Understanding How the Government Works: Limited Government

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

The Illinois Social Science standards and civics mandates facilitate student to student exploration of essential questions of power, legitimacy, authority, justice, fairness, and equity. The concept of limited government is central to these current and societal issue discussions as illustrated by the sample essential questions generated by our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches.
  • What is the balance between individual liberty and the common good?
  • How should the government balance freedom and security?
  • What does the government owe us and vice versa?
  • What is the purpose of government?
  • What do we do when certain civil liberties conflict with one another?
  • How is legitimate authority determined?
This week, IllinoisCivics.org used our weekly Wednesday morning webinar to probe many of these questions through a broad survey of how the concept of limited government has been addressed over the years in both interpretation and practice in both the state and federal governments, ending with an exploration of how classrooms can make this concept relevant to students today.

Dr. Shawn Healy, the Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation began the webinar with the assertion, “The November Presidential Election presents a contrast of Madison’s deference to states and Hamilton’s more assertive federal role in governance,” Dr. Healy then provided examples of how the concept of limited government has been interpreted and applied over the course of U.S. History, ending with current events that will be central to the 2020 elections.

If you missed the webinar, you can access the recording to deepen your content knowledge and get connected resources and strategies for teaching about limited government.

At the end of each webinar, our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches share resources aligned to the proven practices of civic education embedded in both the middle and high school civics course requirements. This week, two coaches shared tools they encourage teachers to begin with to enhance their current instruction around limited government.
  • Tracy Freeman from Normal recommends resources from the National Archives. “(The) National Archives Big Six (lesson) has students dig in the Constitution to find examples of limited government. To be honest, it is a bit “dry” until you get to their “debate” portion, where students have to present a limited government role vs. less limited. It allows the students to see varying views as differences in interpretation versus fundamental disagreements. They then link to primary documents (linked to Archives) to find continued evidence of the idea or principle of limited government.
  • Matt Wood from West Chicago advocates using resources from iCivics. Matt explained, “What keeps the government from having too much power? Students learn the answer in this lesson, which outlines five basic limits on government. They analyze the true story of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, in which many of those limits disappeared, and they evaluate fictional cases of governments with limits missing. The concepts in this lesson prepare students to understand why the U.S. Constitution is structured the way it is. I enjoy this lesson with my students due to their application of the limits to the story of Peruvian President Fujimora. It's a great way for the kids to see an example of government without limits.”
In addition to these recommended resources, the IllinoisCivics.org website has:
  • A Curriculum Design Toolkit with resources to help you identify assets in your curriculum and resources to meet any needs for civics course implementation, including strategies for direct instruction on limited government.
  • Lesson plans aligned with the Illinois Social Science standards and proven practices of civic education that explore constitutional concepts like limited government, federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, and judicial review.
  • Guidelines for Administrators that describe how the Illinois Civics mandates align with other educational initiatives.
It is not too late to register for the remaining webinars. Each session will take place on Wednesday morning from 9:30-10:30 a.m. Educators can join live to interact with hosts and ask questions or watch a recording of each session. Each webinar is free and participants can elect to earn two PD credits per webinar for completing a post-webinar application activity.

What are you doing to implement the middle and high school civics requirements? Please comment below. Together we can prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life.


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