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How to Revitalize American Democracy

February 26, 2024

How to Revitalize American Democracy

Ask students: What are some ways Danielle Allen thinks American democracy could be reinvented? When did the bipartisan commission start to work on the Our Common Purpose report? When did they complete it?

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A new Pew Research Center study confirmed what you might already suspect: Americans feel intense dissatisfaction with the way our government currently works and a growing distaste for both political parties. One of the main voices calling for sweeping change is Danielle Allen, a political theorist at Harvard. Judy Woodruff followed her to Tennessee for her series, America at a Crossroads.

View the transcript of the story.

NewsHour Classroom has a collection of lessons based on Woodruff's series, America at a Crossroads, including a more in-depth lesson plan based on this video.

News alternative: Check out recent segments from the NewsHour, and choose the story you’re most interested in watching. You can make a Google doc copy of discussion questions that work for any of the stories here.

Remote video URL

Key Terms

bipartisan -- involving the cooperation of two political parties that usually oppose each other's policies

Warm Up Questions

  1. Who are the individuals and organizations featured in the piece?
  2. What are some ways Danielle Allen thinks American democracy could be reinvented?
  3. When did the bipartisan commission start to work on the Our Common Purpose report? When did they complete it?
  4. Why was the report commissioned?
  5. How did the two former Tennessee governors contribute to the main goals of the piece?

Focus Questions

“That the people have an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform or change their Government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.” — James Madison, June 8, 1789

  1. Read Madison's quote a few times. Do you think that most Americans know or believe that in a democracy power lies with the people? What are factors that help citizens believe in Madison's words? What factors might make them skeptical of his words?
  2. Which solutions do you support from the Our Common Purpose report to revitalize democracy in America? Or explain why you might not support any of the solutions discussed.

Media literacy: Why do you think the NewsHour chose to focus on Danielle Allen's work with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and their 2020 report Our Common Purpose? How could you find out about other organizations doing similar work?

Alternative: See, Think, Wonder: What did you notice? What did the story make you think? What would you want to find out more about?

For More

What students can do:

  1. Read this recent study on the state of American democracy about how fewer than half of the Americans that participated in the study believe democracy is not working well. Next complete State of American democracy prediction quiz with a friend, classmate, family member or neighbor.
  2. Dig deeper into Americans' growing distaste for politics -- and existing suggestions for revitalizing American democracy with this lesson plan, Reinventing American democracy by Ryan Werenka, AP government teacher in Troy, Michigan.
    Lesson link: https://bit.ly/3wan4Vv

Republished with permission from PBS NewsHour Classroom.

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