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America's Core Values: Liberty, Equality & Self-Government

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  • 0:42 Liberty
  • 1:31 Self-Government
  • 2:17 Equality
  • 3:13 Individualism and Diversity
  • 4:37 Unity
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will examine a few of America's core values. We will focus especially on liberty, self-government, equality, individualism, diversity, and unity.

A Set of Ideals

Americans have always been idealistic people. They set high standards for themselves and hold firmly to ideals that they believe are true, important, and desirable. Even though Americans don't always live up to these ideals, or core values, nevertheless, they cling to them as a set of basic beliefs on which the American government was founded and continues to operate today.

In this lesson, we will look at six of these core values: liberty, self-government, equality, individualism, diversity, and unity. Because these are abstract concepts and rather difficult to define, we will examine not only formal definitions but also a set of scenarios that shows what each value looks like in everyday life.

Liberty

Liberty is the value that proclaims that people should be free to think, speak, and act as they choose as long as they do not offend the freedom and rights of others.

A journalist uncovers corruption in one of the country's largest political parties. Big-name leaders have been swiping money that donors contributed to the party's campaign fund and used it to purchase things for themselves, things like sports cars and yachts. The journalist, employing his liberty in the forms of freedom of the press and freedom of speech, writes and publishes an article about the scandal and speaks about it on television.

A subsequent investigation proves that the leaders did exactly what the journalist claimed, and they lost their jobs and paid huge fines. A couple even went to jail, losing their liberty because they had misused it. This is liberty in action.

Self-Government

Self-government is the value that declares that citizens have a say in how their government is run. They are the primary source of the government's authority, they participate actively in the political process, and the government exists to promote their well-being.

A young woman who has just turned 18 is excited to be able to vote in an upcoming election. She carefully studies the background and positions of each candidate, listens closely to debates, makes a list of the issues and ideas that are most important to her, and votes accordingly. After the election, she plans to remain informed about the workings of government and stay in close contact with her leaders, sending them letters and emails to express her opinions. One day, she might even run for office herself. This is self-government in action.

Equality

Equality is the value that holds that all people must be treated fairly and with dignity and be able to embrace opportunities for education, economic success, political involvement, and a fulfilling life.

One day, a teenage boy from a poor neighborhood in the inner city notices a bulletin announcing a government-sponsored summer school program that would help him build his study skills, assist him in his college preparations, and teach him how to apply for scholarships. Most of his friends just snicker and mutter that the whole thing would be a waste of time, but the boy knows an opportunity when he sees one, and he grabs it. He realizes that this is his chance for an education and a better life.

Two years later, he graduates with honors and is preparing to start college at an excellent school with a full-tuition scholarship. He is pleased to have the same chance for an education and a successful life as students who come from richer families and better neighborhoods. This is equality in action.

Individualism

Individualism is the value that is committed to independence, self-sufficiency, private initiative, and personal economic growth. Individuals must be in control of their own lives and be able to make decisions without undue influence from the government or society.

An American corporate worker is sick and tired of the rat race of big business, and he decides to strike out on his own and start his own business. He has plenty of ideas, drive, and energy, and he has saved up some money to cover his start-up costs. He knows that he's taking a risk, but he is willing to do so in order to be independent and take control over his own life and his own economic situation. This is individualism in action.

Diversity

Diversity is the value that teaches us to respect and embrace the fact that all people are unique and important no matter what their race, culture, heritage, belief system, or socio-economic status.

Take a look around a classroom in a large American university. The students are men and women of different races, different religious beliefs, different nationalities, and different social classes.

Some descend from ancestors who came to America in the earliest days of the European colonization. Others are first or second generation immigrants. The professor respects all of them and encourages them to share their views and to make their own valuable contributions to the class. This is diversity in action.

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