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For Educators - K-12 Promising Approaches

We the People: the Citizen and the Constitution

Grade Level: 5-12 (competition 9-12)

Promising Approaches

  • Instruction in Government, History, Law and Democracy
  • Guided Discussions of Issues and Current Events
  • Simulations of Democratic Processes

Overview
Special Features
Civic Learning Goals
Evaluation Studies
Required Resources
Available Resources
Professional Development Opportunities
Snapshots of Practice in Action
Contact Information

Overview

We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution helps students understand the history of constitutional democracy and cultivates the attitudes they need in order to participate as effective, responsible citizens.

While learning about the foundations of American government, students also discover the contemporary relevance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Critical thinking exercises, problem-solving activities, and cooperative learning techniques help develop students' intellectual and participatory skills.

As the culminating activity for the We the People program, participants hold a simulated congressional hearing. The entire class, working in cooperative teams, prepares and presents statements before a panel of community representatives who act as congressional committee members. Students then answer questions posed by the committee members.

The format provides students an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles and to evaluate, take, and defend positions on relevant historical and contemporary issues while providing teachers with a means of assessing performance.

We the People textbooks are designed for a wide range of student abilities and may be used as a supplemental text for a full semester of study for upper elementary, middle, and high school students.

Special Features

We the People is implemented successfully in ESL classrooms and can be easily adapted for students who have special needs.

The We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution network of partners is vast. State programs are partnered with state bar associations and foundations, universities, law-related education organizations, nonprofits, and state departments of education.

Civic Learning Goals

Civic Knowledge

  • Key historical periods, episodes, themes, and experiences of individuals and groups
  • Key principles, documents, and ideas essential to constitutional democracy
  • Structures, processes, functions, branches, and levels of U.S. government and legal system
  • Social and political networks for making change, such as voluntary associations or local organizing

Civic Skills

  • Critical thinking, active listening, analyzing public policies, problems and assets, and understanding multiple perspectives

Civic Dispositions

  • Developing tolerance, respect, and appreciation of difference
  • Developing concern with the rights and welfare of others
  • Developing a belief in one’s ability to make a difference
  • Developing attentiveness to civic matters and a desire to become involved 

Evaluation Studies

A 2001 survey of We the People alumni revealed that they are better informed and participate at higher rates than their peers.

The data suggests that voting rates are significantly higher among alumni than nonparticipating peers surveyed in the 2000 American National Election Study (NES). Eighty-two percent of We the People alumni voted in November 2000, in contrast to 48 percent turnout by peers.

Additional research can be found at http://www.civiced.org/research.php

According to the CMS Review, We the People is grounded in sound democratic history and philosophy. It incorporates engagement by asking students to apply what they've learned. The simulated legislative hearings are great opportunities for students to speak to Constitutional experts and are excellent public speaking experiences.

Required Resources

One teacher and We the People instructional materials are necessary. Library and Internet access are also helpful. Additional teachers and coaches are permitted, but not required. The curriculum can be taught in as little as six weeks, but teachers usually spend class time during an entire semester. Simulated congressional hearings are held at the conclusion of study of the curriculum.

At the high school level, competitions are held from December until March. The national finals are held in late April or early May. Teachers often begin preparing students at the start of the school year.

Middle-school competitions are organized by the teachers themselves.

Available Resources

Videos, teacher’s guides, and supplemental reading resources, are all available. Classroom sets include 30 student books and a teacher's edition. Instructional information and supplies necessary to complete the program are included with the teacher's edition.

The Center and/or the local volunteer coordinators also provide certificates of achievement and appreciation, and other awards. Teachers may contact their state coordinator to receive these materials.

Complimentary classroom sets are available annually on a limited basis (25 sets per congressional district). Additional sets may be purchased from the Center, and range in price from $215 to $575. Classes participating in the competitive program may have additional expenses if they advance from the district competition.

Professional Development Opportunities

We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution sponsors professional development activities throughout the nation through a national network of state directors, mentor teachers, and scholars. These activities include conferences, workshops, seminars, and study groups. Complimentary materials are provided for participants.

In addition, states conduct content-rich week-long institutes for teachers. The Center conducts a four-week national academy, two week-long national elementary institutes, and national advanced content institutes.

Snapshots of the Practice in Action

Joe Wagner, Catherine McAuley High School: The primary goal of We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution is to promote civic competence and responsibility among the nation's elementary and secondary students.  What makes the program so successful is the design of its instructional program, including its innovative culminating activity.

The instructional program enhances students' understanding of the institutions of American constitutional democracy.  At the same time, students discover the contemporary relevance of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The concluding activity is a simulated congressional hearing in which students "testify" before a panel of judges.  Students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles and have opportunities to evaluate, take and defend positions on relevant historical and current issues.

Shirley Lodge, Massabesic Middle School: I have been a teacher for over 20 years, and the We The People...The Citizen and Constitution has provided me with some of the most exciting educational experiences I have ever had. While students learn the information described in our local eighth grade Social Studies curriculum and the Maine State Learning Results, the challenges they confront are exhilarating for them and for me.  My students love the text! The fun visuals that accompany the information generate a lot of discussion. The problem solving activities provide students opportunities to think critically about historical and current issues and make personal connections. All students are encouraged to work with their peers and to express themselves verbally as well as listen to and respect the opinions of others. Students develop an understanding of the privileges they enjoy in our democratic society and learn the importance of their participation and responsibilities as citizens in maintaining it.

The culminating activity is the participation in a mock congressional hearing where they compete with other classes that I also have. This is an important day for everyone where anxious students are dressed up and ready to present their prepared statements and answer the questions of the committee of "judges" assigned to their unit of study. The "judges"
consist of volunteers, such as teachers in the district and administrators, community members, and parents. Students feel special to have all these visitors taking the time to hear about everything they have learned. How can they not when even our Superintendent of Schools takes part in this wonderful learning experience?

Contact Information

Rusty Willette, State Coordinator
We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution
Foxcroft Academy, History/Social Studies Chair
975 West Maine St.
Dover-Foxcroft, ME 04426
207-564-8351
rusty.willette@foxcroftacademy.org

Center for Civic Education
5145 Douglas Fir Road
Calabasas, CA 91302-1440
818-591-9321
www.civiced.org

 

Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools: Education for Democracy