Teaching with the News
Values and Public Policy
Values play a key role in creating public policy. What do we believe about ourselves? What matters most to us? When strongly held values come into conflict, which are most important? Some values fit together well. Others are in conflict. People in the United States are constantly forced to choose among competing values in the ongoing debate about public policy. Most often, we think of values in connection with our personal lives. Our attitudes toward our families, friends, and communities are a reflection of our personal values. Values also play an important role in our civic life and influence our political beliefs. Identifying values is a way to understand the views of others, find common ground where it exists, and work together to find ways to form policy.
We have just been through a contentious national election. Some people are pleased with the outcome; others are not. Most, regardless of their views, are surprised and need to recalibrate. Our students are no different.
Since the election, we have heard from teachers around the country who decided to use this lesson to help their students consider their own values and engage in constructive civic dialogue. We hope that others will find this helpful as well.
- Identify and prioritize values they hold.
- Explore differences openly and engage in constructive civic dialogue.
- Analyze how values inform perspectives on public policy.
The Activity in Action
Values and Public Policy Activity: Engaging in Civic Dialogue
Note: Be sure to establish a respectful classroom climate by reminding students about the difference between deliberation and debate, as demonstrated in the video above.The classroom provides an opportunity for students to collaboratively explore differing opinions and develop critical thinking skills. You may wish to remind the class that their opinions need not be predetermined by their peers or parents. In addition, how people prioritize values can change depending upon circumstances. Remind students to listen to their classmates with respect and an open mind.
In the Classroom
1. Focus Question
Begin by posing the question, “Why do people disagree on policy?” to the class. Invite students to share their responses. Inform students that in this lesson they will explore how values shape opinions about public policy.
2. Distribute Values Cards
Print and distribute the Values Cards for each student. Everyone should have the following cards:
3. Prioritizing Values
Read two values and instruct students to put these two cards in order, with the one on top being the one they consider most important. Read a third value. Now have them integrate this into their list. Repeat this process until each student has a stack of ten cards organized in a way that reflects his or her priorities.
You may wish to remind students that some of these words can mean different things to different people. Instead of facilitating deliberation over the meaning and importance of the values, guide students to focus on how this activity reveals that differing values make collective decision-making concerning public policy a challenge.
4. Debrief in small groups
Ask students in small groups of three to compare their rankings. How did they differ? Where were they similar? Did students define the values differently, in addition to ranking them differently?
5. Group Discussion
Bring the class back together to discuss. What was easy or difficult about the activity? Would any students like to report their conversations back to the class? Invite a few students to share which value they ranked first (or last) and ask them to explain their reasoning. Were students able to find some common ground across differently prioritized values?
Challenge students to identify public policy issues that they are concerned about. Have them identify how specific values influence their views about policy. Are there certain policies that students agree upon despite differently prioritized values? After students have made concrete links between values and policies, ask students to consider how constructive and respectful discussions can lead to some consensus.