Easthampton High School students won a statewide “We the People” competition at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston, and are now headed to a national competition. The students believe the deep dive into constitutional government has made them better citizens.
The 21 students who competed for Easthampton are now hoping to raise enough money to travel to Washington, D.C., at the end of April, reports Mass Live. They are led by teacher Kelly Brown who was ecstatic about her team’s performance: “These young people are so incredibly knowledgeable about government and the Constitution . . . It makes me hopeful for the future.”
The “We The People” competition is organized by the Center for Civic Education, an independent nonprofit that provides resources and curriculum for elementary and secondary schools.
The Boston competition “tested knowledge and understanding of the history, evolution, and philosophy of constitutional government” including Federalism, the Bill of Rights, English common law, the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation.
For those who haven’t recently brushed up on their constitutional history, the questions might seem quite challenging: “What was Aristotle’s thinking about different forms of government? Which did he prefer, and how might his ideas have influenced the Framers of the Constitution?”
But Easthampton students are confident both in their own ability and Brown’s leadership. Many of them were enrolled in Brown’s AP U.S. History course prior to joining the competition. Student Chantel Duda said, “We knew that the class was going to be hard . . . But Ms. Brown is an incredible teacher.”
Students are also fascinated by connections they perceive between contemporary issues and the historical questions they are considering. In particular, they are reflecting on the 18th-century debates that pitted federalists against anti-federalists. The core questions of that debate, which revolved around balancing states’ rights against the need for a strong federal government, still play out daily in our halls of Congress.
Student Carly Detmers noted that her study of 1st Amendment cases that played out in the Supreme Court has given her valuable context to analyze the current free-speech cases that are roiling college campuses.
However, the competition doesn’t only provide opportunities for grunt work done in the depths of the library. Brown points out that it also shines a spotlight on hard-working students who are given an opportunity to demonstrate and be celebrated for their knowledge.
“We the People” has the promise of dramatically improving students’ knowledge and their civic dispositions. In The Content of Their Character, a recent publication from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson emphasize the importance of the formative dynamics of communities like Easthampton High. “In civic education, recent scholarship has found that ‘it is the norms within the adolescent’s community, defined in this case as the high school, that matter.’ They matter because ‘norms are inculcated within collectivities, such as the family, the neighborhood, and the school.'”
The students’ civics class brought many of those spheres together—local lawyers, a student teacher, and state representatives all worked with the students to guide their study and preparation.
The Easthampton students’ careful study of history and law prepared them not only for this competition but for wise and informed citizenship. “We’ve been given an incredible foundation,” said student Carlie Raucher. “I’ll be a better citizen for having taken this class.”
We the People offers considerable resources to high school teachers who want to build deep civic knowledge in their students, including curriculum guides, lesson plans, and professional development.