Feb 09, 2018 / E-news
Florida’s We the People students came out in huge numbers for the title of state final’s champion! Eighteen middle schools and twelve high schools competed, showing off their constitutional knowledge and months of hard work. Held at Seminole State College, students displayed their understanding of the way that constitutional principles intertwine with both historical and contemporary issues by participating in simulating congressional hearings in front of a panel of judges.
The high school winner was Pine Crest High School the middle school winner was B. Graham Middle School. Students and teachers prepare to compete in mock congressional hearings, displaying their understanding of the Constitution and American government along with contemporary issues. Pine Crest was led by teacher Trish Everett and B. Graham Middle School was led by teachers Jackeline Hernandez and John Brady.
B. Graham Middle School was this year's middle school winner in Florida, along with their dedicated teachers Jackeline Hernandez and John Brady.
For more pictures of the Florida We the People competition, check out the Center’s Flickr page. Keep an eye on these competitive Florida teams as they attend the We the People National Finals and Invitational!
Jan 22, 2018 / E-news
Peace First, a nonprofit that inspires and supports young people to start social action projects in their community, recognizes young people as a vital resource in kickstarting change.
Sign up by January 31 for the Peace First Challenge to join a movement of young people from around the country who are committed to improving their communities. When you enter the Challenge, Peace First helps young people take action to address an issue that matters to them. They offer project-planning tools, one-on-one mentors, $250 grants, and expert feedback to get started. This type of challenge is perfect for students who have participated in Project Citizen, as they can take their work and research and further it with Peace First’s tools. Since these students have already identified a problem and workshopped a solution, they are better prepared to make real change.
And, when the Peace First Challenge ends, they’ll be giving out even larger accelerator grants to help take projects to the next level. Some applicants will also be able to attend trip to attend the national youth summit.
Adults who work with young social innovators can also benefit from the challenge, taking part in curriculum and facilitator guides for teachers who want to guide their students through the challenge.
For more information, check out Peace First’s website!
Jan 17, 2018 / E-news
Sarah K. Anderson “didn’t plan to be a teacher” but, after working for nonprofit and government agencies she realized that “all real change comes through education.” Happily, she ultimately loved being a teacher.
The teacher’s perspective rightly permeates Ms. Anderson’s Bringing School to Life: Place-Based Education across the Curriculum. Although she now serves as the Fieldwork and Place-Based Education Coordinator at the Cottonwood School in Portland, Oregon, she sees herself as a practitioner building upon the work of authors such as David Sobel, Greg Smith, and Delia Clark, who have articulated the value of place-based education over the past twenty years. In her position she works with other teachers at the school to implement this refreshing approach among the school’s diverse students. These teachers are trying to help the students learn to be exemplary citizens who research and act justly and with tolerance for others in pursuit of public policy change within their community. It is a student-centered and experiential approach. Students need to be able to evaluate, develop, and defend positions on public issues in order to enrich their own civic character and the lives of their fellow community members.
Place-based education fits squarely within the principles of progressive education, to which American educators have aspired for more than a century. Anderson lays out reasons why now is the right time for place-based education that not only connects students to their political community but also to the natural world. She cites the idea of a “nature-deficit disorder” and is concerned that students might be less informed than they need to be about the environment. She is attempting to revitalize American democracy. She decries the people’s disconnection from their neighbors as well as their local government and politics. She affirms that it is as important that students know how their local government works as it is for them to know about the U.S. Constitution, although understanding constitutional principles is also fundamental to making local change. She is attempting to revitalize American democracy, which at present is hamstrung by an inadequate quality and quantity of civic education.
Ms. Anderson rightly sees the communities and the schools as mutual resources. The students and other community members are often from more diverse backgrounds than the teachers, and the students deserve education that helps them encompass diversity while pursuing common societal goals. They need to understand their communities from many perspectives so they can “construct a sense of place that is in line with a child’s development.” Central to all of this is the idea that students can also serve as teachers.
She describes appropriate place-based activities at different levels within the K–8 curriculum, from classroom and playground and neighborhood to city, state, and world. Mapping of different sorts helps the children connect emotionally and intellectually to the local geography and to the environment, inspiring the students’ study of the relevant sciences. Ultimately history, civics, and the entire school curriculum can contribute to these rich connections.
An example of place-based education that the teachers at the Cottonwood School employ is an active-learning curriculum of the Center for Civic Education entitled Project Citizen. She oversees the implementation of Project Citizen in the school’s seventh and eighth grades. She describes Project Citizen as “a perfect place-based unit for middle school, as it integrates civic education, civic action, and service, along with multiple standard-based skills.” She calls it a “formula for citizen participation in creating public policy.” The Cottonwood School’s projects have been selected several times in recent years to serve as the Oregon representative at the Project Citizen National Showcase in California.
The voice of a master teacher resonates in this straightforward book. Ms. Anderson gives down-to-earth tips to teachers about implementing place-based education. She shows teachers how to overcome resistance to place-based education, assess student work, engage with the community, and meet state standards. She acknowledges the difficulties that face teachers, particularly those with very large numbers of students. But she exhorts those overburdened teachers to give it a try, even if they have to “start small and go slow.” Sarah Anderson knows that the effects on the students and our democracy as a whole are worth the effort.
Jan 17, 2018 / E-news
Are you an educator interested in graduate school with a love for the Constitution? Apply for the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation’s Graduate Fellowships! One individual per state per year can win $24,000 toward becoming teachers of the American Constitution at the secondary school level.
Graduate fellows can choose their own university and program of study and will also be attendees of an all expenses paid four week summer institute in Washington, D.C. The summer institute brings together an elite group of scholars who encourage a spirit of inquiry and discovery that James Madison fellows will eventually bestow on their own students. Upon completing a master’s degree in history, political science, or education, graduates will go on to use their skills as social studies teachers. Applications are due March 1, 2018. Find more information and the application at the James Madison Foundation website.
The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation’s mission is to encourage study of the United States Constitution, its roots, its formation, its principles, and its development. Created by Congress in 1986, the Foundation is an independent agency of the Executive Branch of the federal government.
Jan 16, 2018 / E-news
Does federalism still matter? The Center for the Study of Federalism says yes! CSF will be awarding three teachers with $2500 each for unit plans focusing on federalism in the United States.
Middle and high school teachers can participate by creating unit plans that address the question, “Does federalism still matter?” Defined as the distribution of power in an organization between a central authority and the constituent, federalism in the U.S. is a complicated concept about balancing power between national and state governments.
Unit plans should contain five to seven lesson plans that are adaptable for other teachers across the country and winning unit plans will be published on the CSF website. Within the theme of federalism, applicants may be creative and explore the subject area from a number of perspectives. For instance, a specific policy area, policy debates, or the policy-making process may be interesting angles from which students can grapple with issues relating to federalism.
For more information about the unit plan format and evaluation criteria, check out the Center for the Study of Federalism’s website.
Jan 12, 2018 / E-news
The Ask John Project, a vital tool for students preparing for the We the People state finals, is available on the Center for Civic Education’s website!
The project consists of videos in which Professor John P. Kaminski of the Center for the Study of the American Constitution answers student questions about the 2017-18 We the People state hearing questions. He addressed questions submitted by We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution students from all over the nation as they participated in the program and prepared for their 2017–18 We the People state competitions. Questions range from “Why did it take three years to draft the Articles of Confederation?” to “Is common law synonymous to having an unwritten constitution?”
Kaminski teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the founder and director of the Center for the Study of the American Constitution. His expertise in period and constitutional history is displayed in dozens of articles and books he has written on civics, American government and history, and the Founders, as well as his editing work on The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution.
The Ask John Project can also be found on YouTube and Facebook.
Nov 20, 2017 / E-news
Why should freedom of expression be taught? Adolph Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party, took power in 1933 when he became chancellor of the German government. His death in 1945 marked the end of his absolute rule as dictator of the German people. He precipitated one of the worst periods in human history, in which millions of people died not only on the battlefield, but also in his attempt to eliminate all of the Jews in Europe as well as homosexuals, gypsies, and the mentally ill and handicapped, who were considered “needless eaters.” He began the first year of his reign by eliminating the political opposition. An early step he took to attain this goal was to eliminate all of the protections for freedom of expression and due process of law in the German constitution. The following decree was issued by the Reich president in 1933.
Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications, and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.
This was followed almost immediately by the imprisonment in concentration camps of Germans who opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party. Martin Niemöller was a pastor in the German Evangelical (Lutheran) Church, an early supporter of Hitler who later turned against him. He was imprisoned in German concentration camps, including Dachau, from 1936 to 1945, when he was freed by Allied forces. He has been quoted as saying,
In Germany, they first came for the Communists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me … and by that time, no one was left to speak up.
Martin Niemöller, a German evangelical pastor
This tragic episode in history is not the only time those in power have tried to suppress freedom of expression by people critical of their rule. It happened in our country shortly after it began when Congress passed the four Alien and Sedition Acts, which were signed into law by Federalist president John Adams. They made it more difficult for immigrants to become citizens, gave the president the power to put noncitizens in prison who they thought might be dangerous or were from a hostile nation and made it a crime to make “false” statements critical of the federal government. Among other things, the Acts were intended to suppress the right to freedom of expression of the opposing Democratic-Republican Party formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Imagine a charismatic leader in power in America acting to suspend or erode our Constitution’s protections of our freedom of expression, our due process protections from unreasonable and unfair searches and seizures by government and our right to the equal protection of the laws regardless of the groups to which we might belong. Could it happen here? How strong are our political institutions? How deeply ingrained among us is an understanding of and commitment to the fundamental principles and values of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and its amendments. To what extent do liberty and equality lie in the hearts and minds of the American people and their elected representatives as a bulwark against the suppression of their liberties and denial of the ideal that “all men are created equal”?
American philosopher George Santayana
How should freedom of expression be taught? The American philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately, too many Americans not only don’t remember the past, they are not aware of it. They are not well-versed in American history or the evolution of the American political system and its European antecedents. Lessons like those of Nazi Germany rarely come to mind when issues of freedom of expression, its proper scope and limits and threats to it arise. So, a knowledge of the history and centrality of freedom of expression to a free society, at least in western civilization, is an essential foundation for becoming an informed citizen in the United States.
This historical understanding should be accompanied by a conceptual understanding derived from philosophy and jurisprudence. For example, the justifications for widespread freedom of expression from John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” and other outstanding sources of political thought undergirding American constitutional democracy should be familiar to American students. This should be accompanied by an examination of the proper scope and limits of freedom of expression derived at least in part from an examination of landmark Supreme Court decisions on the topic. All inquiry should take place in the light of free and open discussion and debate in which a wide range of reasonable differences of position and opinion are encouraged and respected.
The burden of responsibility for the enlightening of our young people regarding the precious rights to freedom of expression they have inherited and a disposition to cherish them, exercise them competently and responsibly and protect them lies with the dedicated teachers of our school systems, many of whom are carrying out this responsibility daily in their classroom using the We the People Programs of the Center for Civic Education and those of other outstanding contributors to the field.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Times on October 25, 2017, as part of a special The President and the Constitution section.
Nov 20, 2017 / E-news
Each year, the American Lawyers Alliance recognizes three teachers of law-related education as the American Lawyers Alliance Teachers of the Year. Applications are now being accepted for the 2018 American Lawyer’s Alliance Law-Related Teacher of the Year Award! Nominate the teacher you know who goes above and beyond to develop programs that help promote an informed citizenry and enhance education related to the judicial and legal systems. David Alcox and Fred Cole, We the People teachers, won two of the three awards in 2017. Read more about these amazing teachers.
Learn more about the awards and how to nominate a teacher in your life here.
Nov 15, 2017 / E-news, James Madison Legacy Project
Teachers met in Anchorage, Alaska, to participate in the James Madison Legacy Project (JMLP) professional development workshop. They learned strategies for teaching We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution to their students by role-playing a simulated congressional hearing and hearing from speakers, such as Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger. “This workshop offers content and engagement. The interactive activities were very strong reinforcement of the material taught to the class,” said one JMLP teacher.
JMLP Teachers Role-Play a Mock Congressional Hearing
The teachers presented to their school board explaining the We the People program and its benefits to students. Teachers Minty Ruthford, Mary Ulroan, and Valeria Owrey, had their students become part of the presentation through a candy bar simulated congressional hearing. Each group of students picked a candy that they felt best represented the United States and presented to their class and three judges.
Students argued for a variety of candies. “Peanut M&M’s are red, green, brown, yellow and blue and this represents the diversity of America because there are so people from so many different backgrounds,” said one group. Another group argued for Hot Tamales because, “Hot Tamales are made in Pennsylvania just like America’s Declaration of Independence.”
As classrooms move from candy bar hearings to their real mock congressional hearings, Alaska’s JMLP teachers are confident that the We the People curriculum “gets kids to become more involved in their community and to practice their citizenship both inside the school and out.”
Nov 15, 2017 / E-news, We the People
Robert Leming, Director of the Center’s We the People programs, spoke at this year’s Birmingham Seminar on Civil Rights.
In his opening remarks, he honored those who fought for the cause of human rights. “We are here this weekend to honor those who were involved in the struggle, those who suffered discrimination, and those who given their lives for the cause … I am looking forward to this weekend with you, because I believe you are about love. You love your country, you love your families, you love your students, and you understand the importance of civic education.”
The Center for Civic Education has invited hundred of civic educators to experience the Birmingham Civil Rights Seminar to cultivate relationships with civil rights leaders and other educators. This year, Ms. Carolyn McKinstry, Ms. Janis Kelsey, Mr. William Collins, Ms. Martha Bouyer, Mr. Doug Jones, and Mr. William Baxley—who were personally involved in the civil rights movement—were some of the leaders who attended the seminar.
Three members from Charleston, South Carolina, spoke about their roles in the case of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The seminar was sponsored by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Birmingham Division. Speakers’ highlighted the weekend’s theme of hate crimes speaking on the tragic massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015; the murder of a transgender woman named Mercedes Williamson; and the history of hate.
For more on the 2017 Seminar on Civil Rights, check out the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.