Seeds of Our Democracy—Core Values

6, 7, 8

This introductory lesson will provide students the opportunity to examine their own personal values and the source of the influence which helped them form those values. The learner will then be introduced to the Core Democratic Values which citizens hold in common and their role as the source to inspire philanthropic action. Finally, students will learn the connection between Core Democratic Values and the founding documents.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • define at least five Core Democratic Values.
  • explain the role of Core Democratic Values as commonly held beliefs among citizens which inspire them to act philanthropically.
  • explain the connection between Core Democratic Values and the founding documents.
  • Chart with the heading "Family, Religion, Personal Experience, Peers"
  • Construction paper or poster board
  • Markers, colored pencils, crayons
  • A Question to Ponder-What Do We Believe? (Attachment One)
  • School/Home Connection (Attachment Two)
Home Connection 

This activity has two parts. The first part will provide an opportunity for students to reflect upon their family as the source of personal beliefs. The second part will provide students an opportunity to describe the eight Core Democratic Values and their role in encouraging citizens to be involved by giving of their time, talent, and/or treasure. Use School/Home Connection (Attachment Two) for this activity. Teacher Note: Each individual teacher should determine appropriateness of the activity for his/her particular students and parents/caregivers.


  1. Anticipatory Set: Write the word "believe" in very large letters. Then give an example of something you believe which is superficial (e.g., I believe that chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream). Next, give an example of something you believe which is serious (e.g., I believe that people should be treated with respect). Then ask the students to tell something which they believe. Elicit both frivolous and serious responses. Create a list of student responses on chart paper, whiteboard, chalkboard, or overhead.

  2. Once a variety of responses has been generated, state the belief and ask, "All those who believe or agree with (state belief), please stand." Emphatically point out to students that this is a commonly held belief among their peers (if the majority stand). Do this with several beliefs. Display a chart with the headings, "Family, Religion, Personal Experience, Peers" across the top. Ask students to state a belief they contributed to the list and then decide what influenced the formation of that belief. Students may realize that some beliefs will need to be listed under more than one category.

  3. In order to connect student experience and understanding to the concepts of this lesson, state serious civic beliefs such as:

    • "Stand if you believe it is important to vote."
    • "Stand if you believe it is important to express your opinion."
    • "Stand if you believe all people are created equal."
    • "Stand if you believe it is important to tell the truth."
  4. Directly teach that these common fundamental beliefs, which citizens believe are important, are called Core Democratic Values, and they have their origin in the founding documents just as our personal beliefs have their origin in family, religion, personal experience and/or peers. Ask students what they think the connection is between the Core Democratic Values and the founding documents. Be sure to emphasize that the writers were inspired by the desire to protect their values as citizens and so they expressed their ideals and expectations in the founding documents. The Bill of Rights and Constitution emphasize the importance of protecting our individual rights. The Declaration of Independence outlines the importance of government to act in accordance with values. All the documents show the value of popular sovereignty -that government must be for the people and by the people. These documents show the lasting power and need for collective action to state and preserve our values.

  5. To discover some of those commonly held beliefs, have students engage in the following activity. Divide students into eight small groups (approximately 3-4 students per group) and provide a prompt question for discussion. Each group should have a different question which relates to one of the following Core Democratic Values: Truth, Justice, Equality, Diversity, Patriotism, Individual Rights, Common Good, and Popular Sovereignty (do not identify the Core Democratic Value at this time). The following list provides a sample question for each Core Democratic Value:

    • Should people tell little lies to protect the feelings of others?
    • Should people follow rules even if they are unfair?
    • Should females be allowed to play on teams that are usually all-male teams?
    • Should people in the United States speak their native language, wear their native dress, and practice their traditions?
    • Should people criticize our government when they feel it is necessary?
    • Should children have a right to privacy regarding their lockers at school or bedrooms at home?
  6. Ask the members of each group to answer the question posed and then give supporting reasons for their stand. Each group should designate a recorder to write down the group's responses on the form A Question to Ponder - What Do We Believe? (Attachment One)

  7. Write the eight Core Democratic Values on the chalkboard: Truth, Justice, Equality, Diversity, Patriotism, Individual Rights, Common Good, and Popular Sovereignty. Ask a spokesperson from each group to share their question and group responses. Encourage other groups to take a stand on the question posed to another group to facilitate greater student involvement. While the student is speaking, write down key words and phrases which relate to the Core Democratic Value. Ask students if they can identify the related Core Democratic Value from the list on the board. At this time be sure to emphasize that the ideal is all citizens acting responsibly with consideration of the Core Democratic Values. Sometimes the reality is that it is challenging to make decisions in light of these values.

  8. Once this process is completed for all eight groups/eight Core Democratic Values, ask each group to develop a description, in their own words, of the value. This may be done using pictures and words on paper or poster board. These can be used as student generated teaching posters displayed under the words for each Core Democratic Value.

  9. Directly teach that these values are the influencing source which leads citizens to be philanthropically involved. Let students reflect on each of the values and the student generated descriptions. Then ask students to brainstorm actions (using time, talent, and/or treasure) people may engage in to show their support of and beliefs in the values.


The assessment for this lesson will be in the form of a journal entry. Reflecting upon the lesson taught and eight Core Democratic Values learned, students will respond to the following prompt: "Which Core Democratic Value holds the most importance to you? Define it in your own words and tell why you value it most. Then tell why you think the writers of the founding documents wanted to ensure the protection and promotion of that value."

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.6 Describe how the founding documents and fundamental democratic principles encourage citizens to act philanthropically.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.6 Identify and explain how fundamental democratic principles relate to philanthropic activities.