Great Debate: Do Americans Have Civic Virtue?
  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss civic virtue and its role in democracy.
    2. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Participate in acts of democratic citizenship in the community, state or nation, such as petitioning authority, advocating, voting, group problem solving, mock trials or classroom governance and elections.

Having formulated an initial opinion on whether or not today's Americans exhibit civic virtue, hold a debate to defend their positions and analyze those of others.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • make a statement on whether or not today's Americans have enduring civic virtue and support that conclusion with at least two examples in a debate.
  • pose civil responses to opposing arguments.
  • Summary of Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam (handout)
  • Summary of AARP Survey on Civic Involvement (handout)
Home Connection: 

Assign reading of two articles: Bowling Alone and the AARP Study of Civic Involvement summary. They mark specific examples of American activities showing that most Americans do have civic virtue, and facts and examples that would prove most Americans do not. They identify a minimum of three examples for each position.

  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask for a show of hands of those who argue that most citizens have enduring civic virtue versus those who argue that most citizens are self serving.

  2. Call on two to four students to read their essays aloud, alternating between those who believe most Americans do have civic virtue (pro) and those who believe most Americans do not have civic virtue (con).

  3. Meet in smaller groups of people who take the same view:

    • Read their essays to each other.
    • Decide on the two best arguments to support the point of view of the group.
    • Appoint one group member to write the arguments on the board; all members of the group are prepared to explain the examples when called on.
  4. When all groups have put their examples on the board, the spokespersons from each group has one to two minutes to explain their arguments and to answer questions about what the example means. This is not the time to defend or attack the examples, just to make sure everyone understands what they are.

  5. Everyone should write down the examples used by the opposing side during the debate because they will need to make reference to at least one of those examples in their final essay.

  6. Students should now be given five minutes to go back to their groups and develop responses to the examples given by the opposing side. Assign each group two examples for which they must develop a response. Their goal is to show that the examples are not true or that they are not sufficiently documented to draw the opposition's conclusion. For example, the group that says most Americans have enduring civic virtue may use an example that many people came to the aid of the September 11 victims. The group that believes most U.S. citizens do not have enduring civic virtue should develop an argument explaining why this example does not show most citizens have enduring civic virtue (they might support their argument using responses to past crises).

  7. All members of the group should be prepared to present arguments refuting the examples given by the opposition in the debate. Use a random system for selecting the actual spokesperson. Depending on the amount of time left at this point, each side should be given one to two minutes for its rebuttal.


The assessment of the soundness of the arguments presented will come when the students attempt to find real evidence to support the position they took as they read two articles which have been assigned for homework. Further assessment can be made of student participation in the group discussions. The following should be observed: Did the student actively participate in defending his/her position? Did the student provide logical and defensible support for his/her position? Was the student able to identify the opposing points of view? Did the student provide logical responses to arguments on opposing side?