Have any idea why Patrick Henry refused to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1776 because he said he “smelt a rat”?
Can you explain American federalism to a non-American?
Or how about explaining to what extent the U.S. Constitution embodied the idea of the common good?
A group of students at Mountain View High School fielded those and many other questions – and answered them so well that they’ll be representing Arizona in the national We The People, The Citizen and Constitution National Invitational in May, competing with their counterparts from the 49 other states.
Sponsored by the Center for Civic Education, the competition is billed as a “national academics showcase” in which students “display the civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to effectively participate in our constitutional democratic republic through simulated congressional hearings.”
After their impressed handling of numerous questions in the state contest, the Mountain View students are now preparing for a battery of equally challenging brain teasers, such as whether slavery was a necessary evil in the union’s formation; what problems the principle of consent has on creating and amending constitutions; and how the concept of habeas corpus has evolved in the country.
Mountain View has a traditional of capturing the state title in the competition. This year is the school’s consecutive state title win.
It resulted from a lot of hard work by 19 students – Drew Allen, Aubrie Bradshaw, Laura Castro, James Driscoll, Cole Evans, Tyler Hughes, Haley Howerton, Tessa Jagoda, Hannah Larson, Daniel Manning, Christopher Manuel, Ryanna Peterson, Ben Philips, Waad Rahal, Aaron Robedeau, Reid Schwann, Pratik Shah, Susan Sharpe and Sam Stockfisch.
They were led by Mountain View teachers Nancie Lindblom and Sasha Litzenberger during months of preparation that began in August and included individual study and research, lectures and discussion by experts and classroom exercises since this is a formal course for the seniors.
“We have different units of students that are working on different constitutional issues that they’re going to be presenting in the competition,” explained Lindblom.
“We have volunteers that are lawyers or history teachers or people in the community that will come in and work with them one-on-one and give them feedback on their presentation as well as their content,” she continued. “And we really have some good discussions with them about their content.”
Lindblom is a veteran coach/teacher of the We the People team and class; she has been the Mountain View program director the last three years.
The course mirrors the structure of the competition. There are six different units of study, ranging from the history of the Constitution’s formation to the philosophical backgrounds of the framers and other broadly defined areas that demand from the students a lot of thought and a deep grounding in historical fact.
Though they know the general questions in advance and have to prepare a four-minute statement in response, the students must then handle impromptu questions from the judges.
“They don’t know what questions they will be asked so we just have to prepare the kids in anything we think they might be asked so that they have the evidence to back up their claims,” Lindblom explained. “So, they’re using case law, they’re using historical examples, they’re citing the Constitution, they’re using the state constitution, they’re using current events.”
Like last year, this year’s national competition will be online – a bummer for the hard-working students because their predecessors got a chance to go to Washington, D.C.
That disappointment was just one of many weighing on last year’s Mountain View team as the members struggled with the prospect of no prom, no commencement exercises – and no classes for the final quarter of their senior year, Lindblom said.
This year was only a little less disappointing as Mesa Public Schools volleyed between in-class and online learning.
“We were just so pleased that they had persevered through the whole thing,” Lindblom said. “These kids have had their own struggles.”
Lindblom has been part of the We The People program in Mesa Public Schools for seven years and had coached the team at Skyline High before going over to Mountain View.
And over that time, she’s seen the participants not just grow into good competitors but become better educated citizens as well, even entering law or politics.
“To watch these kids grow and to watch them just literally become experts on everything,” said Lindblom, “I get goosebumps… It’s aggressive and these kids just shine and they take that information, though, and it really sticks with them because of what they’ve done here. They really believe what’s going on in the world and in their community and in the government is important and they carry that with them.”