Monday, September 15, 2008

All Together Now: International Day of Democracy

By combining a couple of Greek root words (demos meaning "the people," and kratein which means "to rule") we get a vocabulary term that describes an idea that originated in the Aegean world. That term is democracy. Government by the people was (and, in some places, continues to be) viewed as a revolutionary idea. Acknowledging the resilience and universality of the principles of democracy, the United Nations has declared today-- the 15th of September--the International Day of Democracy.

Essential questions (as described by Grant P. Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their book Understanding by Design) are the "big ideas" wrapped up in questions that humans continue to ponder over the course of a lifetime. Such questions lack easy answers. They can be used to engage students and encourage them to seriously ponder the core or the essence of a topic being studied. Essential questions are extremely useful in revealing what pupils think about a topic. A few such questions related to the topic of democracy are listed below. What follows is by no means an exhaustive list.
  • Why do we need government?
  • Why can't we just all agree?
  • What gives anyone--whether a person or group--the authority to decide for others?
  • What is the absolute best/worst form of government?
  • Will humans ever design a sustainable, humane form of government? If so, why, how, where or when?
  • What are the most important factors to consider when constructing any form of government?
  • Who is most qualified to be our leader?
  • What is the best (i.e., equitable, efficient, effective, lasting, et cetera) way to improve democracy (or other forms of government)?
  • Should there be one form of government that all humans should abide by?
  • Is a lack of government (i.e., peaceful anarchy) possible?
  • When do (or should) the needs of the many trump the rights of the individual?
  • What are the characteristics of an active citizen?
  • How is it possible for everyone in a society to retain the greatest amount of autonomy (individual freedom) and still enjoy the benefits of government?
  • What methods of political action promote or inhibit change?
  • Is democracy the best form of government or an outdated idea?

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