Future Ready

The Good Citizen

What are the roles and responsibilities of a good American?

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash



  • Understand the importance of civic responsibilities and involvement for the individual (e.g., registering to vote) and society in the American federal republic.

  • Understand the purposes and characteristics of the US governance systems (e.g., political spectrum, political parties, interest groups)

  • Understand the role of the citizen in a democratic society

  • Make judgments about the impact of the media by judging information against criteria

  • Identity bias and propaganda

  • Determine whether a claim is supported by evidence or faulty reasoning and use details to make inferences 


The main goals of local, state, and federal governments in the United States are to maintain order, provide necessary services, balance the needs of the individual and the common good, and protect freedoms and liberties.  In turn, all Americans should understand how government affects their lives. Americans have the responsibility to participate in their federal constitutional republic through voting (starting from the minimum age of 18) and other methods.  

There are many opportunities for Americans to become involved in their local government.  Most effective changes in local government are generated by groups of concerned people, but Americans can initiate projects independently by writing letters, sending emails, making phone calls, and attending public meetings.  Examples of a few successful topics for projects instituted by Americans in their communities are drinking water safety, hazardous waste cleanup, pesticide spraying, noise pollution, homelessness reduction, and childcare programs.

Which of the following is probably not a reason why people hesitate to participate in the affairs of their community?

  1. Lack of knowledge about the issues

  2. Fear of jeopardizing their jobs

  3. Shortage of free time to devote to a project

  4. Concern of harassment by fellow Americans

  5. Absence of community need

Based on what you know about how local governments operate, which of the following people would be most likely to respond to an individual’s complaint?

  1. The mayor

  2. A state senator

  3. A city councilman

  4. A city manager

  5. The governor


bias an opinion about whether a person, group, or idea is good or bad that influences how you deal with it

Electoral College the system by which the President of the United States is elected, wherein the electors of each state cast their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote in their state

initiative a power to let voters propose new laws and vot on whether those laws should take effect

propaganda A power to let voters approve, change, or repeal laws that have been passed by the state legislature

referendum a direct popular vote by the general public, rather than by government bodies, on a bill or some other important issue

Political activity and policy-making in the United States are organized around political parties, campaigns, and elections.

A political party is made up of individuals who organize to win elections, operate the government, and influence public policy.

Why it matters: Political parties have played a key role since the beginning of the republic.

While not described in the Constitution, the first parties formed just a few years after the country's founding.  The parties were created because Americans have different ideas and opinions about how to govern the nation. People join political parties because they share similar values and beliefs about the leadership of the government. Today, the United States has several political parties, with two—the Democratic and the Republican parties—that dominate American politics.  While there have been attempts to establish third parties, they have not resulted in any lasting electoral impact.

Throughout our history, the U.S. has had two major political parties, though the two parties in existence today are very different from the two parties of 200 years ago

Both political parties and members of political parties can be classified based on their ideas about government. 

  • The Democrats are associated with labor unions, raising the minimum wage, government support for social programs (e.g., welfare), and higher taxes for the wealthy.  The Democratic Party tends to be liberal. Liberals, who are often referred to as being on the left of the political spectrum, generally advocate radical political changes and social progress. To accomplish this, they tend to favor a robust federal government that is more directly involved in regulating the economy and in providing services for people.  The Democratic Party supports government involvement to solve problems. Interest groups that tend to identify with the Democratic Party include organized labor; environmentalists; consumer advocates; and liberals.

  • The Republicans are associated with free enterprise, limited government, and a strong national defense.  Republicans are said to be on the right of the political spectrum. Republicans tend to prefer slow or no changes in the country. Republicans believe that less government regulation of the economy is the best way to promote prosperity.  The Republican Party overall wants to minimize the role of government in most affairs. Interest groups that tend to identify with the Republican Party include corporations, religious groups, tax opponents, military supporters, and conservatives.

  • Individuals who fall somewhere in between liberal and conservative are often called moderates.  

The American political landscape is dominated by the Republican and Democratic parties for more than 150 years.  However, people can join any political party, including parties other than the major two.  

When functioning properly, parties can define and express a group’s needs and wants in a way the public and political system can understand. 

Parties can also help in the formation of alliances of sufficient size and strength to influence and shape policy and political action.

"Making logical inferences" sounds complicated, but it's not

In fact, you make inferences every day without thinking about it. 

  • When you hear “Happy Birthday” being sung, you infer that it is someone’s birthday—even if you know nothing else about this person. 

  • If you see a school bus with yellow flashing lights, you would logically infer several things: There is a bus stop nearby. The school bus is about to stop. The traffic going both ways is about to stop. 

These are all logical inferences. They follow the evidence provided. 

Yes, but: Inferences can be illogical, too. If you used what you know about school buses and yellow flashing lights to infer that bus drivers love yellow, this would be an illogical inference. It would not be a valid claim.

  • An inference is a conclusion that is drawn from the evidence provided. It is the conclusion that you reach logically from following the author’s reasoning.

  • A claim is a statement based on this inference.

  • A valid claim is a statement that is reasonable or that can be supported by evidence.

Just because something is online doesn't mean that it's true

Most written material has some bias. 

Why it matters: Since almost everyone has personal opinions about everything from food to television shows, bias will probably be a part of anything you read or watch, even if the writer or speaker tries very hard to be neutral. A good reader must notice bias and tell the difference between facts and opinions.

  • A fact is a statement that can be verified. Examples typically include the dates on which events took place and the names of the people involved.

  • An opinion, on the other hand, is a belief held by one person or a group of people. It cannot be verified or proven. Even if the majority has the same opinion, it does not make it a fact.

To differentiate between facts and opinions, consider the following questions:

Would everyone agree with this statement?

Can it be verified by a trustworthy source?

The answer to both of these questions must be “yes” for it to be a fact.

Be alert to the common words that may introduce a statement of opinion!

likely     possibly     probably     should/could     think     believe     say     charge     attest

Bias is closely related to a person's point of view

You can think of bias as a personal preference. Everyone has personal preferences. Even if people don’t try to show these preferences, there is likely to be some bias in what they say or write.

Yes, but: Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair or discriminatory. 

  • Someone who grew up in an area where police crackdown on crime might have a strong bias against members of law enforcement.

  • Someone who grew up in a family in which multiple adults served in the military might have a tendency to respect service members and believe them to be honorable and courageous. 

To detect bias, watch for words that try to tell you how to think or behave. These are called prescriptive words and include terms such as should and must. Also, watch for strongly worded statements that include terms like always or never; these often represent strong viewpoints that are prone to bias. Bias can also be shown by using words with positive associations when referring to things the person agrees with or supports and using words with negative associations when referring to things the person disagrees with.

The big picture: Biased reporting is reporting in which one side is favored over another or in which the subject is unfairly represented.  Biased reporting may show an overly negative view of a subject, or it may encourage racial, gender, or other stereotypes and prejudices.  Sometimes biased reporting is apparent in the journalist’s choice of sources.

Let’s practice with an example.  Read the following passage. Then, answer the questions that follow.

With the economy lagging, many Americans are out of work. Unemployment benefits should be extended to help Americans weather these tough times. At the same time, the United States cannot afford to turn its back on the elderly, children, and poor families that have always relied on government assistance. Despite the downturn in the economy, the rich continue to get richer. The best way—perhaps the only way—to help America succeed is to increase revenue by raising taxes for those who can afford it.

What bias is evident in this passage?  What political party does the author of the passage most likely support?





Propaganda refers to techniques that try to influence your opinion, emotions, and attitudes in order to benefit an organization or individual. Propaganda uses language that targets your emotions—your fears, beliefs, values, and prejudices—instead of appealing to reason or critical thinking. Loaded language is language that is highly emotive and used to gain support, sway emotions, degrade others, or push an agenda.  Advertising, media, and political campaigns use propaganda techniques to influence others. To detect propaganda, ask yourself the following questions about the information:

  • Whom does it benefit?

  • What are its sources?

  • What is the purpose of the text?

There are a number of persuasive techniques that you should be aware of.

Bandwagon appeal

taps into people’s desire to belong or be a part of a group by suggesting that a person should believe or do something because “everyone else” does

To evaluate a message, ask these questions:

  • Does this program or policy serve my particular interests?

  • What is the evidence for or against it?

Common Man

This approach tries to convince you that its message is "just plain old common sense." Politicians and advertisers often speak in an everyday language and present themselves as "one of the people" to appeal to their audience. For example, a presidential candidate campaigning in New Hampshire may dress in a plaid shirt and chop wood or visit a mill in order to look like an ordinary American. To determine if the common-man technique is being used, ask yourself these questions:

  • What ideas is the person presenting—are they presented differently than the person’s usual image or language?

  • What are the facts?


making a statement that is too broad, vague, or general to evoke deep emotions. 

Examples: honor, peace, freedom, liberty, home, all, everyone, every tie, anything, no one, and none

Try to challenge what you read or hear. Ask yourself:

  • Has the author used generality to sway my emotions?

  • If I take the generality out of the sentence, what are the merits of the idea?

Attacking the person or name-calling

an attempt to discredit an idea by attacking the person, group, belief, or nation associated with it, usually appealing to hate and fear. 

Examples: Commie, Nazi, terrorist, woke, hipster, slacker, or liberal. When a writer or a speaker uses labeling, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the label have any real connection to the idea being presented?

  • When I take away the label, are there merits of the idea?


In advertising, athletes promote a range of products, from cereal to wristwatches. In politics, celebrities endorse presidential candidates. Both are examples of testimonials. A testimonial uses a public figure, expert, or another respected person to endorse a policy, organization, or product. Because you may respect or admire a person, you may be less critical and accept what they say more readily. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the public figure have any expert knowledge about this subject?

  • Without the testimonial, what are the merits of the message?

The bottom line: Pay attention to a person’s choice of words.  Speakers or writers may slant information to persuade you to accept an idea.  For example, candidates often engage in name-calling during political campaigns.  Persuasive devices such as the ones above may represent faulty reasoning and provide misleading information.

Sometimes Americans may also have to “read” a propaganda poster or ad, focusing on the message and how it is conveyed. When looking at a cartoon or poster, ask yourself the same type of questions you would when reading a passage or analyzing a political cartoon: 

  • Who created this poster?

  • Who is the intended audience?

  • What is its purpose?

Look at the poster and answer the questions that follow.

Poster produced by J. Howard Miller at the National Museum of American History


Who is the sponsoring organization of this poster?


Who is the intended audience for this poster?


What is the goal of this poster?


Elections and the right to vote are key elements of our republic. 

U.S. citizens who are registered to vote may vote in local, state, and federal elections.

Candidates for offices at the local, state, and federal levels must periodically run for office. The candidate who receives the most votes is elected to office.

Many state- and local-level elections also have votes on ballot initiatives that relate to public policies and issues, such as education, the environment, and tax/budgeting issues.  

  • The initiative is a process through which citizens can propose new laws or amendments to state constitutions. The process begins with Americans or organizations gathering signatures of qualified voters to place on a petition. If enough qualified voters sign the petition, the proposed law, or proposition, is placed on the ballot at the next general election. 

  • The referendum is a process through which citizens either approve or reject a state or local law. Like with the initiative process, supporters of a referendum must gather a determined number of signatures of qualified voters to place on a petition. Currently, about half of the states allow Americans the right to petition to have a law referred, or sent back, to the voters for their approval at the next general election.  Referendums, which allow Americansto participate in policymaking, are not used at the national level.

Currently, a presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the election

The Electoral College is a group of electorates who choose the president and vice president.  Each state is allowed the same number of electors as its total number of U.S. senators (elected for 6 years) and representatives (elected for 2 years) - each state has at least three electors.  

  • The electors of each state cast their electoral votes for the winner of the popular vote in their state.

  • In most states, the candidate who wins the most popular votes earns that state’s electoral votes.

The President of the United States is elected by the Electoral College.  What type of system is this?

  1. dictatorship

  2. oligarchy

  3. direct democracy

  4. representative democracy

  5. monarchy

Which party would be most likely to cut the food stamp program in order to reduce the national deficit?

  1. Democratic Party

  2. Republican Party

Which of the following best reflects the views of a person who is on the right of the political spectrum?

  1. Tax breaks for small businesses that work with poor urban and rural families

  2. Support for significant changes to the U.S. Constitution

  3. Endorsement of a political candidate who promotes evolving American values

  4. Creation of 50 new government state agencies to help poor American families

Which of the following statements would NOT be a reason for joining a political party?

  1. To help promote and elect a specific political candidate

  2. To learn about views and concepts that are different from their own political views

  3. To associate with other Americans who share similar political ideas about government

  4. To vote in a closed primary election

In order to function, modern governments develop many policies and procedures, in addition to laws

If a policy seems reasonable and is generally accepted, it rarely receives any public attention.  However, many public policies are subject to vigorous public debate. Areas of controversy can arise at any time. Some ongoing topics of dispute are:

  • tax policy, including simplifying the tax code, whether or not to raise or cut revenues, and who should be impacted by these changes

  • budget policy, including deciding how large a deficit we can tolerate, spending and taxing priorities, and the role and obligations of our government

  • trade policy, including encouraging or discouraging imports and exports and using trade as a component of foreign policy

  • defense policy, including the deployment and equipping of armed forces, defining missions, and determining the objectives and exit strategy of military operations

  • environmental policy, including interventions to address pollution, energy, and development

  • foreign policy, which not only affects Americans but also people around the world. Every foreign policy decision or action by the President or Congress is open to extensive scrutiny and criticism from abroad and throughout our country. And because we are a democracy that guarantees freedom of speech, foreign policy disputes will continue to be a major component of our national conversation.




Use what you have learned to answer the question.

What is the difference between an initiative and a referendum?









Answer the question below.  Then read why each answer is correct or incorrect.

Read the quote and answer the question that follows.

The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state. The expense of government to the individuals of a great nation is like the expense of management to the joint tenants of a great estate, who are all obliged to contribute in proportion to their respective interests in the estate.

—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapter 2

Based on the quote, which of the following civic responsibilities would Adam Smith most agree with for citizens of a democracy?

  1. Paying a graduated income tax

  2. Purchasing government-assisted health care

  3. Performing volunteer service for their local or state governments

  4. Partaking in the voting process for government officials

Check to see if you chose the right answer.

In the selection, Adam Smith supports "taxes in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy." This relates to a graduated tax: citizens pay a tax based on how much income they have; the higher the income, the higher the tax.  So, Choice A is the correct answer!

Why are the other answer choices incorrect?!

Choices B through D are incorrect because there is simply no support for these claims in the passage.



Answer the questions below.  Use the following hints to avoid mistakes.

  • Read all passages carefully.  Think about what the author is saying, the conclusions he or she is drawing, the arguments that are being presented, and the details used to support these arguments.

  • Focus on the details that the author includes.

  • Read the question and consider your answer options.

  • Go back and find specific examples in the passage that are related to the question.

Use this political cartoon to answer this question.

Cartoon by Glenn Foden on The Daily Signal

Which of the following can you infer from this cartoon?

  1. Liberty is the same as government debt. .

  2. The economy has no effect on freedoms in the United States.

  3. Rights and freedoms can be hindered by government debt.

  4. Race remains a key factor in the economic opportunities available to Americans.




Study the model below.  It’s a good example of a written answer.

Provide one responsibility and one right that are only for Americans. What are two rights of everyone living in the United States? And what is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen? 

Americans have many civic rights and responsibilities. Only US citizens have the right to carry a US passport and they have the responsibility to serve on a jury. People living in the United States have many rights, too, like the right to express themselves freely.  But if a US resident would like to become a citizen, he or she needs to give up any and all loyalty to another country.

A correct answer would include one of the following responses as a US citizen’s responsibility: to serve on a jury or to vote. There are many rights only for Americans. Besides the one mentioned above, a correct answer could include applying for a federal job, voting, and running for office.  US residents have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government, freedom of worship, and the right to bear arms.  Promises made when you become a US citizen include giving up loyalty to other countries, defending the Constitution and laws of the United States, obeying the laws of the United States, serving in the U.S. military (if needed), serving (doing important work for) the nation (if needed), and being loyal to the United States. 

Photo by Element5 Digital onUnsplash


As you answer the questions below, remember to:

  • Stay calm!

  • Read each question carefully and consider your answer options.

  • Think carefully about our answer.

We elect a U.S. representative for how many years?

  1. 2

  2. 4

  3. 6

  4. term of life

Which of the following is NOT a benefit only for a U.S. citizen?

  1. being able to vote

  2. being able to serve on a jury

  3. being able to obtain a driver's license

  4. being able to travel with the U.S. passport

Which of the following is considered a responsibility of United States citizens?

  1. serving on a jury

  2. working as a government employee

  3. running for political office

  4. joining a political party

A non-citizen who lives legally in the United States is called a(n)

  1. permanent resident

  2. illegal alien

  3. natural-born citizen

  4. naturalized citizen

Which of the following can only be done by American citizens?

  1. petitioning the government

  2. worshipping freely

  3. bearing arms

  4. voting in a federal election


Fill in the blank.

________________ from each state vote to send people to Congress.  Representatives only represent the people in their district, while senators represent everyone in the whole state!  Both senators and representatives go to Washington, DC to serve in Congress.

A good citizen tries to be informed and is eager to help when possible in the community.  In at least 150 words, take a stand on a current need in your community.  You must include an analysis of the issue, and provide evidence to support your point of view on the issue.  You should include a citation of where your facts came from.  You may visit a Web site, such as Gallup, to view issues currently being discussed.  Write an extended response about how citizens and their local community could improve the situation.


For every opinion expressed, be sure to ask yourself, “Is there another side to that argument?”  Talking about some issues can be tough, but it’s important the next generation of US citizens learn to respectfully discuss the civic choices they will face as adults. 

What are two ways that you can participate in your republic?  You can vote, join a political party, help with a campaign, join a civic group, join a community group, give an elected official your opinion on an issue, call senators and representatives, publicly support or oppose an issue or policy, run for office, or write to a news company.  There are many ways that Americans can participate in their republic!  



“GED Social Studies Study Guide” by GED

“We Can Do It!” by J. Howard Miller | CC0

“Should I Consider U.S. Citizenship?” by USCIS


Lesson by

Benjamin Troutman, Griffin Bay School, San Juan Island School District

Portions of content adapted from

#Rights #Representation #Change by Educurious | CC BY-NC

Cartoon: Land of the Free? by Glencartoon: Land of the Free?n Foden | CC BY

Engagement in a Democracy by Rice University | CC BY

Elections and Voting Teacher Resources - Updated Version by Barbar Soots, Washington OSPI OER Project, and Jerrry Rice | CC BY



Except w here otherwise noted, Future Ready Civics The Good Citizen by San Juan Island School District is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. All logos and trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Sections used under the fair use doctrine (17 U.S.C. § 107) are marked.