In my sophomore year, I was urged to apply for my school’s Constitution Team. At the time I barely had any idea of what it was, but after some convincing from my friends and family, I decided to take a risk and apply. Each applicant was asked to write their application essay on any current event we were interested in, and I decided to write mine on how the groundbreaking film Crazy Rich Asians was completely snubbed by the Academy at the 2019 Oscars Academy Awards.
This was just one example of the passions I would soon be able to apply my knowledge to after I joined the team.
Constitution Team is a political economy class and out-of-school activity focused on preparing a group of thirty-six students for the national We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution competition sponsored by the Center for Civic Education. Its purpose was exactly as the name stated: All of us would be working hard to learn the history and contents behind the American Constitution, with the team of thirty-six students split into six “units,” each focused on a different aspect of Constitutional law and history.
During the competition, each unit had a total of ten minutes to give a prepared speech and answer broad questions on American history, ancient philosophy, court cases, and current events. Throughout the entire school, all kinds of students applied. Those of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs, personal philosophies, gender identities, and experiences in civics education all made their way onto our school’s 2019-2020 team.
My group, Unit 1, studied the historical foundations of the American political system. Even within our small group of six, we had a diverse range of students who each brought new knowledge and experiences to our team’s dynamic. Together, we learned about the foundations of our federalist government, the origins of the twenty-seven amendments, important court cases that led to the expansion of various rights, and had discussions about ancient philosophy. I learned more about our local, national, and international governments in that single year than I had ever learned in all of my years of history and social studies classes, and became friends with people I never would have even talked to had we decided not to apply to our school’s Constitution Team.
But these kinds of opportunities are much too scarce. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Pew Research Center, voter turnout and civic proficiency in the U.S. is among the lowest in comparison to other developed countries.
All of my experiences were made possible because of the We The People program at our school, and all the adult teachers and volunteers who offered up their time to teach a group of students all about the Constitution. This was a rare privilege I had as a student at Lincoln High School. But if we want to do things like increase voter turnout, encourage productive and diverse political discussions amongst people from all ages, backgrounds, and experiences, then there must be an increase in engaging projects and opportunities for young people such as this program.
Education is the foundation for future leaders, and by gaining exposure to the basics of civic education, students are more likely to become active citizens within our society who promote understanding, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Sunlan Lu is a senior at Lincoln High School and serves as the Thrive Director for Oregon Student Voice, a student-led organization that empowers all students to be authentic partners in making decisions that affect their K-12 education.