May 14, 2019 / E-news, We the People
President of the AFT Teacher’s Union, Randi Weingarten, spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 18, in a speech titled “The Freedom to Teach.”
Her address centered around the reasons that teachers feel called to teach—to change the world, to encourage curiosity, to make our democracy better. “Teaching is unlike any other profession in terms of mission, importance, complexity, impact, and fulfillment,” she said. “Teachers get the importance of their work. So do parents and the public.”
However, she cited statistics showing that teachers and other public school employees are leaving their professions, and there aren’t enough teachers. At the root of this problem and others, according to Weingarten, is disinvestment and deprofessionalization.
Weingarten offers solutions to these problems, too. Some include a culture of collaboration, the creation and maintenance of proper teaching and learning conditions, and the assurance that teachers have voice and agency befitting their profession.
The We the People program, of which Weingarten was a teacher, is one example where teachers are allowed creativity and agency. As a result, she saw “powerful learning” within students. “We’d spend hours after school—working in teams, deciding their best arguments, practicing and polishing. We developed deep relationships with each other and a meaningful understanding of the Constitution.”
It is the personal investment of teachers and students, the creativity, and the learning that drew her to the We the People program. Her speech ends with an emphasis on these qualities, as well as a call for better treatment for teachers. To teachers she said, “You are making a difference not only in your classrooms but in reclaiming our profession.”
Read the full speech here.
May 14, 2019 / E-news, We the People
Before We the People students attend the We the People National Finals or Invitational, they spend all year preparing by studying the textbook, learning about history and current events, and practicing their answers to the hearing questions. They compete in local and state competitions. One class from North Smithfield High School in Rhode Island even had help from their congressman!
Congressman David Cicilline visited the North Smithfield class and teacher Natalie O’Brien on April 18 to assist them with unit four questions. In preparation, students compiled questions about the For The People Act (H.R.1), updating the Voting Rights Act, and filibuster in the Senate.
Congressman Cicilline visits a We the People class in Rhode Island.
“The Congressman also shared some information from the Congressional Research Office; it was incredibly useful. There were some nuanced ideas about how government works that students had not learned from their research,” said O’Brien. For example, a student asked about an eight-hour speech given by Nancy Pelosi about immigration in the 115th Congress, and Cicilline explained the “Magic Minute”—individuals in key leadership positions in the House have an opportunity to speak on the floor about an issue for as long as they want. Although it is called the “Magic Minute,” the Congressman said that the minute never ends.
The Unit 4 team also shared their formal presentation of Question 3 in front of Congressman Cicilline. He offered feedback, giving the students their first direct experience with a judge who could give a first-hand account of the operation of government in Congress.
“The students left energized and more excited than ever,” said O’Brien. “However, I must say that the best resource is really the We the People textbook. It is the foundation of their knowledge and has led to a greater understanding of government and the necessary knowledge to encourage further research.”
May 14, 2019 / E-news, We the People
More than a thousand We the People students traveled to Washington, D.C., for the We the People national competitions this April and May, impressing panels of judges with knowledge of the Constitution and its application.
Denver East High School captured the national championship at the National Finals. Second place went to Amador Valley High School of Pleasanton, California, and third place was awarded to Grant High School of Portland, Oregon. You can find the complete National Finals results on the National Finals results page.
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Apr 21, 2019 / E-news, We the People
We the People students from all over the country will soon converge in Washington, D.C., to compete in simulated congressional hearings and explore the history of the nation’s capital.
High school teams will compete in the We the People National Finals from April 26 to April 29, and middle school teams will compete in the We the People National Invitational from May 3 to May 6. Both competitions will be held at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia, near the capital.
These competitions are annual culminations of the We the People program, in which students learn about American representative democracy, history, and founding documents. Classes study the six units of the We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution textbook before being organized into teams around each unit and its concept. Each unit of the book deals with one aspect of American constitutionalism.
Students preparing to testify at the 2018 We the People National Finals.
High school classes compete at the local and state levels before attending the national competitions. At both the middle and high school competitions, each team of students is asked challenging questions about constitutional issues and current events by a panel of expert judges made of accomplished scholars, attorneys, and public officials, among others.
When not participating in the competition, students will tour Washington, D.C.’s monuments and learn about its history.
At the National Finals, the guest speaker is John Tinker, of the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines—a topic of study for We the People students. One school will be presented with a special Tinker Award for its response to Unit 5, Question 3. The award is sponsored by the John F. Tinker Foundation.
To keep track of this year’s competitions, follow the Center for Civic Education on social media, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr! The awards ceremony and speeches will also be livestreamed on Facebook.
Jan 17, 2019 / E-news, We the People
In states across the country, students are competing for a chance to show off their constitutional knowledge in Washington, D.C., this April at the 32nd Annual We the People National Finals!
The We the People state finals challenge students to participate in simulated congressional hearings, putting their knowledge into practice. After spending the school year studying the Constitution and the fundamental principles of American representative democracy, students answer questions about American government from knowledgeable community leaders and professionals, such as lawyers, professors, and historians, who serve as competition judges.
The North Dakota State Finals took place in January. Century High School in Bismarck was the first-place winner.
In anticipation of this year’s state finals, participants study and practice with state hearing questions that address questions that include the following concepts:
- Equal vs. proportional representation in Congress
- Due process of law
- The role of political parties
- How contemporary issues are linked with history
Winners of the We the People state finals have the opportunity to attend the National Finals in Washington, D.C., from April 26-29. Teams can start preparing with the National Finals hearing questions when they are posted on January 31.
Are you interested in keeping up with the results of this year’s competitive state finals? The competition dates and results are available here, and more information about individual competitions can be found by contacting the appropriate state coordinator.
Nov 16, 2018 / Project Citizen, We the People
In April of this year, Cheryl Cook-Kallio assumed the mantle of state coordinator for the We the People Programs, including both We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution and We the People: Project Citizen.
“My entire adult life has been about civic engagement,” says Cook-Kallio. She began teaching Project Citizen and We the People at the middle school level in the early nineties before she became a James Madison Fellow, which allowed her to increase her constitutional content knowledge and work with Senator Dianne Feinstein and the federal courts. She eventually moved to teaching at the high school level, specifically to teach a We the People competition class.
“All these things led my former and current students to encourage me to run for public office in 2006. I retired from teaching in 2015 after 39 years. I will never retire from encouraging excellent civic education.”
State and congressional district coordinators are responsible for ensuring that students and teachers throughout the United States have access to sets of We the People textbooks, providing exemplary professional development, and helping classes conduct simulated congressional hearings. Cook-Kallio has both the hands-on experience and enthusiasm for civic education to excel as the California State Coordinator.
“[We the People and Project Citizen] encourage students to learn for the sake of learning. That is a teacher’s dream,” says Cook-Kallio. She sees the programs as a platform for civil discussion that places value on diversity of opinion based on fact, and these principles are essential in the encouragement of participatory democracy. It makes sense, then, that her favorite Founder is James Madison, who “was a pragmatist. If one suggestion didn’t work, he had another. He had a brilliant political mind and little ego. He was someone who learned for the sake of learning.”
Oct 02, 2018 / Alumni, E-news, We the People
Students who compete in simulated congressional hearings as part of the We the People Program bring their everything. They wear matching outfits, bring customized tablecloths, and display stylized name cards. This enthusiasm for the competition comes, in part, from excitement about showing off what they have learned, but also from a passion about skills and knowledge that are applicable outside of the classroom.
“Participating in We the People is when I remember beginning to understand how something I was studying in school translated to work being done in the real world,” says Monica Lee, a We the People alumna. At her September wedding to Daniel Hart, Lee asked for donations to the We the People program. “My immediate and extended family make a concerted effort to seek out opportunities to help other people to make our communities better places, through work at our churches and in our neighborhoods and I wanted to give people an opportunity to do that as part of our wedding celebration.”
As a child, Monica Lee visited Washington, D.C., often with her family. Her father, Dennis Lee, worked as a teacher, volunteered with the We the People program, and served as the Indiana District Coordinator for many years. She participated in the We the People program as an eighth-grader. For Lee, the program fostered in her a deeper understanding of government’s role in the lives of citizens.
She carried this passion for politics on to a career in public service, working as an intern for the 2008 Obama Campaign for President, an intern in the White House in 2009, and a job as a press assistant in the White House Communications Office in 2011. She has been working in political communications as a career ever since.
The We the People program is offered across the country, giving students opportunities to learn about American government through simulated congressional hearings. Volunteer judges ask students questions regarding the Constitution, the Founders, and more, while encouraging students to link history to current-day events. Winners from state competitions qualify to compete at the national level in the National Invitational and the National Finals. These experiences promote a lifelong sense of civic duty and civic engagement in We the People alumni.
As alumna Monica Lee says, “Now more than ever, I think the We the People program is worth people’s time and resources, since it provides at such an important juncture of kids’ education insight into our democracy, which is important regardless of the field of work you go into.”
Are you a We the People program alumni? Get connected with the Center for Civic Education!
Aug 20, 2018 / E-news, We the People
Christopher Cavanaugh, a We the People teacher who taught at Plainfield High School in Indiana in 2018, is one of this year’s Law-Related Education Teachers of the Year! Awarded annually by the American Lawyers Alliance, this award recognizes teachers who have made significant contributions in the area of law-related education and who have developed programs that help students recognize their civic responsibilities.
We the People teacher Christopher Cavanaugh won the ALA's Law-Related Education Teacher of Year Award.
Cavanaugh will be teaching at Bismarck High School in North Dakota this fall. This year’s other winners are Daniel Bachman from Massapequa High School in New York and Catherine Ruffing from Centreville High School in Virginia. Winners were chosen from around the country. On August 3, 2018, the awards ceremony was held at the University Club of Chicago. Although not all of the teachers were able to attend the ceremony, those in attendance spoke eloquently of the civics programs they are continuing to implement in their schools.
Speakers included Andi M. Metzel, president of the Indiana State Bar Association; Charles R. Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation; and Richard E. Garriott, president-elect of the Virginia Bar Association.
For more information about the Law-Related Education Teachers of the Year and the American Lawyers Alliance, check out their website here!
Aug 14, 2018 / E-news, Project Citizen
Seventeen projects in both the traditional and digital formats were submitted for the 2018 Project Citizen National Showcase! Students dealt with a variety of topics from affordable housing to school schedules to HIV prevention, offering public policy solutions after doing extensive research in their communities.
Classes completed four steps in their projects: identifying the problem, proposing alternative solutions, identifying their preferred policy answers, and creating an action plan. Traditional projects display these steps on multi-paneled poster board and are accompanied by research binders. Digital projects sent in their materials organized in a powerpoint presentation.
See this year’s results here.
To find out more about the Project Citizen curriculum, check out the Project Citizen website here.
Jun 26, 2018 / We the People
The Delaware General Assembly and Governor John Carney recognized Milford Central Academy this month for their participation in the We the People National Invitational and their knowledge of the Constitution!
The joint tribute acknowledges each participating student and their accomplishments. “These remarkable young Delawareans have brought great credit not only upon themselves and their teacher, Mr. Samuel Holloway, whose thorough instruction during this school year was of great importance in their preparation, but upon our entire State of Delaware, whose founding father John Dickinson was himself of central importance in the drafting not only of the U.S. Constitution but of Delaware’s own state constitution.”
Milford Central Academy's We the People class with Delaware Governor John Carney
Milford won the Unit 4 award at the National Invitational this May, led by teacher Samuel Holloway. It was their first time participating in the competition, competing against other middle schools in Washington, D.C.
Students were also able to meet with Governor Carney about the We the People program and the work they put in within the previous school year. Congratulations to all the Milford Central Academy students!