The Constitution Works for Students
a sparsely furnished courtroom in Manhattan recently, students
from IS 89 had the opportunity to mock-try a Supreme Court Case
on National Security vs. The First Amendment. Equipped with suits,
some robes, a large wooden hammer and some sound knowledge of
the Constitution, the students played out the case, which lingers
in the shadow of the September 11th attack on the World
Trade Center and explores democracy.
IS 89 is only one of approximately 400 schools in the New York
area that take part in such activities, due to their collaboration
with the Constitution Works (TCW) program. Now in its fourteenth
year TCW is a veritable harbinger of conscious and active future
citizens who will participate in government.
Here is how The Constitution Works works: The Board of Education
offers a supplementary program, which satisfies requirements in
social studies and language arts to teachers of civics, social
studies, and related subjects. TCW, whose full-time staff includes
Thomas Stokes (Executive Director), Rosa Taveras (Program Manager),
and Eric Neutoch (Program Associate), holds training workshops
for those teachers, brushing them up on their constitutional knowledge,
introducing them to methodologies concerning group work, interdependence,
and active student participation, and eventually putting them
through a role-played court case.
Before they return to the classroom they are given a “unit” to
introduce to their respective classes. While some units may be
more involved with the Executive or Legislative branches, most
deal with the Judicial branch and are usually recent Supreme Court
cases with current implications.
Students start with groundwork introduction on relevant excerpts
from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As the process continues
they receive roles and engage specifically with their own “unit.”
Upon the teacher’s request, TCW provides technical support in
the form of law students from Fordham University, volunteer attorneys,
and TCW staffers who are able to help kids on a more one-on-one
TCW is involved with public, private, Jewish, and Catholic schools
as well as some adult education centers. It is privately funded
but has recently been seeking public funding with the help of
Borough President Virginai Fields.
While working with a bilingual class that TCW services, Taveras
noticed an interesting phenomenon: many of the South American
students refused to take the side which was in opposition to the
government because they were “afraid of punishment.” At this point,
Taveras explained the first amendment’s second clause, involving
free speech and free press. Taveras notes that the American students
had no such qualms about opposing the state; “they don’t see it
as going against the government, they see it as ‘this is my right.”
The Constitution Works has reached about 100,000 students, establishing
and sending out into the future a “Reserve of Uprights” of sorts,
emerging young citizens aware of their own personal-political
contexts who will participate in government with acuity, awareness
Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: email@example.com.
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