NOW THAT YOU ARE IN EIGHTH GRADE, YOU’RE FINALLY OLD ENOUGH TO JOIN THE WELCOME CLUB AT SCHOOL.
This means that when a new student starts in the middle of the year, you help them find their way around and get to know their new community. On your first day in the Welcome Club, you are paired up with Isabelle, a new student from France.
Isabelle is lots of fun. She’s not nervous to be in a new school at all, and she likes to point out how things are different from her school back in France. By lunch time, you already know that Isabelle plays soccer (even though she calls it football) and that she loves to cook and ride horses. Isabelle also likes to talk politics. Today she explains that the political parties in each European country are very different from one another. But she doesn’t know a lot about the differences between the two American political parties.
You explain that there are a lot of differences. Democrats generally believe the federal government should take a more active role to help solve society’s problems, particularly to help those in need. That means they support policies that expand food and housing assistance, or more recently, health insurance. Republicans are more likely to believe in a smaller government that leaves more space for individuals and companies to solve problems. That means they don’t believe the government should be responsible for providing things like food to people, but instead believe that religious or other organizations can provide that help. Republicans believe that private companies are in the best position to make policies that can help all people.
Your History teacher, Ms. Mitsky, hears your explanation and jumps in, “That’s a pretty good explanation of the major difference between the two parties. You should hear how both parties began. You might not even recognize them because they’ve changed so much since then!” Both you and Isabelle are interested, and decide to do some research on your own.
It’s time for you to explore some accounts of the Democrats and Republicans from the previous century. Investigate the primary sources. How do these documents help you understand the beliefs of both parties? What do these past documents tell you about the differences between the two major political parties now? What clues do these sources give you about how the parties’ beliefs have changed over time? Make your case.
Have your students take this challenge and make their case! To begin, send your students to this website with this challenge’s code.
The two major American political parties are the Democrats and the Republicans.