Y'all know I do a bit of traveling when I can to get some professional development in government. In each case, I have met someone who is passionate about We the People. I am talking impressive, fanatically dedicated educators who firmly believe this program is the way to go.
I have friends who are active in the Virginia We the People program, which is heavily sponsored by the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier. Ross and Alex, I am talking about you. Ross has finally convinced me to do a week-long seminar put on by the ever gracious and infinitely supportive Center, and I intend on leaning into my ever expanding network of awesomeness as I attempt to fly. Ross and Alex will be prominently featured in future discussions of my experience with WTP. I guess there was one other conversation that really did me in for WTP, which brings me to the following introduction.
This spring I met someone who participates as an educator in the program, but also can attest to the experience as a student. She is Trish Everett of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She and I bonded one night over a particularly amazing meal at the King's Arms Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia midway through our Liberty Fund/Ashbrook Center seminar in March of this past year... and I convinced her she had to share this experience out with whomever would listen.
I am so excited to have my second guest writer on LovGov. And with this as the background, I am going to turn it over to Trish.
Why We the People?
I come from good, solid nerd stock. Growing up, I tended to plow through books the way some folks go through tissues. As an adult, I literally wear a pendant with a picture of the US Constitution on it, and have done so every day for the last 3 years or so. But in the ultimate nature-nurture debate, I’ve gotta ask, “How did I get here?” Sure, we had more bookshelves than closets in my childhood home, and my first classroom decoration style was once described as looking like Uncle Sam threw up, but somewhere along the way something must have flipped the switch, directing my enthusiasm toward all things Americana and political. Not everyone can pinpoint the catalyst for their professional aspirations, but I am one of the lucky few.
At the end of 11th grade, I made a decision to take the Competitive Gov/Law class to satisfy my civics graduation requirement, and it changed everything. I already knew I wanted to be a teacher, probably of Social Studies, as my Interdisciplinary American History and Literature class has shown me the year before. But when I got a letter over the summer before my senior year inviting me to the teacher’s house for a BBQ, it occurred to me that this was already unlike any course I had previously encountered. My first memories of the We the People The Citizens and the Constitution Program included the smell of burgers on the grill, on a warm Indiana summer afternoon, sitting on my instructor's driveway with his toddler climbing on my lap, and literally. Drinking. Kool-Aid.
What to expect
To get a feel for the aim of the program, check out We The People's own statistics:
“The We the People... printed textbooks’ and Enhanced Ebooks’ interactive strategies, relevant content and the simulated congressional hearing make teaching and learning exciting for both students and teachers. The program enjoys active support from state bar associations and foundations, and other educational, professional, business, and community organizations across the nation. Since its inception in 1987, more than 28 million students and 75,000 educators have participated in the We the People... Program.”
The basic setup is this: Congressional Committees consult experts in fields related to pending legislation they are considering (C-SPAN archives has tons of great examples, but for funsies, I recommend Stephen Colbert’s deadpan testimony on his one-day stint as a migrant worker. Priceless.) In these simulated hearings, the topic is assorted aspects of American government, the judges are “Congressmen,” and the students are the experts. So we learned the content in one quarter, and then broke into small groups, or units, and focused on specialized topics. Each Unit got 3 3-part questions, collaborated to write a 4-minute prepared statement for each question, and then braced ourselves for the unstructured, no-notes, no-Google, 6-minute follow up Q&A session afterwards. We prepared intensely for all 3 questions -- we didn’t know until we sat down in front of the judges which question we would be answering, so we wanted to know them all equally well.
We had the usual classes, with some lecture, lots of discussion, and unusual levels of enthusiasm. We had normal tests, quote quizzes, and conversations about everything under the sun and how it related to political theory. Once we finished the textbook and competition preparation began, I happily threw myself into this new adventure. We had mock competitions in the evenings to prepare with local lawyers, parents, and alumni giving useful feedback. I went out and bought my first professional attire to wear at the Congressional District level competition. (I seriously rocked that pinstripe powersuit.)
We were told early on that we would get as much out of the class as we put in, and as a result when it came time to start full-time prep, we met once a week for 2-3 hours outside of school to write, time, refine, edit, and gather/study resources so we could cite them from memory on the off chance that they came up during follow-ups. We could rattle off quotations from great political thinkers and witty writers alike. We could cite relevant Supreme Court precedents from memory.
We won Districts handily the week of Thanksgiving, and then shifted our focus to States, which would be the week before Christmas Break. The team score is a cumulative calculation of the individual scores from all 6 Units, so everyone has to be on their game. With States came a new set of questions, and meetings twice a week. We rotated the meetings to different students’ houses or empty classrooms at school, and our teacher or assistant coach (a wonderful retired lawyer with a heart of gold) would often attend, give feedback on style or content, and direct our continued research. After a long day of intense competition, we chewed our fingernails down to the quick waiting to hear the results, and when we were announced as State Champions, we stormed the stage and chanted our teacher’s name.
Nationals, here we come.
The Big Stage
So, with a few months to gather our strength, we prepped a whole new set of questions, got some amazing recognition and support from the Indiana Bar Foundation and our elected officials, and packed our bags for DC.
In late April, we headed to our nation’s capitol for 5 days of intense competition and sightseeing. There were teams from all 50 states there, so each unit competed once a day for Days 1 & 2, and then a big dance was held at the Pentagon City Mall. At the end of the evening, scores were tallied and results announced; the top 10 teams would go on to compete on Day 3. When Indiana’s name was announced and our poster paraded across the stage, we went nuts.
Day 3 hearings were held in actual congressional committee hearing rooms on Capitol Hill, and the resulting scores determined rankings within the national top 10. So while the other 40 teams took off for tours of the monuments, we buckled down and gave it our all. At a swanky dinner that evening, they announced the final results: we ended up 4th. In the country. Holy Wow.
Really the only downside I’ve discovered to this program is that even if you are GREAT at it, you can really only compete three times (districts, states, & nationals). About 3 years ago they introduced a national invitational, so teams that place lower than first in their states but want one more go round can have that chance, and many of the state-level institutes for teachers actually have them participate in the simulated hearings. That is your last-ditch opportunity if you have a hankering, but otherwise, you are out of luck.
While that can be disappointing to some, it can also be remarkably empowering. You may be nervous while you are competing, but so is everyone else. There is no one else out there who is a pro, or on their 4th season; so it is about as level a playing field as you will find anywhere. All you need for an advantage is the drive to learn and a teacher who will facilitate it.
The Lessons that Remain
Alright. After that lovely stroll down amnesia lane, you might be asking yourself what the heck this has to do with you. It was a nifty experience, we got some hardware, and a great set of memories. Then we all went our separate ways. I spent four years getting a teaching license, and occasionally kept in touch with the fellow WTP folks. (The advent of Facebook helped that along too.)
Skip to my first professional job interview at a small school in Florida, where I hadn’t even heard an official offer before I was pitching the idea of starting a We The People team at the school. Apparently my enthusiasm (mania) was enough to impress them, they hired me, and after a year to get my sea legs, I became ‘coach’ to my own team of kiddos.
Over the next 7 years, I continued coaching and helping to organize local competitions, attended tons of professional development opportunities, meet remarkably talented teachers from around the country and swaped helpful tips on content in our classes. I recently had the phenomenal and surreal experience of attending a Liberty Fund seminar, only to discover on the list of attendees, none other than my We the People teacher & coach. Sitting around a table together, as peers, discussing the things that make political theory tick, was an experience very few people ever get. So, now at a new school, starting a new We the People program, I have the chance to analyze and share some lessons I've learned from this amazing experience.
Trish Everett grew up in Indiana, has a BA from Ball State University and Masters in American History and Government from Ashland University. She and her husband moved to Daytona Beach, Florida in 2006, where she taught Social Science at a private, Catholic high school until 2014. There she put her own spin on a variety of subjects including regular and honors levels of American Government, Psychology, and Economics, in addition to several go-rounds with AP Psychology & AP US Government & Politics. She has been an AP reader for AP Gov for 5 years, and has an embarrassingly large collection of patriotic chotchkies and professional development adventures to her name (plus a remarkably patient husband). She now lives and teaches in Fort Lauderdale, and pastimes include reading, cooking, superhero anything, roller coasters, travel, and being ridiculously impressed with the amazing people her former students go on to become.
I want to start by thanking Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald for their uncompromising dedication to giving the NSA violations air time and transparency. I wanted to share some of the most important things I have learned from this book bef...
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
by Bill Bishop
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
I lovgov. LOVE IT! I love teaching government, learning about it, debating, discussing, asking questions about government. And not the standard boiler plate questions, but the hard ones that are NOT in the books.