A STUDY OF GOVERNMENT
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A study of government usually brings a collective "UGH" from most upper level high school students. They've had many civics lessons since elementary grades, and they are sure they know enough to function in society or at least know where they can find a book to look up the facts necessary to answer a question. Yet too few have understood the necessity of government. They assume government, especially a democratic one, has always existed and always will. Why we have a government that holds us together yet doesn't crush us is taken for granted. This unit helps students understand the philosophy of politics and government. It is a good introductory unit to the study of government for any grade level.
The purpose of this unit is to force students to think about the basic questions of government. Why do we need government, what should it do, and what form should it take?
As a result of completing the activities in this unit, students will demonstrate the following skills and understandings:
1. Describe an imaginary situation where a state of nature exists.
2. Define republic, democracy, anarchy, autocracy, aristocracy, and plutocracy.
Divide students into groups of five. Groups should NOT be instructed to elect a leader or appoint a recorder.
All actions in the group should be a natural outcome of the personalities in the group.
1. Define a state of nature, an imaginary situation where no government exists.
2. Imagine that all the students in your school were transported to an island where there were enough natural resources for you to live on, but where no one had lived before. When you arrived you had no means of communicating with people in other parts of the world. On the basis of this situation have students decide what actions they would take for their stay on the island. (Share findings with the whole class.)
3. Present the groups with a new set of facts. Imagine that at this point you discover other groups of people living near you. (You may make this a rival school or leave it to their imaginations.) Have each group discuss their actions upon possibilities could include isolationism, war, or cooperation in the form of a treaty. How would their community go about adapting to the changes now present. (Share findings with the whole class.)
4. Introduce a new scenario. Pirates have been raiding all groups on the island. Their actions have been quite effective. They appear to be stronger than any single group living on the island. How would your community react to the problem of outsiders and the potential destruction of your community? (Share findings with the whole class.)
5. Define republic, democracy, anarchy, autocracy, aristocracy, and plutocracy. Each group should devise examples of when each of these forms of government could at some time exist in their community.
6. Have each group redefine their government. How would they incorporate others on the island? How would they deal with outside enemies? How would they get the community to accept their government?
No special resources needed for this activity.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER:
It is important in this activity to give each group ample time to reveal their ideas to other groups. With very little time passing it will be easy to recognize a distinct personality for each group. This can easily lead to a discussion of political parties and their varying philosophies when you end the unit.
You can also spend some time guessing and theorizing who would provide the food, etc. Students will be able to name names of students in school. Interestingly enough, they usually realize that the best leaders in school are not always the ones elected to leadership positions in school organizations.
Another interesting way to finish this activity is to see the similarities in establishing a colony, recognizing other colonies, and uniting to fight a common enemy.
Students usually become quite territorial about their group. They will name it, take great pride in it, etc. Occasionally some members will ask to move to another group because they are always in the minority. This proves to be an excellent lesson on "majority rules."
Students are so indoctrinated in democracy that they seldom see advantages of other forms of government. This exercise helps them see the efficiency of dictatorships and conversely the cumbersome wheels of democracy. However, will always prefer to establish a clone democratic government.
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