This past week, I had the pleasure of judging the Indiana high school state finals of the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” contest in Indianapolis. This experience gave me the opportunity to meet bright young people from throughout the state and to learn more about how civic education can be taught.
“We the People” is the most extensive program in the country dedicated to educating young people about the history and principles of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. It was developed by the Center for Civic Education and funded by an act of Congress. Its goal is to revitalize educational programs by helping students understand constitutional democracy and how it relates to them, a priceless resource needed to generate an active, responsible citizenry.
Many Indiana schools have adopted “We The People” as part of their curriculum in elementary, middle, and high schools. After completing the semester-long course using “We the People” textbooks, each member of the class becomes an expert witness on one of the six units in the textbook.
At regional and subsequent state competitions, students participate in mock congressional hearings, testifying in small groups before a panel of judges acting as U.S. congressional representatives. Students have the opporatunity to demonstrate their knowledge while they evaluate, take and defend a position on relevant historical and contemporary issues. During the simulated congressional hearings, students are judged on six criteria — understanding, constitutional application, reasoning, supporting evidence, responsiveness and participation.
The students who participated in the State Finals were nothing short of excellent. Their understanding of constitutional principles and modern day applications was outstanding. They seized the opportunity to compete and performed well. They are a great credit to themselves, their families, their schools and to the state of Indiana.
This type of active learning has provided teachers with an excellent means of motivating and assessing student performance. Research has also shown that students who participate in this program display significantly greater political tolerance and commitment to principles and values of the Constitution and Bill of Rights than do students using traditional textbooks and approaches.
Understanding how government works and how it affects you is an invaluable resource. We must teach our young people this and prepare them to become informed and engaged citizens. “We The People” is an excellent resource, but the success of this program relies on the willingness of community members to participate. If you are interested, you can find more information on this program and how you can get involved at www.civiced.org. The “We the People” link is located at the top of the left side of the page.