Social Sundays: Using the Constitution to Teach Understanding

This is one of the hardest posts I've written.  The past week and a half have been extremely difficult in my class.  My students are scared.  They have watched or participated in "Not My President" protests.  They worry about their families being deported.  They worry about being beaten up for their viewpoints.  

I've read of principals and teachers suspended from their jobs for viewpoints and students who were attacked for their viewpoints both for and against president-elect Trump (or simply for their religion or race).  I can't remember a time when the US, really the world, felt so unsettled.  

While this is not a political post, the tension in the current climate is important to address.  It is difficult to know how to address student feelings in a safe environment.  I've been working with my students to make sense of their feelings, the recent events, and the election.  To do that, we have gone back to the source: the US Constitution. 

Part 1: Debating the Articles of Confederation - we started by searching back to the roots of the United States, and our nation's first government outline: the Articles of Confederation. We read much about the issues for the first constitution.  What were the framers' concerns?  Why didn't it work?   

Part 2: Forming the Constitution - we went back and examined the issues discussed during the Constitutional Convention.  In particular, we were interested in states rights issues and the concerns of less populous states versus the more populous states.  This provided a great basis for a discussion of the recent election outcomes.  Students really wanted to understand the purpose of the electoral college and the role of the popular vote.  We investigated, discussed and evaluated the value of these different systems.  We also looked at different voting systems.  This FREE activity from NCTM was extremely valuable for launching a discussion.  

Part 3: Examining our Bill of Rights:  We continued our exploration of the Constitution with a student-designed gallery walk of the Bill of Rights.  After the examination of individual rights, we were able to have thoughtful small group discussions about the value of these rights in the near and long-term and how we can protect them within our own community.  It was extremely important to me that every student felt empowered with an action item that s/he could carry out.  

Part 4: Going forward.  As I said we came up with action items for each person.  Some were small such as reach out to someone with a different viewpoint and find something in common.  Others were larger.  Some students want to run for office, write letters, start petitions, to name a few.  

A friend passed on this article from Mother Jones.  Whether you are on one side or the other, it reminds us that we all need to work together to protect our democracy.  I will leave you with this from Van Jones:  

"Hopefully this will open up our eyes to how fragile democracy is and how key civility is to civilization. Civility isn't just some optional value in a multicultural, multistate democratic republic. Civility is the key to civilization. Everybody got through it with their kids as best they could. If you're a Muslim parent, if you're a Latino parent, you're still going through it. For the rest of us who have a little bit of privilege, maybe we should be a little bit more tender-hearted."

Social Sundays
 is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.  



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