We The People is the core of a Trumbull High School senior course – Advanced Placement and Early College Experience American Government. The course is one of the school’s gems and is taught by Katie Boland, another of its gems.
Ms. Boland dedicates her time and energy to helping the class’ 24 students learn about our Constitution - not the way you and I “studied” it in high school. Instead, the class immerses itself for the whole year in what our Constitution is, where its ideas come from, what it does, what each one of its elements means and what some issues are in its implementation.
In addition to individual learning, the students become a team and compete against We The People class teams from other schools here in Connecticut (just as teams from schools in over 45 other states are doing). And, if the past is any guide, at George Mason University and on Capitol Hill in the spring.
Boland reinforced this last thought. Last spring THS took home the Northeastern States championship. This year “our goal is to win it all!”
At the same time, this ultimate civics course will teach these seniors how to do research, how to read and interpret non-fiction material, think critically, work collaboratively, develop logical arguments, make prepared speeches and think on their feet - all values embodied in Trumbull’s schools’ curriculum.
Boland had formed the class into six four student Units. The Center for Civic Education furnished each Unit three of the 18 questions it created for this year's competition: http://new.civiced.org/wtp-the-program/hearings/hearing-questions.
On November 20, the Evening of the Experts kicked off this year's competition. With the sponsorship of the ACE Foundation (thank you, Kate Donahue), and supported by about 18 community members: teachers, lawyers and others just interested in helping a great teacher and a great group of kids, plus a handful of last year’s We The People students as mentors, the class took its first step. Spring training for the teams.
Each Unit prepared by researching its questions and writing its arguments. During the competition a team will be called on to argue orally for any of the three questions, then to respond to questions posed by the judges - ones that typically test what team members really know about their topics.
At the Evening of the Experts panels of four community members and a mentor each heard four teams make their cases, answer questions about their topics and provided feedback the teams can build on.
A tough class, a difficult task, a fun experience. That's why the class is annually oversubscribed and requires prospective students to write a competitive essay to “test in.”
Enough about the students. Here’s for you. How do you answer these two representative questions?:
- How did the Southern states justify their decision to secede from the United States (We The People aside, an interesting question to ponder if you see Steven Spielberg’s excellent new movie Lincoln)?
- According to the founding generation, a constitution should function as a higher law. In what important ways does a higher law differ from a statute enacted by a legislature?
It's a good thing each Expert was told in advance which topics they would be judging. History geek that I am, I had to do research of my own to get a better understanding about what I would hear and to be prepared to ask an intelligent question or two.