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As I’ve told you all many times … I got to be an elementary school teacher for a couple of decades. Twenty years ago, I applied for and was selected to attend a weeklong seminar for elementary teachers about the Constitution. It was sponsored by the Center for Civic Education and held at James Madison University, in Virginia. We had field trips to Washington DC and his home, Montpelier, where we got to have a discussion with a James Madison “reenactor” about this wonderful document. This was the first year the Center held a seminar for elementary teachers. Normally, this was a high school teachers’ event. What a great time I had!!
Back then, my district used the book by E.D. Hirsch “What Your 4th Grader Needs to Know” as the basis for our elementary Social Studies and Science curriculum. Each grade level had their version. In 4th grade, we learned about the American Revolution from its roots in the Magna Carta right on through until the Constitution was written and ratified. It was such a fascinating thing to teach. Anyone who thinks that a nine-year-old isn’t able to understand this material just needs to work with them for a while. They are the perfect age to learn about what is fair, what is unfair, how to create a system that maintains personal rights while protecting the rights of others.
I remember teaching them about the various new taxes imposed by the Crown on the colonies back in the 1700s, and I was amused by their outrage at the Quartering Act! We lived by a large Naval Air Station. Many of their parents worked at the base as civilians or were active duty. But the idea that the government could force citizens to have a military person live in your home, and you have to feed them and house them–for FREE! OH!! That was just wrong…Like I’ve said…teaching 4th graders is awesome!
Anyway, after I attended the Constitution seminar, I was required (as one of the stipulations for attending this event for free) to teach my students what I’d learned about the contents of this governing document, and then have the students give some sort of presentation to the community. I established an after-school group to work on it, and ultimately, we were able to go to a Senior Center just down the road from our building and do our event.
It was designed to be a sort of Congressional Hearing about the Bill of Rights. Different small groups focused on a particular section. They made a poster that defined and explained and gave some examples of current events (using the newspaper) that showed the modern-day relevance of that right. They read up on it and were able to explain it quite well. This took quite a bit of work, but they were so intrigued and interested in this whole concept of “Rights” that they eagerly participated.
(BTW–it was one year after the 9-11 Attacks. Many of our parents worked in D.C. and a few at the Pentagon, even. None of our families lost anyone that day, but it was a life-changing time even for 4th graders.)
My class went on a walking “field trip” to the Senior Center and held our “hearing” with questions (that I provided) from a selected group of the adults. I’d arranged everything in advance with them. The students were superb! The people at the center were thoroughly impressed! And I know that there is at least one of my classes for whom the U.S. Constitution is well understood, well respected, and honored.Published in