Civic Virtue and Public Policy

9, 10, 11, 12

In this lesson, learners will explore and address the following questions: Who are the minority voices of the past and how has the civil society sector stepped in to protect their rights? What actions were effective? What public policies are in place to protect them? Who are the bullied today and what policies and practices should be in place to protect them? Why is it our responsibility as people with civic virtue to take action?

PrintTwo 45-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • discuss the results of private citizen voluntary action intended for the common good on public policy changes.
  • explain why private action is important to the protection of minority voices.
  • define philanthropy as giving time, talent, and treasure and taking action for the common good.
  • define civil virtue and give examples.
  • explore examples of victimized minorities who were denied their rights.
  • define the civil society sector and discuss citizen's responsibility to address society's needs.
  • news articles covering recent bullying episodes
  • news article covering the DOE statement about when bullying is a civil right violation, from October 2010
  • advocacy: the act or process of speaking in favor of a cause
  • bullying: repeated negative behavior with a desire to harm someone with less power (size, strength, or other perceived imbalance of power); The aggressor appears to enjoy the interaction, and the victim feels oppressed.
  • bully: a person who habitually acts with the intention of threatening, intimidating, or harming others, particularly people who appear weaker
  • civic virtue: morality or a standard of righteous behavior in relationship to a citizen's involvement in society. An individual may exhibit civic virtue by voting, volunteering, organizing a book group, or attending a PTA meeting.
  • civil rights: the rights of freedom guaranteed to all U.S. citizens as described in the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution
  • philanthropist: someone who gives time, talent, or treasure and takes action for the common good
  • social capital: personal investment of time through social interactions that builds trust and enables participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives
  • Read: Carmen and Sophie lived in the same neighborhood. They started out as friends, but now they fight more than get along. Carmen was quiet and did not like to get into arguments; she thought they should stop being friends. Sophie liked to tell her point of view, and did not mind getting angry and then making up; she wanted them to remain friends. Feeling frustrated about not getting along, Sophie started to gossip about Carmen to Carmen’s school friends. Carmen felt very hurt and sad, but she didn’t say anything to Sophie. Carmen started getting stomachaches because she was worried that her school friends would start believing Sophie and stop being her friend.
  • Discuss: Sometimes it seems like friends can speak different languages. They say one thing, but the friend hears it a different way. How can Sophie and Carmen show kindness and respect for each other? How could Carmen’s friends respond with kindness and fairness to the situation? Why is it important to speak directly to a friend you have an issue with rather than being silent or talking to other friends?


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the students to name--or describe for them--several situations in history where people were bullied or oppressed by a dominant group (Supreme Court in 1857 declares African Americans cannot be citizens; US Army in 1890 massacres Native Americans at Wounded Knee; Nazis in 1930s lead genocide of Jews; Police in Birmingham, AL in 1963 attack protesters of racial injustice; from 1948-1994 South Africa maintains system of racial segregation called Apartheid).

    Ask the students to describe the attributes of the bullies in these historical situations (angry, intolerant, afraid of losing power, hateful, arrogant, violent). Write their brainstormed attributes on the board and save for later in the lesson.

  2. Discuss how bullies in history are like the bullies we encounter at school or in our communities. All bullies are alike in that they have a perceived or actual power and use it to oppress a person or group in the minority (with less power or perceived power).

  3. Name (or have students recall) people in history who had empathy for others and stood up to bullying behavior or injustice (Sojourner Truth promoted fair laws for blacks and women, Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for equal rights for minorities, Gandhi led people in protest against an oppressive system of government, Nelson Mandela stood against the unjust system of Apartheid), Ask the students to describe the attributes of these people who gave their time, talent, and treasure to take action against bullies for the common good (peaceful, hopeful, positive, confident, dedicated, loving, dignified, trustworthy, empathic, proud). Write their attributes on the board next to the attributes of the historic bullies.

  4. Students work in small groups to conduct research on their assigned person or civil rights issue. This may be completed as homework and an additional class period. (See links to resources for the research in the Bibliographical References section.)

  5. These people who stood up to injustice were part of the civil society sector. The civil society sector is the part of society where most social change originates, and that takes action when the government and businesses cannot or will not take action to address an issue. It may be an individual, a social group, or a nonprofit organization. The civil society sector often acts to protect minority voices.

  6. These people who stood up to injustice exhibited civic virtue. Define civic virtue as morality or a standard of righteous behavior in relationship to a citizen's involvement in society. An individual may exhibit civic virtue by voting, volunteering, organizing a book group, advocating for justice, attending a PTA meeting.

  7. Discuss the types of actions that oppressed minorities have used to stand up to the bullies (protest, confident defiance, naming laws, discuss with peaceful reason, enforce natural consequences).

  8. Say, "Just as people in history stood up for civil rights, our school can take action to ensure that the rights of all students are respected by all students, staff, and the community." Ask them what they can learn from past civil rights leaders to change the bullying issue today. Assign to groups of students a variety of civil rights leaders or events to research and to discover diverse methods for civil action.

  9. Day Two

    Anticipatory Set:

    Take a "thumbs-up, thumbs-down"poll of the class by asking, Do you think bullying behavior in school prevents people from getting an equal education? Discuss the results of the poll by having an informal debate.

  10. Tell the students that in 2010, the Department of Education (DOE) of the U.S.government issued a statement saying that many instances of bullying may constitute a civil rights violation because they prevent individuals from getting an equal and safe education. Introduce students to the 2010 statement by the U.S. Department of Education. This is the statement in a letter to teachers:

  11. Here is a blog entry summarizing the intent of the statement:

  12. Here is the anti-bullying website with resources for schools: and a sub-page about LGBT bullying issues

  13. Read some excerpts from the DOE weblinks above, and discuss the idea of bullying as a civil rights issue in schools and how it should be treated in that light.

  14. Optional variation: Share the links above with the students. Assign different sections and links to groups of students to explore. Give the groups 10-15 minutes to read and prepare to share the content with the rest of the class as experts on their assigned sections.

  15. Discuss cases of bullying that have made the news, choosing examples where victims may have been targeted for different reasons, such as people with disabilities, LGBT teens, ethnic/religious minorities, or sexual harassment. Have students share how they feel about these cases. Talk about how these cases might have been prevented or diffused by civil action on the part of the school and students.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Provide examples from history of how the relationship between government and the civil society sector has changed.
      2. Benchmark HS.3 Identify an example of failure in each sector, and how the other sectors modified their roles in response.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
      2. Benchmark HS.5 Describe civil society advocacy organizations and their relationship to human rights.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Give examples from history of how intolerance of ideas, religion, and minorities contributed to social disintegration.
      2. Benchmark HS.7 Identify and give examples of the important roles women and minorities have played in the civil society sector in history.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.10 Discuss the results of private citizen voluntary action intended for the common good on public policy changes.
      2. Benchmark HS.11 Discuss why organizations in the civil society sector work to protect minority voices.
      3. Benchmark HS.12 Explain why private action is important to the protection of minority voices.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.