Terry Cherry, past president of the National Council for the Social Studies, recently spent two days talking to Boulder Preparatory Charter School seniors, sharing his knowledge about the Constitution with students and urging them to become civically engaged.
“If you learn nothing else today, realize you can make a difference,” he said. “Most changes in our country were started or led by young people.”
Cherry is an educational consultant with Constituting America, based in Texas. The organization provides free talks on the Constitution to schools. The organization also sponsors an annual contest that invites kindergarten through graduate school students to submit poetry, artwork, songs, essays, public service announcements and other projects highlighting the Constitution.
Cherry talked to a civics class on Tuesday about constitutional basics, using a quiz format to share facts and giving each student a small booklet with the full text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and all 27 amendments. He went over several of those amendments, including freedom of religion, freedom to assemble and freedom of speech.
“If you’re going to vote, you should at least know the laws of our land,” he said.
He had the students recite the Pledge of Allegiance when they weren’t sure if the United States is a democracy or a republic, then shared some of the differences. He also urged them to vote, telling them his generation, the baby boomers, vote in much higher numbers than their generation.
“Do you want my generation to elect the people making the laws that will affect you,” he asked. “That should be a no.”
On Wednesday, he invited two students in the class to debate the death penalty, encouraging them to “go at it,” before talking about strategies to engage in more civil discourse. Students then read views opposite of their own before coming together to develop a single legislative bill.
Taking a civics class at Boulder Prep is a graduation requirement, with most students taking the class their senior year. Boulder Prep Headmaster Lili Adeli said the class is designed to go beyond the structures of government and help students recognize their civic rights and responsibilities.
“We want to send our seniors out as engaged, active adults,” she said.
Students in the class created their version of a utopia, learned how to be changemakers and researched presidential candidates.
Dylan Boyer, a senior who is politically conservative, said he appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the Constitution and civil discourse. As someone who “loves politics,” he said, he’s looking forward to the upcoming presidential election. But he’s also been disappointed in the unwillingness of some to engage with him on his views.
“I’ve had people look at me like I’m a bad person,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people only say ‘you’re wrong and I’m right.’ There’s no point in being yelled at for having an opinion. You can make your argument without insulting people. When you start bashing people, you lose friends.”
Classmate Sam Welch said she gets frustrated with the divisiveness of politics.
“If it was civil, we would be more united as a country,” she said. “If we all listened, we would get more done.”