What Is Government?


The government makes the rules we live by and ensures those rules are followed. It also judges any conflicts between the rules. The United States Constitution sets the framework for our national government, which is made up of three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Each branch offers roles for aspiring politicians, and our system is designed as a collaborative “checks and balances” system that prevents any one branch from gaining too much power.

The word government comes from the Latin verb gubernare, meaning to steer a ship or vessel. It refers to the body of people invested with the authority to manage a political unit, organization or, most commonly, a State. Governments widely vary throughout the world, and their structures can be classified according to who has the authority to rule: an individual (an autocracy), a small group of people (an oligarchy) or the entire population (a democracy).

Often, when adults talk about government, they’re talking about the federal level—the branches of the U.S. Congress and the president, plus the judicial branch of the Supreme Court. But there are other levels of government that have just as much to do with the day-to-day lives of people, and these include state governments and city governments. In this lesson, students will learn about these other levels of government and how they work together to make the nation run smoothly.

A variety of resources are available for teachers to help them teach about different types of government. Students can use these materials to find out more about the different kinds of government in the world, and explore how a democracy works.

Some examples of the kinds of activities government is responsible for are providing schools with funding and ensuring safe water supplies, roads and highways, and hospitals. The government is also responsible for protecting the environment by regulating things like pesticides and chemicals used in manufacturing. This has prevented a number of environmental disasters, including the deaths of wildlife and human beings from compounds such as DDT and PCBs.

Many of us rely on government benefits such as unemployment compensation, welfare and social security. To find out more about these and other forms of government assistance, check out the following Web sites. They offer information for both adults and children about the various types of benefits that are provided by the federal government.