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Classroom Voices

Constitution Still Resonates with Today's Youth

May 7, 2013

By: Alyssa Goard, PBS NewsHour Extra

WASHINGTON – In the meeting room for the Congressional Committee for Science and Technology, the 17 members of Plainfield High School’s We The People competitive civics team from Plainfield, Ind., defended their beliefs about the Constitution in front of a panel of top Constitutional scholars, college professors and state court justices.

These students gave up attending their senior prom to participate in the 26th annual national We The People competition where 56 top teams from around the country vied for a spot in the top 10. Residents of Plainfield rallied around their team to help raise the more than $29,000 needed to attend the national competition as a wildcard team. Plainfield HS was the first wildcard team in the history of the competition to make it into the top 10.

After spending a year studying the Constitution and practicing simulated Congressional hearings, Plainfield students say they are passionate about the Constitution and how it applies to their lives today.

“As an American Muslim living in Plainfield, Ind., I’m aware of the protections offered by the Bill of Rights,” said student Fatima Khan in one of the team hearings. She explained that in the early 1980s, 7,000 of Plainfield’s 9,000 residents banded together to form the Concerned Citizens of Hendricks County that sought to prevent the construction of the mosque she now attends. Thanks to First Amendment protections, the mosque was built and allows her to worship close to home today.

Plainfield students became budding experts on Constitutional scholarship. Student Aaron Hanke explained that, “University of Texas law professor Sandy Levinson said,’ the Consitution is a fat stinking pig’, and while I wouldn’t go that far, I do believe the constitution does have its flaws. We see that with Congress’ 10 percent approval rating, that perhaps our framework isn’t providing the government we need today.”

Many of the participants were judged by their Constitutional superheroes. Student Shane Authenreith was ecstatic to meet scholar David Adler, who was one of the competition’s 76 judges. Authenreith explained that he spends his free time studying the Constitution with his team because “ we all share a passion, this is the stuff we love to talk about and this is the stuff that many of us want to do later in life.”

The top 10 teams debated in Congressional committee rooms where only two year prior, Congress voted to cut federal funding for the We the People program. This year, more students than ever participated in the competition, and together the teams fund-raised over 2 million dollars to make the national competition happen.

Student Dane Kirchoff-Foster said that he hopes in the future, civic education programs like We The People are given more support.

“Civic education is so underrated,” he said, “my experience in this program will carry me further than anything else I’ve learned in my public education so far.”

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