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About This Site

About Democracy Web

In 1987, the American Federation of Teachers, Freedom House, and the Educational Excellence Network cosponsored the release of Education for Democracy, a statement of principles that received wide media attention and was endorsed by a broad array of prominent Americans—including Jimmy Carter, George Will, Bayard Rustin, Gerald Ford, Liv Ullmann, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Norman Lear, and Norman Podhoretz. It called on our schools to "purposely impart to their students the learning necessary for an informed, reasoned allegiance to the ideals of a free society," arguing that "democracy's survival depends upon our transmitting to each new generation the political vision of liberty and equality that unites us as Americans." It continued,

Such values are neither revealed truths nor natural habits. There is no evidence that we are born with them. Devotion to human dignity and freedom, to equal rights, to social and economic justice, to the rule of law, to civility and truth, to tolerance of diversity, to mutual assistance, to personal and civic responsibility, to self-restraint and self-respect—all these must be taught and learned and practiced.

The 1987 statement and an updated and expanded version, released in 2003 by the Albert Shanker Institute on the second anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, argued that the story of democracy should be taught as a major theme not just in American history, but in much of world history and social studies. Indeed, said the authors, "the great central drama of modern history has been and continues to be the struggle to establish, preserve, and extend democracy—at home and abroad." Both documents argued that all students must be provided with a full and fair accounting of the strengths and failings of democratic societies. But it is equally important, they said, that students are provided with a clear picture of the alternatives against which democracy can be measured.

The systematic presentation of reality abroad must be an integral part of the curriculum. What are the political systems in competition with our own, and what is life like for the people under them?

Sadly, most secondary-school textbooks are little help in this regard.

Freedom House has long been a valuable source of accurate information with which to fill this gap. Freedom in the World, its annual comparative survey, documents the range of political systems in the world and the extent to which democratic rights and freedoms are enjoyed by those who live under them. The survey bases its judgments on a series of criteria that give separate scores for a country's level of political rights and its array of civil liberties, and each country receives an overall designation as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. As a companion to the survey, Freedom House publishes an annual Map of Freedom, which is color coded to show the freedom designation of each country.

Over the past few years, the American Federation of Teachers and Freedom House have periodically worked together to distribute free copies of the Map of Freedom to any history or social studies teachers who request them. The demand has been overwhelming. Many thousands of teachers have asked for copies of the map, which they praise as a uniquely useful teaching tool for courses on global politics. Democracy Web was designed to take advantage of and expand upon this resource.

Freedom House and the Albert Shanker Institute have developed Democracy Web's background and resource materials to help teachers get much more use out of the annual survey and map. The materials center on an informational website and teachers' study guide for use with secondary- and college-level students—those who are just commencing their roles as citizens. An interactive version of the map is a key feature of the website. By clicking on a particular country, a teacher or student can gain access to the variety of surveys, country assessments, and special reports published by Freedom House. For example, a student with an interest in Saudi Arabia can access (1) a profile of the country attached to the study-guide section on the rule of law, (2) the most recent annual country report in Freedom in the World, (3) a Freedom House report on education in the country, (4) an annual report on press freedom in Saudi Arabia, and (5) a report on the status of Saudi women's rights.

The study guide is divided into two sections: an extended essay on the basic history and architecture of democracy, and a series of chapters that examine the core institutions of democracy and provide a comparative analysis of rights and freedoms in specific countries. The essay, "A Short Historical Sketch on the Idea of Freedom" by political scientist James P. Young, attempts to provide some political and historical context for the complex topic of freedom. Each of the chapters that follow focuses on a separate theme, examining the key concepts and mechanisms that allow the ideals of freedom and democracy to work in practice: consent of the governed, elections, constitutional limits, majority rule and minority rights, accountability, multiparty systems, economic freedom, rule of law, human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. The country analyses that accompany each thematic chapter are drawn from the basic framework of Freedom in the World, and reflect a wide variety of democratic achievement as well as regional and cultural diversity. The idea is to be able to access the website's content using multiple routes, whether through specific country searches or by beginning with the philosophical roots of modern democracy. Teachers and students can reach information and explore connections by going in either direction. Extensive resource lists and ideas for further study are also included.

Freedom House and the Albert Shanker Institute are grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for providing the core funding for this project. The views, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed on this website do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment of Humanities. We would also like to thank the expert advisers, educational practitioners, and staff specialists who assisted in the development of Democracy Web materials.