America's Legislators Back to School Program
Return to: Lesson Plans--High School, Elementary School
High School Lesson Plan I - How Do Teenagers Get a "Voice"?
Rationale of the Lesson
All over the United States, legislatures are passing laws that immediately and intimately impact teenagers (standards testing, character education, charter schools, anti violence legislation, anti bullying legislation, driving requirements, etc.). If teenagers are asked if they had anything to say about the passage of all these laws, they will invariably say "NO." Yet, it is during these critical teenage years, the "voiceless years", that we try to teach these same young people how important is for them to participate and be responsible citizens in a representative democracy. The apparent contradiction does not go unnoticed. Young people need to be taught how to make their views heard by the people who make laws concerning them. Meeting with a state legislator and talking about specific teenage agendas, discussing ways that teenagers can convey their views to the legislature and exercise influence on the legislation that is passed will help dispel teenage cynicism about government and encourage active citizen participation.
At the conclusion of this Lesson, students should be able to:
identify ways in which they can become aware of the issues introduced in their state legislature.
clarify and state their views, based on evidence, on current issues likely to come before their legislature.
understand that the effectiveness of a person's voice depends upon the ability of the person to clearly and persuasively state his/her position.
speak to and question a state legislator about issues important to them.
identify effective ways of making themselves heard by government on issues important to them.
Background Preparation/Materials for the Teacher
Contact your America's Legislators Back to School Week state legislative coordinator as soon as possible to arrange for a visit from a legislator during the third week of September. As soon as a legislator's visit is arranged, write the legislator a note telling him or her:
name of the class age of the students, size of the class, length of the class and most importantly - the topics to be discussed in the class.
It would be a good idea to send the legislator a copy of this lesson and the issues about which the students have chosen to make presentations. Give the legislator a chance to be well prepared and everyone will benefit.
THE LESSON PLAN: How do Teenagers Get a "Voice"?
DEFINING THE ISSUE
Assign students to come to class with as many newspaper clippings as they can find about issues concerning their city, county or state that are issues of particular concern to teenagers. Some students may want to watch local TV newscasts for such issues. [Caution students to stick to state issues, not national issues, since they are going to be meeting with a state legislator.]
Brainstorming Session. Write on the board as many issues [i.e. Topics] as students were able to find that are state issues and of interest and concern to teenagers.
Depending on the size of your class, narrow the list to four or five of the most important issues. Divide the class into groups of no more than six students. Assign one of the previously determined issues to each group.
Have each group write its issue in the form of a question. The question should be initially answerable by a yes or no, to be followed by an informed explanation. This will require students to narrow down broad topics into more manageable representations of their concern and set the stage for research into possible answers to their question.
For example, should students have to pass standardized tests to pass from elementary school to middle school and from middle to school to high school?
Should video cameras be placed in public areas of schools to help protect students from school violence?
Should high school students be able to get birth control information and devices from their school clinics?
Each group should discuss its issue in as much depth as possible and arrive at a consensus answer to the question if at all possible.
Assign each group to research its question during the next week to find evidence in support of its position on the issue or in the alternative, evidence that supports a different conclusion. Each student is responsible for finding a least one good argument supported by evidence. This information will be compiled by the group at its next meeting.
Part II - One Class Period
PREPARING TO PRESENT THE ISSUE
Each group should write a three-minute presentation, to be delivered in front of the visiting legislator. The presentation should state what the issue is, what the group's answer to the question is and what evidence the group can offer for its opinion. The statement should be as persuasively phrased as the group can make it. Each student should have a part in delivering the presentation to the legislator. [Since this is all part of an assigned class activity, giving students a grade or credit for their efforts would be a good idea.] Not a great deal can be said in three minutes so students should strive to be very concise and direct in their statement. Students may put their statement on note cards, which they may use to deliver their statement. Students may want to end their statement with Mr./ Mrs. _____, how do we get a voice in the legislature on this issue?
Part III - One Class Period
MAKING THE CASE TO THE LEGISLATOR
On the day of the legislator's visit, following introductions, each group should give its three-minute presentation. Try to stick very closely to three minutes so that you can give maximum time to the legislator to respond.
After being asked by five or six different groups for ways that teenagers can acquire the ability to influence legislation before the legislature, the legislator will have the rest of the class period to discuss the students' options.
Since the students will have expended considerable effort getting ready for this event, they should be willing to ask questions of the legislator.
POSSIBLE FOLLOW UP LESSON
If your state uses the initiative process, you might invite a speaker from one of the groups who have sponsored an initiative in your state, or other person, knowledgeable about the initiative process, to talk to the class about the concept and practicalities of using initiatives to accomplish the people's will.
Issues - some examples
Although the word issue is used, in common every day parlance, to mean concern, complaint, difference, or disagreement, the word issue here will be used in its legal sense. For our purposes: An issue is a disputed point or question about which reasonable people can and frequently do differ as to the answer.
Should mentally retarded people, who commit murder, be subject to the death penalty?
Should DNA testing be done on all persons who commit felonies and the resulting information stored for future law enforcement use?
Should government be allowed to place video cameras in public places to monitor citizen behavior in public?
Should the names, addresses and pictures of sex offenders, who have served their time and been released, be published on the internet?
Should character education be part of the public school required curriculum?
Should members of the state legislature be subject to term limits?
Should the drinking age be raised to 21 years?
Is standardized testing a realistic and reasonable way to improve education?
Should voting in general elections be made mandatory?
Are curfews for teenagers a reasonable way to protect them?
Should violent behavior based on hatred for a particular race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference be punished more harshly than violent behavior in general?
Should homosexual marriage be made legal?
Should the government have the right to decide who can marry and under what conditions?
Should late term abortions be legal?
Should private employers be able to require mandatory, random drug testing as a condition of employment?
Should the state government provide a voucher system for families to pay for their children's education at public and private - secular or religious schools?
Should sexual harassment by one student against another student be made a criminal offense?
This project is supported by a Robert H. Michel Civic Education Grant sponsored by The Dirksen Congressional Center, Pekin, IL.