Bar News - January 5, 2007
‘We the People…’ Program Celebrates Its 20th Competition
By: Patty Wooster, LRE Coordinator
My desk is piled high with lots of wonderful stories about how important the “We the People…The Citizen and the Constitution” program is to good citizenship and how it has helped many New Hampshire students gain a better understanding of their government and their civil rights.
The primary goal of the program is to promote civic competency and responsibility among the nation’s elementary and secondary students; to increase understanding of American constitutional democracy; and to illustrate democratic procedures. The program also teaches students the skills of critical thinking and the formulation of arguments.
The competition consists of a simulated congressional hearing at which students “testify” before a panel of judges, made up of volunteers from the legal and legislative communities. The students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles and have opportunities to evaluate and defend or argue positions on relevant historical and contemporary issues.
Since 1987, New Hampshire has not missed a competition. The first winner of the state competition was Exeter High School, who won the privilege to compete in the National Championship in Washington, DC. The NH Bar Foundation donates $1,000 to the winning school to be used to defray the expense of its team’s trip to Washington, DC, to compete in the national competition in the spring.
You may wonder what happened to some of the students who have participated in the program. I have spoken to a couple of teachers and this is what they had to say:
“I had a student that was very involved in the program,” stated Michael Brosnan, social studies teacher for Gorham High School. “He is now in the Peace Corps on a remote Pacific Island teaching the indigenous culture about democracy and their rights. He has helped set up a school and a trading center for them, so that they can try to sell their goods throughout the world.” Brosnan added that he frequently hears from former students that “the program was the best thing they did in school.”
Dave Alcox, history teacher at Milford High School, shared a story about a young woman who graduated in 2000 and went on to the University of New Hampshire. By accident, the freshman enrolled in a 300-level political science class. During the second week of school her class was talking about the Constitutional Convention and the professor asked a question about why government needs to be limited. She raised her hand and talked about Federal # 51 and quoted Hamilton’s “If Men Were Angels” passage. The class looked at her in amazement and the professor asked her how she knew that. She told him she took a class called “We the People…” in high school and he remarked “Oh, you are one of those kids!”
“We the People…” began as the “National Bicentennial Competition on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” sponsored by an act of Congress and co-sponsored by the Commission on Bicentennial of the United States Constitution. The program is funded in part, and continues under, the Dept. of Education.
Without the time and dedication of volunteers such as Howard Zibel, Paul Leary and Martin Bender (to name a few) this program would not be so successful. I also want to recognize all of the volunteers (past and present), NHBA staff, teachers, and students who have supported this program and made it what it is today. A special thank you, as well, goes to those who contributed to this article: Howard Zibel, Michael Brosnan and Dave Alcox.
I hope this program continues for another 20 years. Happy Anniversary “We the People…The Citizen and the Constitution!”