CIVICS STANDARD THREE: Students will understand the responsibilities, rights, and privileges of United States citizens [Citizenship].
Students will understand that:
- Effective citizens are committed to protecting rights for themselves, other citizens, and future generations, by upholding their civic responsibilities and are aware of the potential consequences of inaction.
- Distinctions between a citizen’s rights, responsibilities, and privileges help to define the requirements and limits of personal freedom.
Once again, the why of responsibilities, rights, and the distinction between rights and privileges is central. American citizens have the right to certain individual freedoms and liberties found in the U.S. Constitution. But, individual freedoms and liberties have limits imposed by the fact that others also have the same freedoms and liberties. Respect for the rights of others, for example, limits some individual actions. Suppose two neighbors are in dispute over a tree growing on one’s lawn that extends shade over the other’s lawn. The man who doesn’t want the shade can’t cut down his neighbor’s tree, only that part of the tree that hangs over his property. His property rights end at the boundary of his property, and the boundary between the two neighbors extends to other rights as well.
American democracy imposes a cost on its citizens. For government to be effective, it must have an effective citizenry that understands what is required to maintain individual freedoms and liberties. Citizens have responsibilities that, if met, ensure the health of American democracy. Citizens should hold governmental officials accountable by voting and keeping informed; contribute to the common defense through military service if necessary; check the judicial powers of government and safeguard the rights of the accused by serving on juries; contribute to public safety and order by obeying the law and reporting violations of the law; and, perform public service when the need arises.
Privileges may be defined by what they are not; they are not rights, and thus a citizen has to earn a privilege and show responsibility in order to continue exercising it. For example, it is not a birthright to drive a car. Driving responsibly benefits society and the driver, continues the privilege, and costs the driver and thus all other drivers less in insurance. Driving poorly or dangerously costs more insurance and may even cause loss of a driver’s license. A classroom discussion with students could elicit other examples.