"We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society" (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, ¶ 9)
Citizenship is simply legal status in a country, but democratic citizenship involves much more. It demands becoming informed about issues that affect you and participating with others in determining how society will resolve those issues (Portelli & Solomon, 2001, p. 12).
Many countries throughout history have been governed by elite men and women who make laws and legal judgments with little input from their citizens. The founders of democratic nations, however, believed in creating a government where the "common man" could have a voice in politics. For such an approach to work, citizens must become aware, knowledgeable, and active in their communities and nations. True democratic citizenship requires more than voting for representatives. It requires using one's own mind, voice, and actions.
No one is born into the world with rights. Societies decide what rights it will give citizens and what powers it will give government. Rights can be taken away and governmental powers can grow beyond reasonable limits unless citizens are watchful. The core of democracy "assumes that our rights and liberties do not come for free, that unless we assume the responsibilities of citizens we will not be able to preserve them" (Barber, 1998, p. 195).
Democracies are built on the belief that people should be free, should have choices and opportunities, and should work together to make each other's lives better. If we want to maintain our democratic society, we must teach our children to be good citizens – which goes beyond teaching them to obey the laws of the land. We must also teach them about how their freedoms began and how they're maintained. We must teach them that they can make a difference and that if they don't become involved democratic citizens, they risk losing their free way of life.
Parents are crucial in helping children understand democratic citizenship. Tim Graves (2002), an educator and father, offers three ideas for showing your children by your example and actions that democratic citizenship matters:
Below are activities that can help you teach your children democratic citizenship.
Suggested books for younger children:
A Boy Called Slow, by J. Bruchac (1994). New York: Philomel Books.
The Story of Ruby Bridges, by R. Coles (1995). New York: Scholastic.
Eleanor, by B. Cooney, B. (1996). New York: Viking.
Peaceful Protest: The Life of Nelson Mandela, by Y.Z. McDonough (2002). New York: Walker and Company.
Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale, by J. Steptoe (1987). New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.
Suggested books for older children:
Through My Eyes, by R. Bridges (1999). New York: Scholastic.
Cesar Chavez, by B. W. Concord (1992). Broomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.
Marie Curie, by L. E. Fisher (1994). New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton? By J. Fritz (1995). New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
A Ripple of Hope: The Life of Robert F. Kennedy, by B. Harrison & D. Terris (1997). New York: Lodestar Books.
Helen Keller: Out of a Dark and Silent World, by S. H. Shictman (2002). Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, Inc.
Suggested books for younger children:
Suggested books for older children:
Below are additional resources for finding activities that teach democratic citizenship.
As you choose activities, the questions below can help you discern what your children need to learn.
Researcher Kathleen Cotton (1996) reviewed many studies about teaching children democratic citizenship, and she found several factors that scholars say contribute to ineffective teaching:
Issues facing entire communities and nations too often are decided with little input from citizens. Teaching children responsible citizenship by example and precept is an important responsibility of parenthood.
Written by Sarah A. Smith, Research Assistant, edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
Barber, B. R. (1998). A passion for democracy: American essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Chilcoat, G. W., &; Ligon, J. A.
(2003-2004, Fall-Winter). "It is democratic
citizens we are after:" The possibilities and the expectations for the social
studies from the writings of Shirley H. Engle. International Journal of Social
Education, 18, 76-88.
Cotton, K. (1996). Educating for citizenship. School improvement research series. Retrieved from http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/10/c019.html.
Goodman, J. (1989). Education for critical democracy. Journal of Education, 171, 2, 88-116.
Graves, T. (2002). Building democracy in our schools and families. Retrieved from http://www.trainingwheels4ece.com/talk/building_democracy.htm.
Kohl, H. (1980). Can the schools build a new social order? Journal of Education, 162, 57-66.
Moyer, B. (2001). Doing democracy: The MAP model for organizing social movements. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Portelli, J. P. & Solomon R. P. (Eds.). (2001). The erosion of democracy in education. Calgary, AB: Detselig Enterprises Ltd.
Smith, W. J., Butler-Kisber, L., LaRocque, L. J., Portelli, J. P., Shields, C. M., Sturge Sparks, C. & Vibert, A. B. (1998). Student engagement in learning and school life: National project report. Montreal, QC: Office of Research on Educational Policy.
Free agency is at the center of the plan of salvation. Individuals cannot develop toward their eternal potential unless they are free to choose how they think, speak, and behave. When governments limit -- or bar -- citizens from participating in their own governance and when they infringe on the basic human rights of freedom of speech, action, and religious worship, they thwart optimal individual development.
Prophets and scripture warn that political violence and corruption will increase in the latter-days. It's thus important that Latter-day Saints stay vigilant in protecting the political freedoms essential to practicing the gospel and sharing it with others (May, 1976, p. 48). The Church calls upon its members who live in democratic countries to be good democratic citizens. That means becoming knowledgeable about community and national problems, participating in solving them, working to protect freedom, and exercising the privilege of voting.
Because democratic citizenship is so important, parents need to teach their children about it from an early age. Elder Russell M. Ballard recently said, "Parents bear the first and greatest responsibility to teach their children principles of gospel living and good citizenship" (1997, p. 38).
Below are suggestions for helping you teach your children democratic citizenship.
Set aside regular Family Home Evening lessons for teaching democratic citizenship.
Read scriptures together that emphasize free agency and the blessings obtained by personal righteousness.
Help history come alive for your children by telling stories that show what life can be like when people are not able to live in freedom.
Consult resources for lessons and activities, such as those listed in the Teaching Children Democratic Citizenship (Main) article.
Watch for your children around baptismal age to become especially receptive to teachings about democratic citizenship. Age 8 to 12 is an ideal time to teach them about citizenship and personal responsibility.
Ballard, M. R. (1997, November). Standing for truth and right. Ensign, 37- 40.
Flinders, N. J. (1975, March). Principles of parenting, part 1. Ensign, 51-55.
Hales, R. D. (2001, November). Fulfilling our duty to God. Ensign, 38–41.
May, C. L. (1976, June). Beyond voting: Some duties of the LDS citizen. Ensign, 46-48.
Thomas, S. W. & Thomas, R. K. (1976, June). Declaration of dependence: Teaching patriotism in the home. Ensign, 39-41.