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Adult basic and literacy education provides adults with a foundation of basic skills upon which they can build a more secure future. In other words, adult education empowers adults to take the initiative and responsibility for improving their own lives.

Citizenship education is part of this empowerment. Encouraging a heightened awareness and involvement in civic participation prepares adults to take part in the democratic process. Taking part in democracy allows the learner to recognize, and act on, the connection between the government and his or her life. Realizing that one person can make a positive difference in his or her community, state, and/or nation is where the empowerment lies.

However, many adult learners are reluctant to take part in democracy. Some adult learners are not active citizens because they believe that their opinions do not count; others have avoided civic participation, including voting, for fear that others will discover their inability to read well. If adult learners are to become active citizens, they need to be aware of, and comfortable with, their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

This booklet is designed for teachers of adult learners who want to make civic participation relevant, interesting, and manageable to their students. In this booklet, the subject of citizenship is divided into three major components: voting, communicating with elected officials, and volunteering. Each section consists of tips and exercises for activities both in and out of the classroom. There is also an appendix which contains basic background information about the history and structure of democracy in the United States. This booklet can be used on its own or as a companion to the learners' version, We the People: Guidelines to Taking Part in Democracy.

People do not vote for a number of reasons such as apathy, fear of the unknown, and a belief that “my vote does not count”. Talk to adult learners about their feelings about voting. Emphasize that:

Here are some activities that you can use to help adult students become more involved in the electoral process.

  • Distribute voter registration forms to adult learner(s). You may pick up registration cards from libraries, high schools, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the county Treasurer's Office, your county Board of Elections, and the Secretary of State's Office. You can also call the Voter Registration Hotline to obtain registration cards. They will send you one through the mail: 1-800-753-VOTE (8683).
  • With your adult learner, locate the polls in your learner's neighborhood. Call the county Board of Elections for more information.
  • Consult the easy to read version of Ohio's Secretary of State's Voter Information Guide. The guide answers common questions about voter registration, eligibility, and procedures. For more information, call the Secretary of State's Office: (614) 466-2585. You can also call the Ohio Literacy Network: 1-800-228-7323.
  • Encourage adult learners to attend local meetings, especially those that elected officials and/or candidates may attend.
  • Have students collect articles from the newspaper that deal with issues being debated in Congress and/or the Statehouse.
  • Bring in newspaper articles that talk about voting in other countries. Discuss similarities and differences.
  • Bring in editorial columns from newspapers or magazines. Discuss how these are different from news accounts.
  • Have students try to distinguish between fact and opinion in print editorials, and in radio and TV opinion programs.
  • Talk about the use of buzz-words in political writings and advertisements.
  • Have students analyze political ads and discuss the emotions and opinions that the ads are trying to evoke.
  • Discuss political cartoons and the messages that they convey.
  • Contact the League of Women Voters in your area and request that a model voting booth be brought to your class or program to demonstrate how to use the voting booth.
  • Seek out information about elected officials, voting, and issues on the Internet. The box below contains some sites you may wish to try:
    Politics USA

    Project Vote Smart

    Republican National Committee

    Democratic National Committee


    Federal Elections Commission


    Politics Now


  • Look at elections where just a few votes determined the outcome. For example:
    In 1776, the American colonists had come from many different countries and were deciding what the new country's official language would be. Just one vote decided that Americans would speak English rather than German.

    In 1850, the young U.S. government was deciding whether it wanted to grow to the West. Just one vote made California a part of the United States.

    In 1868 Congress was deciding whether President Andrew Johnson should be removed from office. Just one vote saved President Johnson from being removed.

    In 1960 there was a very close presidential election. Just three votes per precinct made John F. Kennedy president instead of Richard Nixon.

    Source: How to Vote! California Edition.

  • Help learners prioritize their concerns when choosing elected officials. Have adult learners generate and rank a list of issues that matter to them. Encourage learners to find out how candidates feel about their top-ranking concerns.
  • Discuss voting as a privilege, not just a right and responsibility. The following exercise will help to illustrate this point. It is used by the League of Women Voters in their voter education efforts.
  • Voter Rights Exercise
  • to dramatize the obstacles to voting in the U.S. in the past
  • to dramatize extension of the franchise in the U.S.
  • to have individuals actually experience the feeling of discrimination
  • to motivate individuals to participate in government
  • to dramatize who wielded political power in the past

  • Ask everyone to stand.
  • Ask everyone who does not meet voter requirements (see next page) to sit as they are called out
  • .

    DEBRIEFING—Ask these questions:

  • Who is left who had the right to vote?
  • How did you feel when you were excluded from voting?
  • How did you feel about those who had the right to vote?
  • What did you learn from this exercise?
  • What is the purpose of this exercise?

    Anyone younger than 21 years old must sit down. (In 1971 the 26th Amendment gave citizens over the age of 18 the right to vote.)

    Anyone not living in the same place for over a year must sit down. (Before passage of the 1970 Voting Rights Act, most states had residency requirements of anywhere from three months to two years. A 1970 law abolished any residency requirement of more than 30 days.)

    Anyone who cannot read or write English well enough to pass a literacy test must sit down. (The 1970 Voter Rights Act abolished literacy tests.)

    Anyone who is not fluent in English must sit down.(The 1965 Voter Rights Act made it possible for Spanish speaking citizens to vote.)

    Anyone who does not have $1 must sit down. (The 24th Amendment abolished the poll tax of $1 or $2 that many states had required.)

    Anyone who is not a male must sit down. (In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.)

    Anyone who is not white must sit down. (In 1870, the 15th Amendment forbade denial of citizenship on the basis of race.

    Anyone who does not own property must sit down. (By 1821, most states had abolished property or tax requirements.)

    All non-Protestants must sit down. (In early years of the U.S. in most states being Protestant was a requirement for voting.)

    Source: Institute of Political and Legal Education. Pitman, New Jersey.

    Communicating With Elected Officials
    Just like with voting, many citizens do not communicate with their elected officials because of apathy, lack of awareness about what elected officials are doing, and a feeling of alienation from the democratic process. The tips below will help to illustrate the importance of:

  • Have adult learners bring in news articles about issues of importance to them. Talk about ways that learners can express their concerns about these issues such as by writing letters and meeting with elected officials.
  • Study the process a bill goes through to become a law. (See the appendix for an outline of this process.)
  • Encourage adult learners who want to communicate with their elected official(s) about legislation. To help learners find out the name and/or the legislative stage of a federal bill, call Federal Legislative Information: (202) 225-1772; for a state bill call State Legislative Information: 1-800-282-0253.
  • Encourage learners to go to local meetings (e.g. School Board, Neighborhood Association, and so on).
  • Visit the state legislature and/or the local city council.
  • Invite your local elected official to visit your program.
  • Practice public speaking with three sentence speeches. Have learners try to make their point in just three sentences.
  • Generate National Issues Forum (NIF) discussions to help learners formulate and articulate points of view. For more information and/or materials about NIF call: 1-800-600-4060.
  • Practice writing skills by having learners write letters to elected officials either to thank them or to ask them to take some sort of action. To find out where to send your letter call National Legislative Information: 1-800-688-9889 ext. 9; Ohio Legislative Information: 1-800-282-0253; or your local city or town government.
  • To find out more about candidates and elected officials call Project: Vote Smart's Voter's Research Hotline: 1-800-622-7627. Project Vote Smart makes available to the public information about candidates' voting records, biographical history, campaign finance information, and performance evaluations. Project Vote Smart is also on the Internet:
  • Consult other news sources on the Internet. For a list of some of the sites available, see p.4.
  • Encourage learners to take on a project in their community. For example, adult learners in the Key to Community Project in California made a difference in their community by cleaning up trash. Through persistent letter writing and telephone calls to their local elected officials, these adult learners succeeded in getting the city to install more trash cans in their community.
  • Volunteering
    In the previous two sections, tips were included to demon-strate to adult learners that their vote and voice can make a difference. Perhaps one of the best ways to actually experience the difference that one person can make on the world around them is to volunteer.

    A successful volunteer experience can boost self-esteem and spark an interest in actively taking part in the community. Discuss your adult learner's special skills, but also emphasize that you do not have to have a special talent to volunteer - just the time, energy, and the will to help. The following questions are based on those found in a brochure by the United Way Voluntary Action Center to help potential volunteers define what kind of volunteer position would suit

    Questions to Ask

  • How much free time do I have available to do volunteer work?
  • How many hours a week would I like to volunteer?
  • How much of a time commitment am I willing to make? How many months am I able to commit to a volunteer job?
  • Skills/Interests/Experience

  • Why do I want to be a volunteer? Will the job I choose fulfill those motivations?
  • Have I done volunteer work before? What did I like/dislike about it? Do I want to do something similar, or different? Do I have any interest or hobbies that I would like to use in my volunteer job?
  • Setting

  • Do I have a geographic preference? How far am I willing to travel to do volunteer work?
  • What kind of atmosphere would I like to work in? Quiet? Fast-paced?
  • Do I want to work outside or inside?
  • Where do I want to work? Hospital? School? Nursing Home? Office? Gift Shop? Shelter or Soup Kitchen? Recreational Facility? Museum? Camp? Park? Zoo? Playground? Theater? Laboratory?
  • Do I want to work independently or with other volunteers or staff?
  • Clientele

  • What age group do I want to work with? Infants? Children? Teenagers? Adults? Elderly?
  • Do I what to work with individuals with special physical, mental or emotional needs?
  • Do I want to work one-to-one with a person or with a group of people?
  • Personal Considerations

  • How would I get to the volunteer job? Would I drive or take public transportation?
  • Do I have any physical or emotional disabilities that I should take into consideration when choosing a volunteer job? Is there anything that may make certain places or situations inappropriate for me because of my disability?
  • Am I on a medication schedule which would impact the job or the time schedule of the job?
  • Do I know someone who would be a reference for me if I need one? Have I asked them in advance so they will know that they will be contacted?
  • If I am under age 21, do I understand that there may be certain volunteer opportunities that have minimum age requirements for which I don't qualify?
  • Source: “Questions to Ask”, Voluntary Action Center, United Way of Massachusetts Bay

    On the next few pages you will find a listing of places to contact for volunteer referral services. Several of the counties in Ohio are represented in this listing appearing in the Points of Light Directory; however, it is not a complete list. If you need help finding a contact for volunteerism in your area, call the United Way within your area code. LISTING OF VOLUNTEER REFERRAL SERVICES ATHENS
    Ohio University Center for Community Service
    204 Baker Center
    Ohio University
    Athens, OH 45701
    Terrence Hogan, Director
    fax: 614-593-0987

    Middletown Area United Way
    29 City Centre Plaza
    Middletown, OH 45042-1901
    fax: 513-423-0005

    Volunteer Service Bureau of Clark County
    616 North Limestone Street
    Springfield, OH 45503
    Jacquelyn Juergens, Director
    fax: 937-324-2605

    United Way Volunteer Resource Center / Eastern Area
    2085-A Front Wheel Drive
    Batavia, OH 45103
    Brenda Clifton, Manager
    fax: 513-536-3015

    Volunteer Center - Business Volunteerism Council
    1125 Terminal Tower
    Cleveland, OH 44113-2204
    Elizabeth Voudouris, Asst. Director
    fax: 216-736-7710

    Volunteer Center of Erie County
    108 West Shoreline Drive
    Sandusky, OH 44870
    fax: 419-627-1402

    370 South Fifth Street
    Columbus, OH 43215
    Marilee Chinnici-Zuercher, Executive Director
    fax: 614-224-6866

    Volunteer Bureau - Geauga United Way
    107 Water Street
    Chardon, OH 44024-1201
    Linda J. Huron, Manager
    216-285-3194 fax: 216-286-3442

    United Way Volunteer Resource Center
    2400 Reading Road
    Cincinnati, OH 45202-1478
    Lucy Crane, Manager
    513-762-7192 or 513-762-7138

    United Way of Hancock County - Volunteer Action Center
    124 West Front Street
    Findlay, OH 45840
    Joani Smith, Director
    fax: 419-423-4918

    Volunteer Center in Huron County
    258 Benedict Avenue
    Norwalk, OH 44857
    Mary L. Geoghan, Exec. Director
    fax: 419-668-9525

    Volunteer Connection - United Way of Lake County
    9285 Progress Parkway
    Mentor, OH 44060
    Lucy Nixon, Director
    fax: 216-975-1220 LORAIN

    The Volunteer Action Center of Lorain County, Inc.
    2929 West River Road
    Elyria, OH 44035
    Minnie E. Taylor, Exec. Director
    fax: 216-324-4872

    United Way of Greater Toledo - Voluntary Action Center
    1 Stranahan Square, Suite 160
    Toledo, OH 43604
    Robert Krompak, Director of Outreach Services
    419-244-3036 or 419-224-3728
    fax: 419-246-4614

    Volunteer Center of Youngstown/Mahoning Valley
    5500 Market Street, Suite 106
    Youngstown, OH 44512
    Kathy Gordon, Director
    fax: 330-782-5001

    United Way Volunteer Center of Medina County
    113 East Homestead Street
    Medina, OH 44256
    Christine Kurth, Director
    fax: 330-725-3000

    Voluntary Action Center - United Way of Greater Dayton
    184 Salem Avenue
    Dayton, OH 45406
    Pamela D. Becker, Director
    fax: 937-225-3074

    Ottawa County United Way
    127 West Perry Street, Suite 104
    Port Clinton, OH 43452
    Chris Galvin, Director
    fax: 419-734-4841

    United Way Volunteer and Community Services
    618 Second Street, NW
    Canton, OH 44703-2700
    Linda Woit, Director
    fax: 330-455-8909

    The Volunteer Center of Summit County
    425 West Market Street
    Akron, OH 44303-2044
    Josie M. McElroy, Exec. Director
    fax: 216-762-3121

    Voluntary Action Center - Warren County United Way
    20 North Mechanic Street
    Lebanon, OH 45036
    Karen Rossi, Director
    fax: 513-932-4496

    Volunteer Registry
    c/o United Way's Infolink
    215 South Walnut Street
    Wooster, OH 44691
    fax: 330-264-5607

    Wood County United Way
    519 West Wooster #3
    Bowling Green, OH 43402
    Nadine Musser, Director
    fax: 419-353-0608

    Source: The Points of Light Directory.

    Before you discuss any one aspect of what it means to be a citizen in a democracy, it might be helpful to give the adult learner a framework into which the different components of citizenship fit. On the next few pages you will find information that will help you give an overview of:

  • a definition of democracy
  • the history of democracy in the United States
  • how our government is set up
  • Democracy
    A democracy is a government that is run by the people, for the people. A democracy, therefore, requires active citizens.

    In our democracy, people have a say in making decisions about the laws and leaders that govern the nation, states, and cities. In our democracy, the people elect their leaders. These elected officials are also known as public servants. Their job is to serve the needs of the people through their position in the government. In other words, the decisions that our leaders make are dictated by the needs and concerns of the citizens who elect them to office. This is called a representative democracy because the people do not actually run the government, rather, their chosen representatives do.


    circa 500 BC
    Athens, Ancient Greece. One of the first examples of a democracy. “Democracy” is a Greek word meaning “rule by the people”.

    Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain to America. Many other people from different countries sailed to America shortly after him in order to claim land to set up colonies.

    The Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock. The pilgrims came from England to set up a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts so that they could be free to practice their religion.

    The Revolutionary War began. Colonists were fighting for freedom from England. The colonists won in 1781.

    The Articles of Confederation were written. They were a first attempt at writing a Constitution. The Articles of Confederation failed to establish a central government that was strong enough to unite the states.

    The Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia. The United States Constitution was created.

    The first national Congress met. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Bill of Rights.

    There are three branches of our national government: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch.

    The main job of the executive branch of government is to carry out the laws. The people that make up this branch of government are the president and the cabinet. The president is the leader of our country. The cabinet is a collection of people who advise the president on major issues of concern to our country, like education, transportation, defense, and so on. Each of these issues is overseen by a department. There are 13 departments in the cabinet.

    The main job of the legislative branch of government is to make the federal laws. This branch of government is called Congress and is made up of the Senate, the House of Representatives. Congress passes bills and sends them to the President. The President can accept a bill into law by signing it, reject it by vetoing it, or do neither and let the bill die.

    The main job of the judicial branch of government is to interpret the laws. The Supreme Court is the highest level of the judiciary system.

    Our state government is based on the same model as our national government. Our state government has the same three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial.

    The job of the executive branch of state government is to carry out the laws that govern the state. The governor of Ohio and the executive committee make up this branch of government. The governor is to Ohio like the president is to the United States. The members of the executive committee serve the same purpose as the Cabinet. They are advisors to the governor on issues of concern to the state of Ohio.

    The job of the legislative branch is to make state laws. The state legislature is made up of the Ohio General Assembly (State Senate and State House of Representatives) and the governor.

    The job of the judicial branch of government is to interpret state laws. The highest court is the State Supreme Court.

    How is your city government set up?

    Different cities have different types of government structures.To find out more about how your city government works, try looking for information in your local library, calling your county board of election, or your city council.

    How a bill becomes a law
    : At the federal level bills are dealt with in Congress in the following manner:

  • A bill is introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Sometimes a bill is presented in both houses of Congress at the same time.
  • Once a bill is introduced it is given a number. If the bill is introduced to the House of Representatives, it is given a number like HR:1234. If a bill is introduced to the Senate, it will be called S:1234.
  • The bill is sent to a standing committee. The standing committee is a small group of people who gather to talk about the good points and the bad points of the bill. In the end, the standing committee will do one of the following: approve the bill as introduced, rewrite it, add changes to it, combine it with another bill, put it on hold to think about later, or kill it.
  • The rules committee of the House of Representatives or Senate is the next stop for a bill that has not been put on hold or killed. The rules committee usually sets up a time for the bill to be talked about by everyone in the House or Senate, not just the committees. The rules committee also has the power to put the bill on hold for as long as it wants. If the committee chooses to do that, the bill can end up being killed.
  • When everyone in the House of Representatives or Senate gathers to talk about the bill, they may decide to make some changes to it. Then the bill is voted on. In most cases if it receives a majority vote (over 50%), it passes. Some bills need at least two-thirds (66%) vote to pass.
  • After a bill passes one house, it is then sent to the other where it follows the same steps. If the bill is changed in the second house, it is sent back to the first house to make sure the changes are approved. If not, the bill is assigned to a conference committee made up of members of the House and members of the Senate. This committee tries to come up with a version of the bill that both houses will approve.
  • Any new versions of the bill must be voted on. Each house must pass the same version of the bill. (If not, the bill dies.)
  • A bill passed by both houses becomes an act. The act is passed on to the President for consideration. If the President signs it, the bill will become law. The President can also veto the bill. When that happens, the bill is sent back to Congress. Congress may try to override the President's veto. If it does, then the bill becomes law. If not, Congress may choose to rework the bill. The President can also choose to neither sign, nor veto a bill, thereby letting it die.
  • The process for a bill's journey in the Ohio General Assembly is very similar to the federal process. One of the main differences is what happens to a bill right after it is introduced. In the Ohio General Assembly the bill is sent to the Reference Committee in the House or the Committee on Reference and Oversight in the Senate. These committees then assign the bills to standing committees.

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