its history and philosophical groundings, as well as current issues threatening democracy around the world, requires a deeper and more nuanced approach. Below is a collection of resources that will help introduce students to democratic theory, history of democracy around the world, and the various ways that citizens can participate in their government and push for change. 

Resources: 

  1. Animated videos: 
    1. Democratic Theory series: This collection of videos includes Representative v Direct Democracy, Referendums, and other theoretical debates and topics that examine the various aspects of democratic governments. 
    2. History of Global Democracies series: This collection includes videos on everything from Ancient Athenian Democracy, to the Magna Carta, to The French Revolution, designed to help students understand key moments that have defined democracy throughout the history of the world. 
  2. Presentations 
    1. Democracy Around the World/History: This slide deck introduces students to the defining characteristics of democracy, a couple key historical examples, a few modern democracies, and some discussion questions. 
    2. Representation in government: This slide deck gives a brief overview and history of representative democracy in the US, asks students to consider what it means to be “represented”, and teaches them their rights in regards to influencing their representatives.  
    3. Struggling democracies: This short slide deck introduces the idea of what it means for a democracy to be struggling, what the book How Democracies Die says about what makes a strong democracy, and asks students to consider whether the US fits the definition of a struggling democracy.  
    4. Freedom of Speech: Free speech is often considered a cornerstone of democracy in the US. This slide deck gives a brief definition of freedom of speech as well as what it looks like in everyday life. It also asks students to consider if and when speech should be limited. This is a great lead into a discussion on The Paradox of Tolerance
    5. Freedom of the press: This slide deck includes a definition of freedom of the press and why it’s important before diving into what threatens freedom of the press around the world. It concludes with an optional guessing game activity where students are asked to guess which countries scored higher and lower on the press freedom index. 
    6. Voting Participation: This slide deck presents some statistics on voter turnout in the US as well as an introduction to some common forms of voter suppression and asks students to consider how voting could be made more accessible and more exciting. This could be a great lead-in to this task force tackling voter suppression. 
  3. Task forces 
    1. Making democracies live: This task force asks students to agree with the claim that the United States should be classified as a “struggling democracy”. Next, they imagine that they have been hired by the authors of How Democracies Die to begin outlining their new book: Making Democracies Live about how to save the US’s struggling democracy. 
    2. Design a Campaign: This activity tasks students with considering how and why certain groups are underrepresented in the US government. Then, they imagine that they are in charge of designing a campaign for a candidate for office whose candidacy helps combat underrepresentation. This is a great task force for encouraging students to question common notions of who is “qualified” for positions of power and think about how to design a campaign that represents the issues of importance to them. 
    3. Design a New Election System: This is a great activity for students who have just learned about the presidential election system in the US. Prior to doing this task force, they should have general knowledge of the Electoral College, the primary process, and issues of voter suppression. It would also be helpful for them to have an idea of common suggestions for reforms to the voting process (like implementing a popular vote or rank choice voting system for the primary elections). They can also be given time to conduct research prior to completing the task force. For this activity, they will work in groups to redesign the presidential election system and then explain and defend their ideas. 
  4. Activities 
    1. Have students write a letter to one of their local or national representatives, advocating for them to take action on a particular issue. Here’s a great template for crafting a letter to an elected official. 
    2. Students can exercise their freedom of speech and press by writing an op-ed on a social issue or current event of their choice. Resources and assignment print outs are available here. If you email student articles to [email protected] we will publish them on students4sc.org
    3. Have students practice their persuasive speaking skills by crafting a speech that makes and defends a stance on an issue of their choosing. 
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