Joanne Flint, Dayton Junior/Senior High School, Dayton, OR HOME-MADE POLITICAL PARTIES Appropriate for grades 9-12. OVERVIEW: "Let me...warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of Party..." George Washington Farewell Address, 1796 George Washington was not the first to warn the nation against political parties. The framers of the Constitution feared that man's natural tendency to join together with others of similar opinions would encourage divisions into special interest groups rather than a commitment to the "general welfare." They hoped the Constitution would control the "factions" and prevent them from pursuing their selfish interests at the expense of other citizens' interests or the common welfare. They established the system of checks and balances to this end. However, the political party, an institution that many of those who wrote the Constitution hoped would never arise in America -- is now vital in the general operation of our political system. Parties are crucial throughout the election process as they offer choices and clarify issues for the voting public. They help administer the local, state and national conventions from which candidates and platforms emerge. Our two-party system provides leadership to develop policies and govern while in power...or...constructive criticism while out of power. While not mentioned once in the Constitution political parties have in fact become an institution of government and an understanding of their role is essential for all citizens. PURPOSE: The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an understanding of the role of political parties in our democracy, by offering them an opportunity to participate in one of the primary activities of any party, writing a platform. OBJECTIVES: Students will be able to: 1. Identify the two major political parties and the key elements of their platforms. 2. Identify several minor political parties. 3. Describe the process used for development of a party platform at the local, state and national levels. 4. Describe the democratic process used by a committee to develop a platform. 5. Explain personal views on several current issues. 6. Compare personal views with those of the two major political parties. ACTIVITIES: Day 1: Introduce students to the activity by providing a copy of the Voter Registration Form for your state. Point out that they will be asked to record a party preference on this form. Explain to the students that there are two major political parties as well as minor parties in the United States today and that each party explains what it believes in a party platform. Provide students with unlabeled summaries of the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms and ask students to make a check by the position with which they agree most. Based on this survey, place the students into two groups and ask them to compare views looking for areas where they have consensus. Each group should elect a spokesperson and recorder. Have the spokesperson share the areas of consensus with the entire class. Day 2: Explain to students that when political platforms are written there is usually a great deal of debate and dissention and compromise is required to agree on the final document. Sometimes, however, the issues are too important to individuals to compromise and they find it necessary to break away and start their own party. Students are to begin this process, using the democratic process of majority vote and the spokesperson must have a progress report at the end of the period. Day 3: Students will have this day to work on their platforms. After viewing examples of actual platforms (minus names) each group is to prepare and sign a final draft of their platform. The party should be named and the group prepared to defend the party's positions. Day 4. Presentations of Party Platforms and question/debate as time allows. Day 5. Students will return to the Democratic and Republican Platform summaries handed out in Day 1, and determine if their selection between the parties would be the same. The parties would then be identified. Students would be asked to write a paper comparing their views on current issues with those of the two major parties. RESOURCES/MATERIALS NEEDED: To write for Party Platforms: Republican Party Democratic Party 310 First St., S.E. 430 Capitol St., S.E. Washington, DC 20003 Washington, DC 20003 American Party of the U.S. Communist Party U.S.A. P.O. Box 597 235 West 23rd St. Provo, UT 84604 New York, NY 10001 Socialist Party U.S.A. Libertarian National Committee 516 W. 25th St. 301 W. 21st New York, NY 10001 Houston, TX 77008 Prohibition National Committee Americans for Democratic Action P.O. Box 2635 815 15th St, N.W. Denver, CO 80201 Washington, D.C. 20005 TYING IT ALL TOGETHER: This activity can be adapted for use in a variety of classes. In a U.S. History class the Federalist (Hamiltonian) and Democratic-Republic (Jeffersonian) platforms can be used giving students a greater understanding of the foundations of the two major political parties in our country. It can be used in a high school government or civics class to aid students in formulating views on current issues, selecting a political party, or understanding the democratic process. The activity can be extended to reinforce levels of government by requiring two or more classes to come together (as a state party) and two or more schools to come together as a national party to develop platforms. It can also provide an introduction to the election process by requiring the parties to nominate a candidate to run for office, then fulfill its obligations in the political campaign. Once the activity is completed it is very interesting to discuss whether the Founding Fathers concerns were valid, whether the Constitution has done an adequate job of protecting the minority from political "factions," or whether political parties serve an important function in our political system.
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