This citizenship and PSHE assembly for secondary schools looks at the concept of democracy, getting pupils to consider what democracy means and how living in a democratic society affects their lives

Summary

This assembly invites students to consider how democracy works.

Resources

  • Nine students, each holding one letter of the word ‘democracy’, with the letter itself hidden from the audience.
  • Three readers.

Engagement

[The nine students are standing in a line at the front of the assembly. As the leader announces each letter, the appropriate student displays his or her letter, until the complete word is shown] [With an appropriate group of students the leader may choose to also encourage the audience to join in by chanting each letter]

Leader: Give me a D. [Response]

Give me an E. [Response]

Give me an M. [Response]

Give me an O. [Response]

Give me a C. [Response]

Give me an R. [Response]

Give me an A. [Response]

Give me a C. [Response]

Give me a Y. [Response]

What’s that spell? [All students respond ‘democracy’]

What’s that spell? [All students respond ‘democracy’]

What does that mean? [Pause]

That’s a rather more difficult question isn’t it? Yet democracy appears to be a very important concept in the life of the countries of our world. The two main political parties in the United States are the Republicans and the Democrats. In Germany the Christian Democrats are one of the leading parties. The Democratic Unionists are strong in Northern Ireland, while the party that recently challenged Robert Mugabe for power in Zimbabwe is the Movement for Democratic Change. But what is democracy? Here are three attempts to give a simple definition:

Reader 1: Democracy means ‘One person, one vote’. [Pause]

Reader 2: Democracy means the right of every person to participate in government. [Pause]

Reader 3: Democracy is when I can choose who makes the decisions that affect my life.

Reflection

Leader: It’s usually taken as self-evident that democracy is the right way for a country to be governed. It’s tied in with our human rights of liberty and equality. We must be governed only by those we have chosen to do so. They govern by the will of the people rather than because they are stronger or more influential.

However, recent news stories may lead us to question how effective democracy might be. For instance, what if the existing government doesn’t want to be voted out of power and refuses to accept the results of the vote? It happened in Kenya a few weeks ago and is happening in Zimbabwe right now (an update about the most recent developments may be required at this point). Democracy only works if those who are in control of the armed forces and the police allow it. Democracy is very easily ignored by political bullies.

In the USA the Democratic Party itself is trying to decide who will be its candidate for the presidential election. Will it be Hilary Clinton or will it be Barak Obama? Members of the Democratic Party in each US state have the right to vote for their favoured candidate. At present the two candidates stand neck and neck, each desperately seeking the remaining votes that will mean they can achieve victory. What will enable one to beat the other in the end? Will it be personality, or ideas, or charisma? In the end it’s likely to be the one who’s able to raise the largest sums of money to pay for advertising, image and influence among those whose votes are still to be cast. Democracy means that everyone is equal but, in a media driven world, democracy often works least well for those who don’t have the money.

Finally, there’s another reason why you may wish to question how effective democracy might be in this country. Here’s a question for you: How many of you present in this assembly have the right to cast a vote in a general election?

[Pause to allow a response, which will probably come only from members of staff. Encourage Year 13 students to participate, if present.]

That’s not very many, is it? Even though the government’s taking decisions about your lives every day − raising the school leaving age, changing the age at which cigarettes and alcohol can be purchased, funding sports clubs and facilities, reclassifying internet gaming sites, banning the purchase of certain foods in schools, to name but a few issues that have been raised over the past month or two. What’s a democracy for if it doesn’t allow you to express your views?

Response

There are big issues raised in the examples I’ve given. You may want to discuss them later, especially the proposal from some politicians to lower the voting age to sixteen. But I want us to be practical in our response to these ideas.

Democracy in the end starts with you. And with me. There’s nothing that robs democracy of its power so much as when you and I don’t use its freedom. For you that means making sure your voice is always heard. Even though you don’t have a vote yet, you are the voters of the future and politicians take notice when you write, email and text about issues that concern you. Make sure your parents are kept informed as they cast their votes. They are doing this on your behalf as well as for themselves. Finally, be aware of when the time comes for you to register to vote and when you have a vote… use it.

Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.

Dear God,

We thank you for those who, over the centuries, created the democracy in which we live.

Help us to accept the responsibility for keeping it free and alive.

Give us a clear, expressive voice and guard us from complacency or indifference.

Amen.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008

About the author: Brian Radcliffe

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