As our kids return to school I would like to celebrate two North Mason programs: Project Citizen and We The People. From the beginning of our Republic one of the main purposes of public education has been to encourage our students become active citizens. Students could learn about citizenship by studying and even passing a standardized test on the subject. For purposes of argument let’s say the students of China or Russia might out score ours on such tests. Would merely knowing “facts” be an education in civics? As the news daily reminds us only where representative government is part of the DNA of culture--a prize of historic struggle and a habit of heart and mind—is democracy coupled with the rule of law secure. Ask the only question on the Civics final that History gives nations: have your schools instilled the habits of deliberation, dissent, civility and participation necessary to sustaining a republic? Then judge the performance of the NM schools.
Project Citizen at Hawkins Middle School (HMS), directed by Humanities teacher Julie Sullivan, teaches kids that even before they can vote they can shape the laws under which they live. Each year Julie Sullivan’s students not only learn about how government works but select a problem which needs a better public policy. Julie’s students deliberate to select a problem and a policy. When they agree they break into small groups each responsible for some part: problem, solution, action, etc. The student’s research includes not only library work but talking to knowledgeable people and interviewing community stakeholders. Community volunteers including yours truly hear their oral presentations, ask them questions, read their reader boards, and make suggestions. For several years HMS Project Citizen students have participated in the state competition in Olympia in the House and Senate hearing chambers. Their first year they won First Place. This past year they testified before a state committee on Washington’s sexual predator law. When the bill was signed by Governor Inslee Julie Sullivan and her Project Citizen students were present, recognized and given ceremonial pens. HMS kids not only “know” something about government—they know representative government is real and works because they were heard and helped pass a law!
At North Mason High school humanities teacher Kathy Copp directs We The People. We The People approaches US history from a constitutional standpoint. The students not only read the constitution and the history of its development—they debate it! The class is divided into teams each on a specific period of constitutional development. Each team gives an oral presentation and answers questions from a panel of selected judges/coaches (Larry Little, J.D., Scott Smith, J.D., Tom Springer, J.D., John Campbell, Ph.D.). The final presentation is given at the end of each semester in the Board Room. You ought to see the teams of our kids at their final presentation in their best clothes at a “sporting event” of the mind. “So is the contemporary Tea Party movement more like the Federalists or the Anti-Federalists?” Answer/explain. As for those countries that trust standardized tests rather than lived experience: see how democratic values are actually formed and passed on--Come to North Mason!