Some students at Greenup County High School ended their day Tuesday with a fresh respect for the nation’s founders.
Their newfound esteem came while they were wrestling with some of the same knotty problems that faced the architects of American democracy. Members of an advanced placement government class convened a mock constitutional convention during which they proposed, debated and voted on amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“To last as long as it has, it’s genius,” said Brad Fyffe, a senior. Fyffe and his partner in the exercise, Hillary Johnson, had just proposed an amendment to tighten the requirements for impeachment.
What seemed like a simple change turned out to be a bit more complex; their classmates proceeded to pick it apart before taking a vote that narrowly rejected the proposal.
“It shows what Congress and the legislature go through every day of their lives. It’s a tough job,” Fyffe said.
By the time they get into an AP government class, students have a pretty strong grasp of the basic process, said their teacher, Jason Smith.
Grappling with changes brings insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the document, Smith believes. “It’s just a framework that is open to interpretation,” he told his students.
To prepare for the exercise, small groups chose sections of the Constitution to revise and researched them. Among others, there were proposals to make changes in the electoral college, war powers, term limits, pardons and executive orders.
By way of historical background and political perspective, Smith reminded his students that a modern-day constitutional convention is unprecedented except for the original convention in 1787 in Philadelphia, where the founders convened with the initial intent to revise the Articles of Confederation.
The end result was a blueprint for representative democracy that has lasted more than two centuries.
“What we are doing is radical,” he said.
Unraveling the complex problems inherent in changing a governmental system is hard work. It takes critical thinking skill, ability to cooperate with others and willingness to compromise, Smith said.
All three are abilities his students will have to master as they move on to college and career, he said.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.