Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Great Debate (The)--Do Americans Today Have
Civic Virtue? (10th Grade)
Lesson 1
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework

Focus Question(s):

What is each person's responsibility for environmental stewardship?

NOTE: Prior to this lesson, use the Blue Sky Activity in which students envision a better world.  If you already have a Blue Sky display, revisit it before beginning this lesson.


Having formulated an initial opinion on whether or not Americans today exhibit civic virtue, the learners will defend their positions in light of the opinions of writers. They will make a personal plan to exhibit civic virtue through civic engagement in an environmental stewardship act.


One Fifty-Minute Class Period


The learner will:

  • define the terms civic, virtue, civic responsibility, civic engagement.
  • formulate a personal opinion concerning the status of civic virtue in America and support that opinion with defensible rationale.
  • design a personal plan to exhibit civic virtue by caring for the environment.


  • Copies for half of the class of Attachment One: Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital
  • Copies for half of the class of Attachment Two: AARP Survey on Civic Involvement -Summary
  • Copies for all students of Attachment Three: An Action Plan 
Handout 1
Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital
Handout 2
AARP Survey on Civic Involvement - Summary
Handout 3
Action Plan

Instructional Procedure(s):

Anticipatory Set:

Place the words: civic, virtue, civic virtue, civic responsibility, civic engagement and social capital on the display board and ask learners to help you define these terms.


(adj.) Relating to or of a citizen, city, or citizenship


(n) Morality, goodness or uprightness; a special type of goodness – virtuous (adj.), virtuously (adv.)

Civic virtue

(n) Morality, goodness or uprightness; a special type of goodness relating to or of a citizen, city of citizenship – virtuous (adj.), virtuously (adv.)

Civic responsibility

(n) A person’s duty or obligation to their community as a citizen

Social capital

(community capital) (n) Features of social life-norms, and trust that enable participants to act. The "banked" good will of the people in a society that can be used as a resource in times of trouble or conflict.

Social capital Community capital


(community capital) (n) Features of social life-norms, and trust that enable participants to act. The "banked" good will of the people in a society that can be used as a resource in times of trouble or conflict.


  • Tell the students that there is a great debate about whether or not Americans today are loosing their sense of civic responsibility and civic virtue.  They are going to have the opportunity to join the debate.

  • Divide the class in half.  Give one half copies (one per learner) of Attachment One: Bowling Alone, and the other half copies (one per learner) of Attachment Two: AARP Survey.  Teacher or group selects two co-leaders to take notes and represent the group in the debate for each group.

  • Instruct the groups to read their assigned article, prepare to share the highlights of that article and defend its stance (Yes - Americans continue to have civic virtue – AARP Article, or No - Americans are losing their sense of civic virtue – Bowling Alone) based on examples from the articles and observations in their own community.  Their arguments are to address the issues of civic responsibility and civic virtue for the common good.

  • Have the group’s co-leaders present their arguments giving supportive evidence and examples.  (NOTE: If possible, invite another class in to hear the debate.  At the conclusion of the debate, take a straw vote of the invitees as to which side they felt made the better defense for the stance that they represented and why).

  • Have the learners reflect: Did they agree with the stance they were assigned?  If so why, and if not, why not?  Did they change their minds in anyway after hearing both sides of the debate?  Which side of the debate would more likely result in more being accomplished for the common good?

  • Share with the learners that the advent of The Earth Day event will challenge them to consider their civic virtue and responsibility in relationship to the environment.

  • Individually, have each learner develop an “action plan”  using Attachment Three:  that identifies an environmental issue/problem area that he/she will address.  Have them consider the causes for the issue/problem, the goal/solution in dealing with this issue/problem and steps that will take to resolve the issue/problem.  Reflect on how this type of involvement speaks to civic virtue and civic responsibility.


  • Learner involvement in class discussion
  • Learner involvement in group work
  • Learners role in the debate
  • Depth and relevance of the learner’s “action plan.”

Learning Link(s): (click to view)

Reflection: (click to view)

Lesson Developed By:

Dennis VanHaitsma
Curriculum Consultant
Learning to Give


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital

"Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital"

Robert D. Putnam, Dillion Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University, describes decreasing participation in U.S. civic organizations and suggests reasons for this trend.  Since its initial publication in the Journal of Democracy, this article-presented here in abridgment-has stirred a vigorous public debate and made “Bowling Alone” a metaphor for contemporary life in America.
Reprinted by permission of the Johns Hopkins University Press. Copyright (c) 1995. Journal of Democracy, July 1995.

Whatever Happened to Civic Engagement?
We begin with familiar evidence on changing patterns of political participation.  Consider the well-known decline in turnout in national elections over the last three decades.  From a relative high point in the early 1960s, voter turnout had by 1990 declined by nearly a quarter; tens of millions of Americans had forsaken their parents' habitual readiness to engage in the simplest act of citizenship.

It is not just the voting booth that has been increasingly deserted by Americans.  A series of identical questions posed by the Roper Organization to national samples ten times each year over the last two decades reveals that since 1973 the number of Americans who report that "in the past year" they have "attended a public meeting on town or school affairs" has fallen by more than a third (from 22 percent in 1973 to 13 percent in 1993).  Similar (or even greater) relative declines are evident in responses to questions about attending a political rally or speech, serving on a committee of some local organization, and working for a political party.  By almost every measure, Americans' direct engagement in politics and government has fallen steadily and sharply over the last generation, despite the fact that average levels of education -- the best individual-level predictor of political participation -- have risen sharply throughout this period.

The General Social Survey, a scientifically conducted, national-sample survey that has been repeated 14 times over the last two decades reports that faith-based groups constitute the most common type of organization joined by Americans; they are especially popular with women. Yet religious sentiment in America seems to be becoming somewhat less tied to institutions and more self-defined.  Other types of organizations frequently joined by women include school-service groups (mostly parent-teacher associations), sports groups, professional societies, and literary societies.  Among men, sports clubs, labor unions, professional societies, fraternal groups, veterans' groups, and service clubs are all relatively popular. 
For many years, labor unions provided one of the most common organizational affiliations among American workers.  Yet union membership has been falling for nearly four decades, with the steepest decline occurring between 1975 and 1985.

The Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) has been an especially important form of civic engagement in twentieth-century America.  It is, therefore, dismaying to discover that participation in parent-teacher organizations has dropped drastically over the last generation, from more than twelve million in 1964 to barely five million in 1982 before recovering to approximately seven million now.

Next, we turn to evidence on membership in (and volunteering for) civic and fraternal organizations.  Membership in traditional women's groups has declined more or less steadily since the mid-1960s.  Similar reductions are apparent in the numbers of volunteers for mainline civic organizations, such as the Boy Scouts (off by 26 percent since 1970) and the Red Cross (off by 61 percent since 1970).

The most whimsical yet discomfiting bit of evidence of social disengagement in contemporary America that I have discovered is this: More Americans are bowling today than ever before, but bowling in organized leagues has plummeted in the last decade or so.  Between 1980 and 1993 the total number of bowlers in America increased by ten percent, while league bowling decreased by 40 percent.  The rise of solo bowling threatens the livelihood of bowling-lane proprietors because those who bowl as members of leagues consume three times as much beer and pizza as solo bowlers, and the money in bowling is in the beer and pizza, not the balls and shoes.  The broader social significance, however, lies in the social interaction and even occasionally civic conversations over beer and pizza that solo bowlers forgo.  Whether or not bowling beats balloting in the eyes of most Americans, bowling teams illustrate yet another vanishing form of social capital.

Handout 2Print Handout 2

AARP Survey on Civic Involvement - Summary

New Survey Shows American Public Involved in their Communities Survey

Is America's social fabric coming apart at the seams?  Has America completely lost its sense of community?  Despite the alarms raised in recent years about Americans becoming less involved, a new AARP study shows that the nation’s social fabric appears to be in relatively good shape, and interesting patterns of public participation are reflected in communities around the country.

The study, Maintaining America’s Social Fabric: The AARP Survey of Civic Involvement, identifies levels and forms of civic involvement from a large cross-section of age groups.  It measures and assesses the extent to which Americans are involved in and attached to their communities, where their involvement is, and their attitudes toward one another and their government.

“Conventional wisdom would have us believe that we are a nation made up of disinterested, disengaged and uninvolved people.  Our survey clearly shows that this is not the case.  We found that people are engaged at a local level where they can feel the impact of their efforts.  Ninety-eight percent (98%) of those surveyed reported being involved in at least one activity that connects them with people outside of their household," said Jane Baumgarten, a member of AARP's volunteer national board.

Membership in organizations is higher than previously reported.  The average respondent has more than four memberships in more than three types of organizations. Religion is the leading type of organizational involvement for all age groups.  Sixty-one percent of those surveyed belong to some type of religious organization.  Health and sports clubs, professional trade groups, school groups, and neighborhood groups are other types of formal organizations that Americans are joining.

Most Americans feel a sense of attachment to the communities in which they live. Seventy-two percent said they want to be living in the same geographical area five years from now.  Ninety-six percent (69%) said they know at least one of their neighbors on a first-name basis, and eighty-five percent reported they have had a conversation with a neighbor in the past three months.

"Our survey clearly demonstrates that people are engaged in their local communities, and feel that they have an interest in being involved with their neighbors.  One-third of the survey respondents reported that they have worked with others to solve local problems, and almost three-quarters of respondents spend time discussing a myriad of local issues.  Eight out of ten people surveyed believe that they can solve local problems by together with others," said Constance Swank, AARP research director.

One big unknown is how these data may play out as the younger generation gets older. The survey found that those adults between 18 and 26 exhibited the most distrust and the least involvement in their communities.  A full sixty percent (60%) of respondents in this youngest adult group are distrustful of others.  Less than half of all other respondents, ages 37 through 76 plus, said they were distrustful of others.

While Americans are less involved in group activities than they are in the private and economic aspects of their lives, large percentages of Americans are involved in socializing with friends, religious commitments, youth activities, hobbies shared with others, and volunteer work.  The survey found that 78 percent (78%) visit with friends, 64 percent (64%) are engaged in religious activities 61 percent pursue hobbies outside their household, 57 percent (57%) perform activities with teens and children, and 53 percent (53%) volunteer their time.

From on the AARP Web site December 18,1997: http://www.aarp.org/press/pr121897.htm [no longer available]

Handout 3Print Handout 3

Action Plan

Action Plan



Causes of problem:


Action 1:

Impact sought from action:

Supplies needed for action:

Action 2:

Impact sought from action:

Supplies needed for action:

Philanthropy Framework:

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Unit Contents:

Overview:Great Debate (The)--Do Americans Today Have
Civic Virtue? (10th Grade) Summary


Great Debate (The)--Do Americans Today Have
Civic Virtue? (10th Grade)

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