This companion document to the Issue in Focus provides educators with guidance to incorporate the content into classroom teaching. This component is geared towards grade 6-12 teachers, with connections across subjects and disciplines.
Contents of this Classroom Companion include:
- Student Readings
- Discussion Questions
- Lesson Ideas/Curriculum
- Additional Resources
- National Standards
Below are some links to articles and reports at various reading levels that would be appropriate to use with students to learn more about democracy and democracies around the world in 2008.
“Freedom in Retreat: Is the Tide Turning?” from Fredom House
"The Decline of Democracy" by Fareed Zakaria, from Newsweek
"Liberty and Justice for Some" from The Economist
"Election Crisis Worsens in Zimbabwe" from Scholastic News
As American as Apple Pie from PBS Online NewsHour
Note: This article is from 2000, but has a good breakdown of aspects of democracy. It references global elections from 2000, but these can be easily supplemented with short articles about the US, Zimbabwe, Russia, Kenya, or other nations holding elections in 2008.
Possible Discussion Questions:
1. What does democracy mean? What are some of the components of democracy?
2. How many democratic countries are there in the world today? Is there any disagreement or controversy about these numbers? Why?
3. One of the most common aspects of the definition of democracy is “free and fair elections.” What does this mean? Can you list an example of a country that has recently held free and fair elections? One that has not?
4. What general trend are experts seeing in countries around the world – a strengthening of democracy or a weakening of democracy? Why? Predict what you think will happen in the future – will current trends continue, or will there be a shift? Explain the rationale for your prediction.
5. One of the stated goals of the Bush administration in Iraq is to promote democracy. Do you think that the United States or other democratic countries should encourage democracy around the world? Do the U.S. and other countries have the right to forcefully remove authoritarian leaders they believe are harming their citizens, or should countries have the right to rule their people as they see fit?
In this portion of the guide are selected suggestions for engaging activities and curriculum to teach students about this issue - across the disciplines. In addition, there are links to recommended curriculum units that are available to download or purchase from the web.
- While there is some consensus by experts in the field about the basic characteristics of a democracy, there are many debates about some of the finer points of what makes a country truly democratic. Have students create a checklist of all the aspects they believe should be part of a democratic government - use the info from the “What is Democracy?” section of this issue if you need some background information for students. Then have them choose and research a country and use their checklist to decide whether the country is democratic or not. They could then compare their results with the results from the Freedom House or The Economist surveys. Or students could compare other countries with the United States, and discuss the differences among the democracies of each country.
- In a US government class, where the focus is obviously on the United States, use an adaptation of the above lesson, but instead have the students create their checklists and then evaluate how the US measures up against the students’ own checklists. What democratic characteristics does the U.S. uphold, and in what characteristics does the US falter? Do they agree or disagree with the evaluation of US democracy from Freedom House and The Economist?
- Read through the “Regional Highlights of the State of Democracy in the World” from this month’s edition. Over the course of a month or semester, have students select a region of the world and track current events regarding politics and governments of that region. What democratic developments are occurring in that region: do these developments illustrate a backsliding of democracy, or are they moving toward strengthening democracy?
- Discuss with students the differences between liberal and electoral democracies, thin and thick democracies (see “What is Democracy?”). Which type of democracy do students believe is better for countries? With this in mind, what should be the foreign policy stance of the US in terms of promoting democracy? Should the US promote democracy in other countries? Have previous attempts been successful? If not, what can or should the US do (if anything) to improve democracy promotion?
- Geography and Democracy - split students into groups and assign each group a different region to research. Have them research the countries in that region, and what kind of government each has. Have students create a large poster that includes a map of their region, and labels the types of governments, along with anything else you want them to include – perhaps the level of freedom in each country, economic statistics, etc. What do these regional maps show about democratization? Does geography influence democracy? Do regional and cultural influences affect the type of government a country might have? Why or why not?
- Discuss the role of civil society in the democratic process, and examples of civil society around the world. Then have the students look at their own community – what civil society organizations exist in their own community? What do they do, and how do they contribute to the democratic process? Have each student choose one organization and profile it for the class.
- Evaluate the role of the media in the democratic process. Many experts believe any successful democracy must have a functioning free press. Do students agree? Why or why not? How is the internet changing the role of the media in the democratic process? What happens when the government controls most of the media in a country, or when a few, large corporations own most of the media in a country?
- As an extension of the activity above, evaluate the role of the media in the 2008 presidential election. Is the media biased toward one candidate or another? Does the media provide enough, or the right kind of, information to help citizens make informed decisions about whom to vote for?
- Conduct a mock debate in the classroom for the 2008 presidential campaign. Have all students research the candidates and prepare a list of questions about important issues in America and the world today, to ask the candidates. Select one to serve as the moderator and others to take on the roles of McCain and Obama and research their positions on the issues.
- Have students create a blog about the 2008 presidential election to discuss their reactions to the campaign, their thoughts about the important issues in this campaign, and important global issues on which our next president should focus.
- Creative writing – either in conjunction with the literature being read in class or in connection to reading non-fiction texts about democracy in the world today, students can step into someone else’s shoes through a creative writing project. Such projects could include writing diary or journal entries from a character’s or historical figure’s point of view, a letter to a noted figure or character or world leader, or writing a mock interview with a historical or modern figure.
- While on the surface there seem to be few links between democratic ideals and science, the advance of science typically requires innovation and freedom to experiment and try new ideas, and democratic countries are often, but not always, more supportive of these conditions than autocratic regimes. Discuss some examples of each of these scenarios or have students read about science in the news today - from the stories they read, can they see ways that governments have interfered with science or ways that governments have helped science expand?
- Have students research the life of Albert Einstein. Einstein was born into a Jewish family in Germany and, anticipating the rise of Nazism in Germany and ouster of Jews and academics and scientists after Hitler took power, moved to the United States in the early 1930s. He worked to bring many other academics facing persecution to the US as well, and later became an outspoken advocate for peace (and against atomic weapons though he once endorsed them). Students can also research other scientists who have faced persecution at the hand of autocratic regimes.
- Look at a pressing issue such as the environment, and think about the ways that political processes affect the steps scientists and citizens can take to solve the problem. What approaches does an authoritarian country such as China take to reduce environmental destruction? What approaches does a democratic country such as the US take to reduce environmental destruction? Which works better?
- Use information from the readings to review mathematical concepts. Go back to the “Did You Know?” page, and look up the statistics for the number of democratic countries over the years. Have students calculate the percentage of countries in those years that were democratic, as well as graphing the data.
- Students could also use the data from the Freedom House surveys to create graphs. Have them choose five countries from the website, and create a bar graph indicating the level of freedoms in those countries.
- In conjunction with the US presidential elections in 2008, have students conduct polls among their classmates, and record and analyze the data. Students can create their own polling questions about issues important to them, such as the issues they feel are most important in this election, which candidate they would vote for, how a new US president should handle the ongoing war in Iraq, what educational policies they feel candidates should endorse to improve schools, and more.
Recommended Curriculum Units:
The Democratic Process: Promises and Challenges
These essays and lessons are intended to provide teachers and advanced students with background information about the ongoing democratization process in Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This curriculum discusses the challenge of the transition from an autocratic Soviet-dominated society to a more open and democratic one. It includes maps plus essays on democracy, authoritarian politics, post-communism, corruption, independence, ethnic identity, and citizenship.
Democracy and the "New" Democracies: Fragile, Difficult, and Subject to Change
This resource focuses on countries transitioning to democracy. It includes readings, definitions of democracy, and classroom activities to teach about emerging democracies around the world.
This series of lesson plans is distributed by Independent Lens and PBS to accompany two of their recent documentaries, Please Vote for Me and Iron Ladies of Liberia. The first film follows the campaign of elementary school students in China running for class president, and the second film profiles Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first female president of Liberia, and other women working to change Liberia today. The curriculum includes video clips from the two films, along with lessons that cover what democracy is, participating in a campaign, democracy around the world, and women and democracy.
The World in Transition Series
This curriculum series, created and distributed by the Southern Center for International Studies, provides great resources for teaching about the political, economic, and cultural changes, among others, occurring around the world today. Each curriculum unit is broken up into regions, covering Latin America, Africa, Europe, Russia and the Other Former Soviet Republics, the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. Each curriculum unit includes background essays and maps, a DVD, and lesson plans.
The Choices Program
The Choices Program has several good curriculum units that cover various facets of democracy, generally and in specific regions and countries. Examples include: Responding to Terrorism: Challenges to Democracy; Charting Russia’s Future; Conflict in Iraq: Searching for Solutions; and Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future. In addition, in preparation for the 2008 presidential election in the United States, Choices is offering an Election 2008 bundle of 6 curriculum units that look at the US economy and government, as well as its role in the world today.
Center for Civic Education
The Center for Civic Education is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational corporation dedicated to promoting an enlightened and responsible citizenry committed to democratic principles and actively engaged in the practice of democracy in the United States and other countries. Lesson plans related to civic education for elementary, middle and high school students are provided on the website.
Constitutional Rights Foundation
The Constitutional Rights Foundation provides technical assistance and training to teachers, coordinates civic participation projects in schools and communities, organizes student conferences and competitions and develops publications related to law and government and civic participation. The website also provides access to an extensive list of free online lesson plans, and a great quarterly newsletter called “The Bill of Rights in Action”.
This list of resources is provided if you want to find some more specific and nuanced information about the themes presented in this issue of the World Savvy Monitor. These resources comprise additional books, films, web sites, and multimedia resources that can be used in the classroom. All resources are available from Amazon, unless other sources are noted.
The first few books are adult non-fiction but also appropriate for high school students.
Democracy’s Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World’s Most Popular Forms of Government by Michael Mandelbaum
This book explores the rise of democracy, in the process, answering questions such as: How did democracy acquire its good name? Why did it spread so far so fast? Why do important countries remain undemocratic? What accounts for the fact that the introduction of one of democracy’s defining features – free elections – has sometimes led to political repression and large-scale bloodshed? And why do efforts to export democracy so often fail and even make conditions worse?
Democracy: The God that Failed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe
For a perspective of democracy that offers a stark contrast to the largely held contemporary Western belief that democracy is an unassailable value, read this book. In a series of 13 essays, Hoppe argues that democracy is the primary cause of the decivilization sweeping the world since WWI, and that it must be delegitimized.
Islam and Democracy in the Middle East ed. Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, & Daniel Brumberg
This 2003 book draws on the expertise of twenty-five leading Western and Middle Eastern scholars to provide a comprehensive assessment of the origins and staying power of Middle East autocracies, as well as a sober account of the struggles of state reformers and opposition forces to promote civil liberties, competitive elections, and a pluralistic vision of Islam. It includes several case studies.
Changing Venezuela: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government by Gregory Wilpert
Since coming to power in 1998, the Chavez government has inspired fierce debate. Wilpert explores this debate, arguing that while the country has yet to overcome many of its historical pitfalls (such as its culture of patronage and clientelism, its corruption, and its support for personality cults), it has instituted one of the world’s most progressive constitutions.
Dinner with Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant by Heidi Holland
This in-depth portrait of Robert Mugabe charts Mugabe’s gradual self-destruction and uncovers the complicity of some of the most respectable international players in the Zimbabwe tragedy. Holland’s investigation begins as she dines with Mugabe the freedom fighter and ends in a searching interview with Zimbabwe’s president in December 2007, more than 30 years later.
Moyers on Democracy by Bill Moyers
This book is a collection of some of Moyers’ most moving statements and speeches. The focus is the state of America, including the place religion in public life, the environment, media control, corruption in Washington, and the policies of the Bush administration.
The Dirty War by Charles H. Slaughter
This historical novel for young adults shows a government on the negative end of the democracy spectrum. Atre, 14, and his friend Chino are caught up in the rapidly changing political climate in Buenos Aires. It is 1976, and the generals have just taken over the Argentine government. The story charts Atre’s increasing awareness and involvement in the political upheaval, his father’s ‘disappearance,’ and his grandmother’s joining with the ‘Mothers of the Plaza’ (Madres de Plaza’). Grades 8 and higher.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
This novel, for ages 10 and up, focuses on a utopian society where everyone is assigned very specific roles. The protagonist is being groomed to take over his new role in society, and through his struggles the author examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. While not directly about democracy per se, there are correlations to the role of civil society and personal freedoms in a country.
Vote! by Eileen Christelow
Using a campaign for mayor as an example, Christelow offers some background history on voting rights, explains the voting process, and answers questions about registration, volunteering, fund-raising, and recounting ballots. Appendixes include a timeline, a discussion of political parties, and Internet resources. Grades 2-5.
Please Vote for Me
Eight-year-old children compete for the position of class monitor in the first school election of its kind held in China. Aided and abetted by parents and teachers, the young candidates reveal the nature of democracy in a rapidly changing country. To prove their worthiness, the candidates must perform in events like a debate, in which the candidates bring up the shortcomings of their opponents as well as their own personal qualifications and each candidate must deliver a speech, an opportunity to appeal directly to classmates and ask for their votes.
Available through Netflix and Amazon.com
Democracy in the Rough
This 2006 episode of the PBS Wide Angle series covers the Democratic Republic of Congo’s first election in 45 years. In a country that has suffered one of the most brutal colonial histories, and has experienced decades of dictatorship and a civil war that has left more than four million dead, Wide Angle explores how this election is viewed by those running for office and by ordinary Congolese who will be voting.
Available for viewing at the PBS website.
Future for Lebanon
In this episode of the PBS Wide Angle series, viewers are introduced to the oldest democracy in the Middle East as voters go to the polls in a new era. From the beaches of Beirut to the radical rallies of Hezbollah, Wide Angle explores political change in one of the pivotal nations of the Arab region – change from within, not imposed from the outside.
Available for viewing at the PBS website.
Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore
This movie follows one 2004’s most surprising races as a grassroots campaign threatens to shake up the political establishment. Jeff Smith was a 29 year old part-time political science teacher with no prior public office experience when he decided to run for former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt’s seat.
Available through Netflix, Amazon.com and www.mrsmithmovie.com
Iron Ladies of Liberia
This intimate documentary goes behind the scenes with Africa’s first freely elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia. The film explores the challenges facing the new president and the extraordinary women surrounding her as they develop and implement policy to rebuild their ravaged country and prevent a descent back into civil war.
Available through www.ironladiesofliberia.org
My Country, My Country
Working alone in Iraq over eight months, American filmmaker Laura Poitras follows Iraqi physician Dr. Riyadh – father of six and Sunni political candidate – for an unforgettable journey into the heart of war-ravaged Iraq in the months leading up to the January 200 elections. Dr. Riyadh is both an outspoken critic of the United States occupation and a passionate advocate for democracy in Iraq. Academy Award Nominee-Best Documentary Feature.
Available through Netflix, Amazon.com, and www.mycountrymycountry.com
MULTIMEDIA AND WEB RESOURCES
The Vote Democracy Campaign
This companion website to the PBS Independent Lens films ‘Please Vote for Me’ and ‘Iron Ladies of Liberia’ is dedicated to encouraging everyone – particularly young Americans and new voters – to get involved in the democratic process. The site includes multiple avenues for increasing political involvement through voting, volunteering and leading. Related up-to-date news and campaign overviews are also provided.
The Economist’s ‘Democracy Index’
This 2007 study from The Economist examines the state of democracy in 167 countries and attempts to quantify this with an ‘Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy’ based on five general categories: free and fair election process; civil liberties; functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.
The Democracy Project
This website from PBS Kids provides an interactive tour of the various facets of American democracy, including information on the history of voting rights in America.
Freedom House contains up-to-date news and analysis from around the world, with a focus on transparency in democracy. The website also includes an interactive map that illustrates relative freedom and freedom of the press around the world, with in depth country analyses.
United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF)
The primary purpose of the United Nations Democracy Fund is to support democratization throughout the world. The site includes news on the state of democracy from around the world.
Center for Civic Education
The Center for Civic Education is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational corporation dedicated to promoting an enlightened and responsible citizenry committed to democratic principles and actively engaged in the practice of democracy in the United States and other countries. The organization offers extensive professional development opportunities as well as online access to many publications, videos and podcasts.
Democracy Now! is a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program hosted by journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. The show covers perspectives rarely heard in the US corporate-sponsored media. By providing people with access to independent and diverse sources of news and information, Democracy Now! works to ensure that the public has the resources available to meaningfully participate in the democratic process. The website includes access, in English and in Spanish, to articles, as well as audio and video reports.
Activities described in this Classroom Companion correspond to the following national standards from McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning).
World History Standards:
- Era 9: The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes
- Understands major global trends since World War II
World History Topics:
- Comparative analysis of culture and societies
- Demographic, economic, and social trends in Europe
- International diplomacy and relations
US History Standards:
- Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation
- 8. Understands the institutions and practices of government created during the Revolution and how these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights
- Era 4: Expansion and Reform
- 11. Understands the extension, restriction, and reorganization of political democracy after 1800
US History Topics:
- Development of state and national government post-American Revolution
- Development, ideology, and structure of political systems
- Comparative analysis of culture and societies
- Political parties, campaigns, and elections
- Roles of ordinary people in American democracy
- 1. Understand and know how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
- 2. Understands the historical perspective
- What is Government and What Should it Do?
- Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government
- Understands the essential characteristics of limited and unlimited governments
- Understands the sources, purposes, and functions of law, and the importance of the rule of law for the protection of individual rights and the common good
- Understands the concept of a constitution, the various purposes that constitutions serve, and the conditions that contribute to the establishment and maintenance of constitutional government
- Distinguishing characteristics of social and political participation
- Civil society and government
- Civic life, politics, and government
- Influence of American political ideas on other nations
- International diplomacy and relations
- International political developments in the United States and in other nations
- Limited and unlimited government
- Political and economic freedoms
- Political organizations and groups
- Political parties, campaigns, and elections
- Purpose and function of rules and laws
- 14. Understands how human actions modify the physical environment
- 15. Understands how physical systems affect human systems
- 1. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
- 6. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts
- 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
- 10. Understands the characteristics and components of the media
- People in Science
- Science, Technology, and Society
- 1. Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
- 3. Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the processes of computation
- 6. Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis
- 9. Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics