This section is broken down into four topics: 1) Participatory Democracy; 2) The "Public Airwaves;" 3) The Election Process & the Right to Vote; 4) The Presidency, Politics, and the Broadcast Media.

Glossary items, student activities, and teacher resources deal with and raise questions about citizenship responsibilities, the role of the federal government in protecting certain rights, and the impact the media have had on the public perception of that role.

The learning goals and objectives for each topic have been adapted from the Illinois Learning Standards for the Social Sciences, which were adopted in 1997 (visit for more information). These standards are easily adaptable to learning standards in other states.

Social Science Goals

  • Understand and explain basic principles of the United States government.
  • Understand election processes and responsibilities of citizens.
  • Understand the roles and influences of individuals and interest groups in the political system of the United States.
  • Understand the development of the United States' political ideas and traditions.

Participatory Democracy

Lessons in the area of participatory democracy can be designed around questions concerning the meaning of active citizenship, how information about government can be accessed, and how such information has historically been limited or denied to certain groups. As they explore these important issues, students can:

  • Describe the fundamental principles of representative government.
  • Describe and evaluate why rights and responsibilities are important to the individual.
  • Analyze how national government serves the purposes for which it was created.
  • Describe the meaning of participatory citizenship.

The "Public Airwaves"

Theoretically, the bandwidth spectrum through which radio and television broadcasts are transmitted is public property. What responsibility do private radio and television companies have for using that spectrum in the public interest? Should the government intervene to ensure that that responsibility is met? These questions and others concerning government regulation, censorship and corporate responsibility can be introduced to students as they build an understanding of civil rights and public policy formation. In doing so, students can:

  • Analyze ways in which federalism protects individual rights and promotes the common good.
  • Identify the roles of civic leaders.
  • Explain ways that individuals and groups influence and shape public policy.
  • Identify consistencies and inconsistencies between expressed United States political traditions and ideas and actual practices.

The Election Process & the Right to Vote

Most people are aware that the right to vote has historically been denied to certain groups of people. The U.S. Constitution defined voters narrowly, and it has only been through the passage of certain constitutional amendments and federal laws that the right to vote has been extended to people of color, to women, and to adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. Gaining historical perspective on the right to vote is critical to preparing students for participation in the political process. Students can:

  • Analyze the consequences of participation and non-participation in the electoral process.
  • Determine the historical events and processes that brought about changes in United States political ideas and tradition.
  • Describe how the United States' political ideas, practices and technologies have extended rights for Americans in the 20th century.
  • Interpret how changing geographical, economic, technological and social forces affect the United States' political ideas and traditions.
  • Describe how the United States' political ideas and traditions were instituted in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Presidency, Politics, and the Broadcast Media

Political leaders and candidates have long relied upon mass communication with the public. How has politics in general, and the U.S. presidency in particular, been affected by the broadcast media of radio and television? Each has shaped the other, and by exploring this interaction, students can:

  • Describe and analyze the roles and influences of individuals, groups and media in shaping current debates on state and national policies.
  • Explain ways that individuals and groups influence and shape public policy.