How To Use Democracy Web

The General Content

Democracy Web is based on the premise that teaching students about differences among political systems will enhance their understanding of democracy. For this purpose, it uses Freedom House’s original 12 measures of political rights and civil liberties for its annual Survey of Freedom in the World and analyzes each of those principles within three countries, one each according to Freedom House’s basic categorizations of “free,” “partly free,” and “not free.”

The site is composed of two sections: a 12-unit online study guide and an interactive map.

The Democracy Web Study Guide is composed of 12 units or sections, each of which focuses on a fundamental democratic principle or democratic category used by Freedom House in its original measurement of political freedom and civil liberties. These include: consent of the governed, free elections, constitutional limits, majority rule/minority rights, accountability and transparency, multiparty systems, economic freedom, rule of law, human rights, and freedoms of expression, association, and religion. The unit’s first two parts offer the essential principles and history of each category of measurement. For example, the second unit, “Free, Fair, and Regular Elections,” explains the basic principles involved in free elections, the differences between parliamentary and presidential democratic systems, and what characteristics define free, fair, and regular elections. It then offers a history of elections from ancient times until today and key aspects of their development (e.g. from partial to full suffrage and the struggle of different groups to achieve universal suffrage). Each of the 12 sections then provides three country studies to help illustrate the democratic principle as it is practiced or not practiced in different countries.

The interactive Map of Freedom in the World is the global representation of Freedom House's annual comparative survey of political rights and civil liberties around the world, color coded to the basic country categories of Free, Partly Free, Not Free. One can click on any country and find its specific rankings for political freedoms and civil liberties, a link to the Country Study Guide if it is among the 34 countries selected for Democracy Web, a link to its current annual Freedom House survey report, and also links to other Freedom House reports where available (on media, internet, women’s rights, and worker rights). The menu includes a tab for Countries in order to select alphabetically any of Democracy Web’s Country Studies and also any Freedom House country or territory.

The Country Studies

The subtitle of the Democracy Web site is “Comparative Studies in Freedom.” The three country studies in each section represent one Free, one Partly Free, and one Not Free country as designated by Freedom House's annual Survey of Freedom in the World. Each Country Study provides a summary, a brief history, and an account of the general democratic or non-democratic character of that country with particular focus on the specific category being examined (consent of the governed, free elections, etc.). While it is worthwhile to assign a student a single Country Study for this purpose, it is recommended that teachers and students examine all three countries in a unit in order to compare, contrast, and appreciate the different levels of democratic and non-democratic behavior in the world. One may select other countries as well to supplement the comparative study.

For example, in the second unit, Free Elections, Poland is the country selected in the Free category. Poland emerged from Soviet communism in 1989 to develop a free political system holding regular democratic elections, but it recently has had questions raised about its democratic standards following presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015. Venezuela, the Partly Free example, went from a functioning democracy to a semi-authoritarian country but still has held elections. The opposition there won elections to the National Assembly in early 2016 but still confronts an authoritarian president and conditions of economic collapse. Azerbaijan, the Not Free example, went through a brief period of liberalization in 1992-93 after declaring independence from the Soviet Union, but then came under rigid authoritarian control by a dynastic political family.

By comparing these countries, one can examine many topics: the different elements that make up free, fair, and regular elections; the different ways to conduct elections and accord representation to the people; how democracy can be threatened; how elections can be held fraudulently; how democratic movements try to achieve freedom from authoritarian rule; and also how all of these issues may relate to conditions in the US.

Democracy Web can help teachers who want to give their students a deep understanding of the answers to such issues by exposing them to the study of numerous forms of government around the world. And because governance influences virtually every aspect of life, comparative political study is not only about governments, it is also about how the individuals in a given country interact with their governments.

Classroom Resources and Study Questions

Democracy Web is not a curriculum but an extracurricular resource — a study guide for teachers and students to use in different ways to supplement their classes. It is hoped that teachers may develop specific curriculum plans and share these with the Albert Shanker Institute (see Questionaire). Each of the 12 study-guide chapters is accompanied by a list of suggested Study Questions and activities. These may be used to structure a class, review the material in each unit, or merely offer supplements to other discussion questions or assignments based on the unit’s Essential Principles, History, and Country Studies. The questions and class activities are not simplified. This is intentional. It is hoped that the users of this study guide will be challenged by its materials and ideas. To assist teachers and students, a list of Resources for both the Essential Principle and History and each of the three Country Studies has been included in each unit for further examination of the topic. We hope to develop more resources (including video links and more interactive features) over time. Above all, Democracy Web is intended to offer teachers a unique way to foster or expand upon their students' understanding of democracy. We hope that teachers will find it to be a useful resource that is adaptable to a wide range of class levels, student abilities, and school constraints. Democracy Web is interested in teacher feedback. To send suggestions or examples of how it has been used in the classroom, please contact us.