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

10 Comments

  1. I think the article did a great job explaining the three branches of government and what each branch represents. It can be confusing for some students when learning about this topic so I liked the resources provided that could be available if they needed extra assistance.

  2. This a very good read. This article showed the importance of elections and voting. Every person has a right to vote and to voice their own opinion. Some people in our world take advantage of voting during an election. I can see why these teacher resources are very beneficial to not only them, but to their students as well.

  3. After the Election: American Democracy and Checks and Balances: Week 9
    Checks and Balances are so important for the Government. These ensure that all Branches stay equally powerful. When elections come around, it is essential that every citizen goes to the polls and votes. This will help make sure that everything in the election is fair and runs smoothly. Every vote counts. I vote in every election after studying up a little bit.

  4. I just taught my students a lesson on the three branches of government. This lesson was extremely important to them, because in two weeks they are taking to staple 4th grade field trip to the state capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky. Having the students understand the voting and election process, as well as the three branches of government and how they all operate together is very important. They thought that the idea of checks and balances was really smart, and they thought it was interesting that the framers of our government thought that people would use too much power if they had the chance to get ahold of it. This article is a really great summary of how the election and voting process works, along with the branches of government. I really appreciate that you do bring in the perspective of “people try to point the finger at one person, but need to understand all of the different branches of government”. Great article!

  5. I really like how this article explains what the three branches of government are. A lot of people tend to blame the president when it comes to politics. This is not true as there is two other branches of government that also has control. I was also nice to read about how voting works. I did not know exactly what all went into that, and how the groups were made. I learned something from this article!

  6. This article was an awesome read for me! Honestly, I did not really understand the full importance of voting, so this article really helped. I think this could potentially be a lot of citizen’s problems and I hope to educate others and help spread the significance of elections and voting.

  7. Awesome article that goes much more in depth on the fundamentals we learned in K-12. I really love the role-play lesson activity. I want to teach upper elementary and having them enact ‘class laws’ in that way could be so much fun!

  8. I think it is great to ensure students understand how checks and balances work. Without this many future citizens may get the wrong impression on how the U.S. operates. One of these wrong impressions I feel is being played out, especially today are the responsibilities and effects of the presidency.

  9. Overall the idea of checks and balances is good in our country. Without this I believe the process would not be as informative or trust worthy without all opinions. All of those in the government play a collective role and without certain people, those roles could not be filled.

  10. The article overall was well planned and well thought out. Some of the ideas you brought to the audiences attention was something we all forget, “if people do not like something that is on in the country, they blame the President.” While this statement might be true, I do not agree with how today’s President is viewing and portraying certain races/ethnicities. Then again I often find myself feeding into the media’s portrait they have painted him to be as well. This article reminds me of the current government shutdown due to certain branches/parties unwilling to succumb to the President’s wants and/or needs. I absolutely loved the lesson plan, however, and wish to help my students understand the outside world as well and that all elections are important, big or small.

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