Personal Definition of Civic Virtue

9, 10, 11, 12

The learners analyze different examples from history of civic virtue and then select the characteristics they believe are most important for enduring citizen engagement.

PrintOne to Two Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • define characteristics of civic virtue.
  • write an essay arguing whether the civic virtue of United States citizens today is of enduring nature.
  • copies for one-third of the group of each of these handouts:
  1. Philosophy of Rousseau
  2. The Iroquois Confederacy Constitution
  3. Alexis deTocqueville's Democracy in America
  • one copy Key Terms and Phrases Related to Civic Virtue
  • copies of handout Holistic Scoring Guide for Civic Writing
  • copies of handout Instructions for First Essay on Civic Virtue
  • Constitution Society Web site. Constitution of the Iroquois Nation.
  • Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Edited by Edward Hacker. New York: Washington Square Press, 1973.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Discuss the role of civic virtues as the glue holding our society together. The Founding Fathers defined civic virtues in the Federalist Papers and other documents. They believed that we must act with these virtues in pursuit of the common good (as a counter-example, it isn't a virtue to act bravely if it is done to hurt someone). These are the civic virtues:

    • Justice
    • Self-Governance/Moderation
    • Humility
    • Responsibility/Prudence
    • Perseverance
    • Courage
    • Respect
    • Contribution
    • Integrity
  2. Explain that many different cultures and writers have contributed to our modern understanding of this concept. We are going to read three perspectives from history and compare them.

    Have the participants form three groups: A, B, and C. 

  3. Give each member of group A a copy of Rousseau, group B members a copy of The Iroquois Confederacy Constitution, and each C member a copy of the Tocqueville excerpts from Democracy in America.

  4. They individually read the selection they have been given and underline all words or phrases that could be considered part of the definition of civic virtue.

    • The handout Key Terms and Phrases Related to Civic Virtue provides the facilitator with a list of words and phrases that should be found in each article.
    • Allow about 15 minutes for the individual reading Amount of time may vary based upon the reading level.
  5. Give each group a piece of chart paper and a marker. They are to discuss the article they read, listen to the other readers, and then create a poster that summarizes the author's view of civic virtue and includes the key words or phrases of that author's definition of civic virtue. Spend some time with each group to make sure that they are identifying the key phrases.

  6. Have each group present their poster. Lead a discussion on the similarities and differences between the authors.

    As a reflection, each person writes a definition of civic virtue and lists at least five words or phrases from all three posters that fit their definition of civic virtue.

  7. Each individual writew a first draft of an essay, with the handout as a guide: Instructions for Essay on Civic Virtue.

    The essays may be evaluated using the rubric: Holistic Scoring Guide for Civic Writing.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. 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. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Analyze philanthropic traditions of diverse cultural groups and their contributions to civil society.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss civic virtue and its role in democracy.