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. ACTIVITIES AND PROCEDURES: 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 elections. 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. TYING IT ALL TOGETHER: 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. ETHICS IN AMERICA: PUBLIC TRUST, PRIVATE INTERESTS "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. TRUST IN GOVERNMENT "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? THE FABRIC OF TRUST 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? PERSONAL TRUSTWORTHINESS 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? TABLE TALK 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 break?
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