Elem 6: Being a Good Citizen

Students from Briceville Elementary School
clean a cemetery
PHOTO: Coal Creek Watershed Foundation


Do you know why your school is there in the first place? Back when people were talking about the idea of public schools, the main reason they were created was to produce good citizens.

What does it mean to be “a good citizen?”

To be a good citizen means to help others. It means to get out there and do something good for the community. It means to do what our system of government expects you to do and needs you to do. And if asked, it means to help preserve our way of life.

Not everyone is a good citizen. But we can thank the people who are good citizens for our freedom.

What are some things a good citizen might do?

Students from Vanderbilt University paint
dumpsters at a public school in Nashville

1. Vote

When you turn 18, you will be allowed to vote. There are many countries where people are not allowed to vote. The people in those countries have no say as to how their government runs or who their leaders are. Where would you rather live — a place like that, or a place like the United States?

2. Stay informed

You should care enough about your city, your state, and your country to cast your vote wisely. After all, how will you know who to vote for if you don’t know the facts? It is your duty to know things and to know what is happening in the world.

What are some of the ways that you can stay informed?

Students at West End Middle School in Nashville volunteer at a food bank
PHOTO: West End Middle PTO

3. Jury Duty

At some point in your life you may be called to sit on a jury. And what is a jury? A jury is a group of citizens who are called to a courtroom to hear and decide a legal case.

Jury duty is a big deal. When the time comes, take it seriously.

4. Pay Taxes

You have already been paying taxes, but perhaps you didn’t realize it. Every time you buy anything in Tennessee — even a pack of gum — you pay sales tax, which supports your state and local governments.

James Davis, the first American killed in the Vietnam War, was from Tennessee, as this marker in Overton County indicates.

5. Respond to a Call of Duty

There have been many times in the history of Tennessee and the United States where the government asked people to go fight against a foreign enemy, or to at least serve their country in some way. We owe all of our freedom to the people who have defended the United States in such times.

By the way, the reason Tennessee is known as the “Volunteer State” is because of how quickly Tennesseans respond to the government’s call to raise an army.

U.S. District Judge John Bryant congratulates a new citizen after a naturalization ceremony.

6. Tolerate

Tennessee and the United States are based on the idea of tolerance. Not everyone here looks the same, talks the same, thinks the same, or believes the same. That’s OK. In fact, that’s great.

A great American once said that “I don’t agree with you, but I will defend to my death your right to say it.” This would be a good rule for all of us to follow.

7. Help others

There are times when people in our country, our state, and our town, need help.

Back in the fall of 2005 the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, flooded, and many people who lived there were homeless for a few weeks afterward. If it hadn’t been for good citizens helping out, the people who lived there would have been sleeping out on the highway. But people did help out.

Now let’s think of something closer to home. Can you think of something close to home where people have helped each other out?

The people who did this vandalism were breaking the law and exhibiting bad citizenship.

8. Obey the laws

This may seem obvious. But here is a law that many Tennesseans disobey on a regular basis: the one against littering.

If you drive down almost any highway in Tennessee you will see trash people have discarded. Littering is against the law. Don’t do it.

Click here to take an interactive quiz to see if you have learned anything from this ELEMENTARY CIVICS section.