George H.W. Bush and the Common Good

9, 10, 11, 12

Students explore the legacy of George H. W. Bush and how he has contributed to the common good as part of his lifelong commitment to service and through his Points of Light initiative. The students work in small groups to answer questions and present to the class for discussion. Each student writes a tribute to someone he or she knows who inspires civic action.

PrintTwo 45-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • consider the impact of President Bush's ethic of service on history or national behavior.
  • collaborate to research and answer questions related to President Bush and service for the common good.
  • present to whole class and lead a discussion.
  • write a tribute to someone who models civic action for the common good.
  • student copies of briefing paper about George H. W. Bush 
  • Internet access at four computers (for small-group work)


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the students to raise their hands if they can identify the president who talked about "a thousand points of light." Ask them to recall for what the thousand points of light are a metaphor (figurative language in which an idea is used in place of another to show a likeness). If they don't know, tell them that the 41st President of the United States, President George H. W. Bush, used this metaphor to introduce the idea of volunteers taking civic action to address issues in the country that are unmet by government or business. Play the following video clip of that speech.

  2. Give a little background of George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush. Tell students the dates of his presidency, some of the major events of the time, and the projects they are best known for (available in the briefing paper about George Bush--see Materials).

  3. Tell students that in 2011, President Obama awarded George H.W. Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifelong commitment to service. President Obama said of Bush that "his humility and his decency reflects the very best of the American spirit. Those of you who know him, this is a gentleman. Inspiring citizens to become 'points of light' in service to others." Ask the students to explainwhat they think it means that giving and serving are related to the American spirit. (They may identify examples of people taking action for the common good in the forming and amending ofthe Constitution.)

  4. Set up four stations. At each station, provide a computer with internet access or printouts of resources related to the question at the station (see Materials). The students work in groups to answer the questions at their station. This is an opportunity to differentiate to student strengths.

    • Station One: What are five examplesof Bush's service (military and public)? You may include one or two actions of his family that show how the Bush family is commited to service. How have the Bush family actions impacted history or national behavior? How can families in general influence civic action for the common good? For a printout, use the briefing paper "Civic Virtue."
    • Station Two: Define civic virtue. In what ways are civic virtue or civic participation an essential element of democracy? Give examples of major changes in history led by civic action. What motivated people to give and serve? How does this affect our behavior today?
    • Station Three: Imagine you have just learned that 25 children at a local elementary school are living in poverty and do not eat breakfast or lunch each day. You know that they will do better in school if they eat regular, healthy meals. You feel empathy for these kids and you think our community will be better if the children are alert and get a good education. You personally cannot afford to provide food for these children. What action could you take to make sure they get food at school Monday through Friday? Write a plan of action.Then write a statement that tells how your plan is similar to Bush's plan to engage volunteersto serveneeds the government cannot or will not address.
    • Station Four: View the Tributes to George H. W. Bush in the news upon his death December 1, 2018. What do these tributes tell us about the motivations and actions of service leaders? 
  5. Students work in their groups and prepare to present what they learned to the rest of the class in the next session.

  6. Day Two

  7. Have students present their information to the whole class.

  8. After each presentation, reflect on the group's question as a whole class.

  9. Tell the students that philanthropy may be defined as "giving time, talent, or treasure and taking civic action for the common good." Have students reflect on personal motivations for giving and serving by answering three questions in writing: What are your family beliefs/practices related to giving (think of time, talent, and treasure)? What are the service-related traditions of your faith or ethnic group? What are your personal beliefs?

  10. Have students write a tribute to someone they know that inspires them to take civic action. 


In the group work, students participate cooperatively and contribute toward research, discussion, and preparing a report. They all participate in presenting to the group and facilitating a reflective discussion. Writing for the personal tribute must use narrative style. The writing should be in the first person, name a person to be honored,and include supporting evidence of why this person deserves the tribute. Bonus points for creativity and original details.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Discuss the role of family life in shaping a democratic society.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Compare and discuss the interaction of families, business, government, and the civil society sector in a democratic society.
      3. Benchmark HS.3 Identify how subgroups and families in society demonstrate giving, volunteering, and civic involvement.
  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. 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.2 Discuss civic virtue and its role in democracy.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Give an example of individual philanthropic action that influenced national or world history.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.