Teaching the Constitution to middle schoolers today

September 17, 2015 | By MARK MILLER
Indiantown Middle Constitution Day 2015

Atlantic Center Managing Attorney Mark Miller with Ms. DeLeon’s eighth grade history class for Constitution Day.

Today I visited Indiantown Middle School in south Florida and shared a little bit about the U.S. Constitution with Ms. Jaden DeLeon’s eighth grade history students.We timed this visit to coincide with Constitution Day, and I think I learned more than the students did!

I have given a presentation to local students for Constitution Day for several years, and my favorite part of the presentation revolves around an activity called “The Invaders.” In this lesson plan, the teacher and I tell the students that earlier in the day the country was invaded. To sell the concept, I tell the students that I have just arrived at the school after an emergency meeting with the chief judge of the local circuit court, and the mayor. That sounds important to the students even if you and I know that it does not actually make a lick of sense.

I inform the students that the invaders are demanding that we give up five of the ten constitutional rights that I have spoken with the students about during the day’s discussion. I say that the chief judge asked me, as a local attorney, to come to their school and learn from the students what rights they are willing to give up.

This year, for the first time I can remember, several students balked at giving up any rights. Two young ladies, and a young man, all informed me that they would not give up their constitutional rights, even if it meant going to jail. Needless to say, I found their willingness to engage in a kind of civil disobedience absolutely thrilling. These children truly valued the freedom we all enjoy living in the U.S. of A.

In terms of what rights the rest of the class would give up, the students were all over the map. But there were some interesting decisions made. For example, most of the students readily jettisoned their constitutional right to counsel.  Not good news for me and my colleagues engaged in the practice of law.  Perhaps the students simply weren’t impressed with the lawyer standing in front of them, so the right did not seem too worthwhile.

The one right that no students were willing to give up was the right to free exercise of religion.  Both the teacher and I found this fascinating. A sociologist would likely interpret this consistency in light of where these students are growing up, their socio-economic background, and the like, but since I’m just a lawyer I will refrain from rank speculation as to what this says about these students.

Although I ultimately let the children know that invaders had not actually invaded the country, I am confident these students better appreciate how special it is for them to call the United States their home.  I hope they remember this lesson the rest of their lives.