“There is an old saying that the course of civilization is a race between catastrophe and education. In a democracy such as ours, we must make sure that education wins the race.” —John F. Kennedy
In school, as well as on the front porches of my youth, I learned about the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. I believe myself to be pretty savvy on the subject and I was confident that I had retained much of the knowledge I gained in my youth. However, a recent experience caused me to re-examine this assumption.
My friend, Karen Beardsley, asked if I would serve as a volunteer at a We the People Foundation competition in which six teams of seniors from Virgin Valley High School would be participating. I agreed because I wanted to help out a friend, not because of any great interest in the competition.
When we arrived at Sierra Vista High School, in Las Vegas, the host school for the event, I immediately felt the sense of excited energy generated by the crowd. Karen and I followed a group of well mannered, nicely dressed, highly energetic students, parents and judges from the parking lot to the volunteer orientation meeting. During the orientation meeting, I learned more about the organization and the vital role this competition plays in our community. The more I learned, the more my respect for and expectations of these young participants grew.
We the People – the Citizens and the Constitution is a research and educational foundation, sponsored by the State Bar of Nevada, with curriculum provided by the Center for Civic Education. Its major purpose is to promote a deeper understanding of the history and nature of America’s constitutional system of government and how citizens can protect and defend individual Rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and of the fifty states of the Union.
The judges for this competition are history, political science, law and education professors, members of the legal community, elected local, state and national government officials and others who have extensive knowledge of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The participants in this competition are high school seniors who qualify for the competition by attending classes, doing independent study, conducting research on the Constitution and Bill of Rights and preparing responses to questions regarding these subjects. After qualifying for the competition, these young folks prepare for it by:
- Learning proper court procedures and behaviors
- Practicing making formal and informal presentations
- Participating in mock competition, where they: 1) present formal opening statements of response for six potential questions from a panel of legal professionals, 2) respond to spontaneous, random follow up questions that are designed to test the depth of each participant’s knowledge on the selected topic and their ability to justify any position they put forth.
During the competition, each team has four minutes to articulate their formal opening statement in response to a randomly selected question and six minute to participate in the question and answer period.
I’m happy to announce that the level of knowledge, confidence, poise and professionalism displayed by the students with whom I interfaced during this competition, especially those from Virgin Valley High School, greatly exceeded my expectations and gave me a new respect the youth of our community. My faith in the future of America has greatly increased because of my exposure to these amazing young folks. Each of us should commend them and their mentors.
Betty Freeman Haines, an author and award winning columnist, lives in Mesquite, NV. Her books/e-books, Reluctant Hero and Grieving Sucks or Does It, can be ordered from amazon.com.