Academy Curricular Exchange
Columbia Education Center
Social Studies

TITLE:  Ethics in American Government

AUTHOR:  Riki Dewey, Willis High School, TX

GRADE LEVEL/SUBJECT:  12th honors government

OVERVIEW:  Students analyze the statement "Those who govern
in a democracy hold a 'public trust'."  This activity
provides exploration of ethical dilemmas which might face
our present government officials.

OBJECTIVES:  Students will be able to:
  1.  Explain what is meant by 'public trust'.
  2.  Explore and debate what is meant by ethics and ethical
      issues and how society might be impacted by choices
      and actions of government officials.
  3.  Analyze and evaluate hypothetical 'choices and action
      situations' via video tapes or printed literature.

RESOURCES/MATERIALS:  Annenberg/CPB Project "Ethics in
America" video series and literature packet.  TV/VCR.
Note:  Annenberg Packet can be used with literature only.
Teacher/Student groups may compose hypothetical situations.

  1.  Distribute handout "Ethics in America - Public Trust,
      Private Interests"
  2.  Discuss what is meant by 'public trust' and identify
      various government officials and their major roles.
  3.  Show video - hypothetical situations on political
      lobbying and the tactics used by officials in
  4.  Debate the ethical issues presented in each situation
      and evaluate each official's choices and actions.
  5.  Remember:  Teacher is only a moderator of the
      debates - allowing students to form opinions and
      positions independently.  A group consensus is not
      required or necessary.

  1.  Students independently evaluate a situation involving
      'mis-use of power' and prepare a 300-500 word essay.
  2.  A debate may follow completion of essays during
      subsequent class session.
  3.  This lesson is drawn upon throughout the study of
      American Government.


     "Trust everybody, but cut the cards," wrote Finley
Peter Dunne, and whether we want to or not, we find
ourselves doing just that.  Believing in the integrity,
ability, or character of another is easier said than done.
In a democracy, however, trust must exist between the people
and their elected officials.  On this episode of "Ethics in
America," the panel discusses the obligations of officials
to uphold the public trust, especially in those critical
moments when their own interests might conflict with the
best interests of the people.

  "How much of the time do you trust the government in
Washington to do what is right: just about always, most of
the time, or only some of the time?"  This was a question
asked by the Post/ABC News polling organization in seven
different surveys during 1985 - 1987.  The proportion of
respondents expressing trust in government most or all of
the time ranged between 38 and 45 percent; those saying they
trusted the government only some of the time, or never,
ranged from 56 to 62 percent.  How would you answer this
question?  What particular events have influenced your trust
in government?

  On the program. Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S.
Representative of the United Nations, states:  "It's very
important to restore the fabric of trust in our society.
It's been torn really almost to pieces."  Playing the role
of the President in the hypothetical case study, she insists
upon setting an example by trusting her Chief of Staff, who
has denied a charge that he has used drugs.  What do you
think are the best routes to restoring trust in our society?

  Most people have a good idea about the kind of people they
feel they can trust.  How do you distinguish between
individuals you can trust and those you can't?  Do you
consider yourself a trustworthy person?  Can you be counted
on to do what you say you will do?  How does your trust in
God influence the way you treat others?

  In a scene in the film "A Man for All Seasons," Sir Thomas
More explains to his daughter why he cannot take an oath in
which he does not believe:

     "When a make makes a promise, he puts himself into his
     own hands like water.  And if he opens his fingers to
     let it out, he need not hope to find himself again."

During your meals this week with family or friends, talk
about the promises you make to each other and to yourselves.
Consider the subtle ways in which we often let our promises
slip through our fingers.  Which oaths would you never


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