Students form up groups, and are reviewing a bill of rights handout; there are ten statements, and students need to evaluate as a group whether each is is constitutionally protected. Number 1, for instance, is “A man wants to purchase a 12 gauge shotgun for protection.” Groups vary around the room: some are really conversing, but in others they are sort of settling in individually. The statements are good introduction, but some are not quite complicated enough to elicit good debate. Nonetheless, I like that the learning here is starting with problems (are these actions protected?), and then the students are working in groups to solve. As the students struggle with one (”A town does not like the religious beliefs of a certain group, so it forbids them from building a house of worship”), they call the teacher over for guidance on the breadth of the first amendment, and he helps guide them to appreciate the significance of the 14th amendment. A minute later, looking now across the room, the teacher is working with a small group, talking about religious schools and public schools, and how the religious schools seem to have much more money available to them: he is speaking here about schools, and fairness, and equity, topics that connect to these kids, that hit them where they live, and they are really interested. The teacher comes back over to talk with me, and expresses some frustration about the lack of resources and technological support: the campus has no wifi and no laptops, the desktops don’t easily load the DVD resources they do have, and they can’t get support, and many of the websites they want to visit are blocked by the district. It is terrific, all the things he wants to do with these students, and we should all wish for greater resource support for his initiatives.
Penny looks at the handout sample quiz, and tells me that their real tests are nothing like this worksheet– instead, she tells me, ”we just get a little prompt and have to write and write and write!” One such sample exam included the following “little prompts”: ”1. Explain the powers of the president. Compare the specific constitutional powers with those that have been assumed by presidents over history. Explain the powers of the president as commander-in-chief and the limits on this power by the Congress. 2. Discuss the following topics: Executive abuse of power, executive privilege, line-item veto, executive agreement, executive order, war powers act, use of force resolution, war powers resolution. Answer the following: Is the President’s right to safeguard certain information, using ‘executive privilege,’ confidentiality power, entirely immune from judicial review. 3. Explain why the top appointed positions in the executive branch are not part of the civil system. Describe two ways the federal bureaucracy helps to shape laws passed by congress.” Nice, open ended writing prompts– and good practice for the essays of the IB. Another exam the teacher shows me offers a real case study in the first amendment; this government and history class does a lot of teaching and learning via case study. The case study here sets up a scenario of a township establishing daily prayer in schools, and a suit has been filed against it. The case, and assignment, concludes: “the district says that the “will of the people” should be upheld because if the majority is denied the right to control policy, the whole political system will disintegrate… explain how and why the court will rule.” Nice; very IB.