For the past week, I have been volunteering at my old elementary school. My old fifth grade teacher reached out to me to, once again, help with the We the People Competition, which is organized by the Center for Civic Education. In short, this competition has five teams focusing on a series of questions about civics and constitutional governance. When I was in fifth grade, I participated in this competition which began my interest in politics and government. To be able to go back to my old elementary school and help students learn about civics and constitutional governance is something that I am proud to be able to do.
Yet, more importantly is the place that this program has in the American educational system. No other program, to my knowledge, has the ability to promote critical thinking, constitutional understanding, and an appreciation of history and current events. I participated in this program when I was a fifth grader, and once again as a twelfth grader. Each time, my passion for government, civics, and history grew. Ultimately, this passion for government, civics, and history had me attend the James Madison College at Michigan State University, where I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy.
My peers who were involved in the program with me are now doing all sorts of things with their careers, but we all are still civically involved and pay attention to current issues. That lasting influence that the We the People program has on its students is impressive, even more impressive than the fact that most of us could rattle off court cases that greatly influence our civil rights today (Lawrence v. Texas and Texas v. Johnson have a fond place in my heart due to their multiple influences on civil rights).
Yet, our federal government so often cuts funding for the We the People program, endangering the program. I have not heard any movements to defund the program as of yet, but this program is one of the few federal programs that seems to work and has an important role to play in our educational system.
Going back to the last week, I have worked with fifth graders on complex questions and seen them begin to grapple with these issues in a way that is beyond their fifth grade status. Working with one student on understanding judicial review (and McCulloch v. Maryland) was a challenge, but ultimately the student understood the role judicial review plays in our national policy discourse, and developed on opinion on the role judicial review should play.
This program will always have a special place in my heart because of its promotion of critical thinking and civic-mindedness. If you see this program in your area, you should take a minute to volunteer or go to the hearings and see what this is all about.