After the Election: American Democracy and Checks and Balances

By Reiss Smith, Nov 8, 2016

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

“The system of checks and balances in government was developed to ensure that no one branch of government would become too powerful. The framers of the U.S. Constitution built a system that divides power between the three branches of the U.S. government—legislative, executive and judicial—and includes various limits and controls on the powers of each branch.”

-History.com, 2017

Elections and voting are a hallmark of a successful democracy. During election season it is essential that American citizens go to the polls and vote to help ensure a successful and well-functioning democratic process. Before and after the election results, tensions and emotions run high. Emotions run high for each side of the political aisle. Those whose candidates have scored major victories are hopeful while those who had great loses are perhaps discouraged and try to regroup.

After elections have come and gone it is often good to remind ourselves that the United States has a system of checks and balances. These checks and balances are in place to ensure that one person or group of people does not have too much power. This phenomenon is known as a separation of power.
People turn out in larger numbers for the presidential election because the president is the public face of the government. Most Americans see the power concentrated in that office. Often when individuals are not happy with the way things are going in the government they blame the president. But people lose sight of the fact that the United States government is made up of three branches of government: the judicial, legislative and executive branches. Americans must understand that only one of the branches consist of the president (The executive). The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court and the legislative makes up congress (Senate and the House of Representatives).

The social studies classroom is the optimal place to teach about the structure of the US government. A major function of social studies is to help students understand the nature of the American democracy and the key role they can play in the country’s success.This helps students know the rights that they have. Below is a sample lesson that can help teachers address the topic of the three branches of government in the US and help students clearly understand the role and function of each of them.

SAMPLE LESSON PLAN
Objective: Students will understand and be able to simulate the function of each of the three branches of government.

Standards:

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)- Standard 6
Power, Authority and Governance: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create, interact with, and change structures of power, authority, and governance.”

High School Ohio Social Studies Standards:
American Government Theme: Students examine the Founding Documents which form the basis for the United States of America and how the American people govern themselves at national, state and local levels of government is the basis for this course. Students may also impact issues addressed by governments through service learning and senior projects.

Eighth Grade Standard
ROLES AND SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT Content Statements: 22. The U.S. Constitution established a federal republic, providing a framework for a national government with elected representatives, separation of powers, and checks and balances. 23. The U.S. Constitution protects citizens’ rights by limiting the powers of government.

Sample Activity:

Simulation of the three branches of government:

  • The class will be divided into three groups that represent each branch of government; the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
  • Each student will be assigned a role within their assigned branch. For example, within the executive branch students can be assigned the roles of president, vice president, secretary of state, secretary of education, and so on.
  • The largest group of students will make up the legislative branch, which is congress. This group will be broken into two subgroups, the House and the Senate.
  • Within congress students can take on various roles such as congressmen and women from various states and districts. For example one student might play the role of the House majority whip.
  • The students that make up the Judicial branch can consist of the nine Supreme Court justices and various other federal courts, depending on the number of students in the class.
  • After students thoroughly learn the function of the branch they represent, the classroom can go through the process of introducing, passing or challenging a law. For example, the house can introduce a bill in the classroom that is ultimately vetoed by the president. In another simulation a new law can be challenged in the Supreme Court, thus setting a new precedent.
  • Each group can also simulate their branch on separate days.
  • A slight variation of this activity is for the instructor to allow students to create classroom rules (laws) that can be accepted by the House and the Senate and be supported or vetoed by the president.

ASSESSMENT:
Essay- Government Position Description
For a summative assessment students can pretend they are government officials tasked at creating a drop description that accurately discusses a specific role in the government and the function of the branch they are a part of. Students should write about the role they played in the simulation.

Checks and Balances
https://www.history.com/topics/us-government/checks-and-balances

Branches of the US Government
https://www.usa.gov/branches-of-government

Hear from the Democrats who took back the House
https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2018/11/07/house-democrats-acceptance-speeches-wrap-me-orig.cnn

5 Comments

  1. Checks and balances are super important for the government. They ensure that all of the branches are equally as powerful and not one branch is overpowering another. This article showed me the importance of voting. The article hit on the concept that every person has the right to vote and has the opportunity to voice their own opinion. I really enjoyed reading the article, one line that stood out to me was “If people do not like something that is on the country, they blame the President”. I’m not one to be involved in much politics and I wish I was more involved, but one thing I do notice is that people really like to blame things on the president whether he can control it all or not. I think this would be super cool to implement into a lesson for elementary schoolers on checks and balances.

  2. The voter turnout for midterm elections compared to presidential elections shows how many people forget about our nation’s seperation of powers. It’s unrealistic to assume that one person can lead an entire nation on their own. Each branch of our government can only be as successful as they are in working with one another. The blaming of presidents can definitely be seen across history and even in today’s conversations, but it is important for us to direct our discontent to the correct avenues. Teaching students about the branches of government, their responsibility to citizens, and our impact on them can allow them to become better citizens for the future.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this article and I feel as if it was very useful. The idea of teaching students about the small details of the election is very important and I feel like if it is done right, it could also be very interesting and fun for students to learn. I also loved the sample lesson plan. The lesson allows students to get up and engage with each other, but also while doing something different than lecture. I think that many kids will become engaged in this lesson and want to participate. But, overall the reflection helps students go back and really understand what took place. This would be very useful for students and I hope that I get the chance to teach something along these lines one day.

  4. People often turn out for presidential elections because the president is the face of our government.  They should turn our more for senate and representative races because we are a system of checks and balances.  When things go wrong, people often blame the president, when in fact, our system of checks and balances spreads out power, so it should also spread out the blame. 

  5. I thought this article was very informative. I definitely agree that people always jump and blame the president for anything they don’t agree with but most of the people don’t understand how it really works. If more people knew that there was a system of checks and balances that keeps one branch from gaining too much power I think they would relax a little about the president. I also loved the sample lesson plan. It gave me some really good ideas that I will be able to use in the future when teaching this topic.

Comments are closed.