Introduction to Civic Education

What are Core Democratic Values?

Core Democratic Values are the fundamental beliefs and constitutional principles of American society that unite all Americans. These values are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and other significant documents, speeches, and writings of the nation. Based on the work of CIVITAS: A Framework for Civic Education, a collaborative project of the Center for Civic Education and the Council for the Advancement of Citizenship, the Michigan Council for the Social Studies identifies the following as Core Democratic Values:

Fundamental Beliefs:

  • Life - The individual's right to life should be considered inviolable except in certain highly restricted and extreme circumstances, such as the use of deadly force to protect one's own or others' lives.
  • Liberty - The right to liberty is considered an unalterable aspect of the human condition. Central to this idea of liberty is the understanding that the political or personal obligations of parents or ancestors cannot be legitimately forced on people. The right to liberty includes personal freedom: the private realm in which the individual is free to act, to think and to believe, and which the government cannot legitimately invade; political freedom: the right to participate freely in the political process, choose and remove public officials, to be governed under a rule of law; the right to a free flow of information and ideas, open debate and right of assembly; and economic freedom: the right to acquire, use, transfer and dispose of private property without unreasonable governmental interference; the right to seek employment wherever one pleases; to change employment at will; and to engage in any lawful economic activity.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness- It is the right of citizens in the American constitutional democracy to attempt to attain--to "pursue"--happiness in their own way, so long as they do not infringe upon rights of others.
  • Common Good- The public or common good requires that individual citizens have the commitment and motivation--that they accept their obligation--to promote the welfare of the community and to work together with other members for the greater benefit of all.
  • Justice- People should be treated fairly in the distribution of the benefits and burdens of society, the correction of wrongs and injuries, and in the gathering of information and making of decisions.
  • Diversity- Variety in culture and ethnic background, race, lifestyle, and belief is not only permissible but desirable and beneficial in a pluralist society.
  • Truth- Citizens can legitimately demand that truth-telling as refraining from Iying and full disclosure by government be the rule, since trust in the veracity of government constitutes an essential element of the bond between governors and governed.
  • Popular Sovereignty- The citizenry is collectively the sovereign of the state and holds ultimate authority over public officials and their policies.
  • Patriotism- Virtuous citizens display a devotion to their country, including devotion to the fundamental values and principles upon which it depends.

Constitutional Principles

  • Rule of Law - Both government and the governed should be subject to the law.
  • Separation of Powers - Legislative, executive, and judicial powers should be exercised by different institutions in order to maintain the limitations placed upon them.
  • Representative Government - The republican form of government established under the Constitution is one in which citizens elect others to represent their interests.
  • Checks and Balances - The powers given to the different branches of government should be balanced, that is roughly equal, so that no branch can completely dominate the others. Branches of government are also given powers to check the power of other branches.
  • Individual Rights - Fundamental to American constitutional democracy is the belief that individuals have certain basic rights that are not created by government but which government should protect. These are the right to life, liberty, economic freedom, and the "pursuit of happiness." It is the purpose of government to protect these rights, and it may not place unfair or unreasonable restraints on their exercise. Many of these rights are enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
  • Freedom of Religion - There shall be full freedom of conscience for people of all faiths or none. Religious liberty is considered to be a natural inalienable right that must always be beyond the power of the state to confer or remove. Religious liberty includes the right to freely practice any religion or no religion without governmental coercion or control.
  • Federalism - Power is shared between two sets of governmental institutions, those of the states and those of the central or federal authorities, as stipulated by the Constitution.
  • Civilian Control of the Military - Civilian authority should control the military in order to preserve constitutional government.

How are standards related to Civics Online?

Parents often ask why standards are so important in education. Of course, the broad answer is that they establish a base-line for expectations of what students should know. Assuring a good match between the materials that are available on Civics Online and standards such as the Michigan Curriculum Framework and the National Standards for Civics and Government has been a primary concern of the project. Standards, like the Social Studies Content Standards that are a part of the Michigan Curriculum Framework, are more than lists of what students should know. They also guide educators and parents in their expectations of what students should be able to do. For instance, one of the benchmarks for students in the civics stand of the Curriculum Framework is that they will be able to "explain the advantages and disadvantages of a federal system of government." To reach this goal, the Michigan Department of Education acknowledges standards of "higher order thinking, deep knowledge, substantive conversations, and connections to the world beyond the classroom" as the foundations for increased understanding and learning.

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Civics Online
Creation Date: 2/21/2000
Last Updated: 3/20/2005