The Core Democratic Values

  "The Core Democratic Values are the fundamental beliefs and constitutional principles of our society, which units all Americans.  These values are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and other significant documents, speeches, and other writings our nation."  The term, by the way comes from a work of Thomas Jefferson.

Simply put the Core Democratic Values are ideals that are important to us as Americans. These values bind us together as a nation.

  Below is a list of the values you will be dealing with most at the K-7 level. 

Take a look at the Core Democratic Activities I have gathered for you.  They will not only help you discover if your students truly understand the concepts but give them practice identifying and internalizing them.

I have put together a neat activity that I use whenever I introduce the Core Democratic Values for the first time.  Take a look at The Core Democratic Sketchbook Activity and see if it fits your needs.


Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

  Mention the Declaration of Independence to most people and the first thing that usually pops into their minds are these seven words:  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  The Declaration tells us that we have these rights and it is the duty of our government to protect those rights.



A good definition here would be that as Americans we have the right to live without the fear of injury or being killed by others.  We believe everyone has the right to live.   Seems simple enough but there are still too many countries around the world where this basic right is not the case.  In the United States it is the primary responsibility of the government to protect the lives and safety of its citizens.

  As we talk to kids we can share the idea that in school and life we have rules to keep us safe and we should follow those rules.  

No Jumping on the Bed by Jim Alvaro is a great book to use in illustrating this idea.  



"Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others."               William Allen White

  Liberty can be defined as our right to think, act, or behave without any interference from our government.   Personal, political, and economic freedoms are found here.

  A good book to share is Leo Lionni's  Frederick.


Pursuit of Happiness

"Go West young man and grow up with the country."             Horace Greeley  

In our country everyone has the right to pursue happiness in their own way as long as they don't violate the rights others. 

Having fun at home or school, but following the rules is another way of sharing this idea.  The rules for adults say you may pursue happiness your way as long as it's legal, doesn't endanger the health, safety, and security of our country, and doesn't violate the rights of others.

A good book for sharing this concept is the Big Orange Spot by Daniel Pinkwater.


The Common Good

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

The common good is when we are all working together for the greater benefit of everyone in our community.  Building roads, schools, libraries are all examples of the common good.  Simply helping others at home or school is working towards a common good.

  The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a perfect example of the common good.



The concept of justice is the concept of fairness.  "Be fair!" or "That's not fair!" is usually the first thing we hear from our students when something doesn't go their way.  Fairness is what we all expect from each other and our leaders. When correcting wrongs or making decisions, we expect justice.  We expect everyone to be treated fairly.  Taking turns and being fair is a good way to share this concept with younger kids.  

Heroes by Eleanor Estes deals with the concept of justice.



  "ÖI have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed:  We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal." 

  Martin Luther King       1963


 According to our Constitution, people in our country, whether black or white, young or old, male or female, are guaranteed the right to be treated equally and fairly when it comes to politics, the law, or economic issues

This hasn't always been the case and our history is full of examples of people recognizing this and working to correct injustices.  Equality is about giving everybody an equal chance.  

Share the fascinating story Ruby Bridges  by Robert Coles with your students.



"Variety's the very spice of life that give it all its flavor."     William Cowper   1785

Someone once told me America is a mixture of different cultures blended together with equal liberties under the law.   In America, we respect and even celebrate those differences.  There are many examples of diversity that the kids see every day that you can share.  On the other hand you can talk about the many moments in our countries over the last 100 years where diversity was not appreciated.

Working and playing with everyone comes to mind when one thinks of diversity.

Be Good to Eddie Lee by Virginia Fleming is a great book to read to your students to share the concept of diversity.


William Shakespeare once said  "Above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." 

I believe that the concept of Truth is the most important Core Democratic Value. American democracy depends on our government and its citizens telling the truth.  Our nation works because of the bond between its citizens and its leaders. Truth is the glue of that bond.   Truth is trust, and without trust, we have nothing. We expect our government and its leaders to be truthful to us and they can expect the same.   

Share the book A Days Work by Eve Bunting with your students.


Popular Sovereignty

"We the peopleÖ"    The Constitution

This is the idea of majority rules. Whether itís a vote for the President of the United States or the presidency of your class, the one with the most votes wins.  But it is more than that.   Itís the idea that the power of this government comes from "We the People", that the American government, our government, is ruled by its people through their votes.

  The Story of the Mayflower Compact by Jim alvaro is a great book to share with your students to illustrate this concept.



"What a pity it is.  That we can die but once to serve our country."              Joseph Addison  

As we wrap up our quick look at the Core Democratic Values, I want to remind you that they are all important to us, that they all work together to make this great experiment called America work.

Simply stated, patriotism is a personal display of love and devotion to our country, its values, and principles.  Standing up during the singing of our national anthem at the start of a sporting event is just one way of showing patriotism.  Patriotism is more though, it means being aware of all of our Core Democratic Values and using them both at home and school.  

American Too by Elisa Barione is one book you can share with your students that develop the concept of patriotism.  



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©2001 Jim Alvaro/Kathy Vredevoogd







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