We the People

By Beacon Staff

The United States Constitution is roughly 4,500 words long. Most Americans can read the entire document from first to last work in 45 minutes. Yet, there is not a more poorly understood, though frequently cited, document in American history. As a teacher I frequently read and hear cries for more constitutional education in our school system, a sentiment I couldn’t agree with more.

At the end of April, 18 students from Glacier High School will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to compete in the We the People national finals. This program, run by the Center for Civic Education, allows for students from all 50 states to demonstrate their knowledge of the Constitution and issues surrounding its interpretation in front of a panel of judges who ask probing and difficult questions. Glacier High will be attending as a result of winning the state finals held in Helena in February. I have had no more reinforcing experience in my educational career than watching my students knowingly defend their thoughts with historical evidence, Supreme Court precedents and relevant research. Glacier students spent months preparing for the state finals, spending hundreds of hours researching and writing numerous drafts of position papers in an attempt to refine their arguments. That process repeated itself once Glacier won the state finals in preparation for the national finals.

The We the People program dates back to 1987, the bicentennial of the writing of the Constitution. For years the program was supported by taxpayer funded grants through the Department of Education. However, since 2010 Congressional funding has been cut and schools wishing to continue participating in the program have had to fundraise themselves. This year, the Glacier High School national final We the People team has had to raise close to $35,000 in order to attend. Though students have paid significant amounts of their own money to participate in the national finals, donations to this cause remain critical. The competition runs April 26-30 and time is quickly passing by as we struggle to meet our fundraising commitments.

Why is this program important? As a teacher and citizen I can tell you that a firm understanding of the Constitution is a bedrock for anyone wishing to navigate in the complex 21st century America these students will soon inherit from us. We the People develop a strong understanding of the seven articles of the Constitution as well as a thorough knowledge of the 27 amendments. The national finals format ask students to take on topics relating to the historical development of the Constitution, how the Constitution mandates behavior in the branches of government and how the Constitution can be used to solve the problems America faces currently and will face in the future. I encourage you to think about supporting some of Kalispell’s finest students on Glacier High’s national We the People team.

Beau Wright is a teacher at Glacier High School.

For more information on the We the People program, call 758-8600.

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