America's Legislators Back to School Program

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High School Lesson Plan II -"Don't We All Agree?"

Recognizing the Importance of Diversity in Public Policy Making


Rationale of the Lesson

A recent survey of public opinion concerning important problems facing America revealed the widespread belief that everyone sees the same major problems in America and that differences in opinion occur only as to the solutions to these problems. More detailed studies revealed, however, that Americans actually have very diverse views as to what our national problems are, which are most important and which are the best solutions to these problems. Furthermore, there seems to be a general belief that those who don't agree with popular opinion are under the influence of some special interest and therefore suspect. Yet, democracy is about giving everyone a voice, about a market place of ideas. Widespread diversity of opinion and public distrust of those who differ present very significant problems for lawmakers. The purpose of this lesson is for students to explore the range of opinion on three issues and to gain insight into the challenges facing public policy makers as they try to reconcile the divergent views. Students will research three controversial issues and then present their answers in the format of a legislative hearing. The role of legislators in the hearing will be played by at least one real legislator.ObjectivesAt the conclusion of this Lesson, students should be able to:

  • discuss the importance of looking at all sides of important public issues before making policy decisions about them

  • explain the importance of compromise in the democratic process of public policy making.

  • articulate different points of view on an important issue.

  • explain the importance of public hearings in the legislature.

Background Preparations/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 at least one state legislator during the third week of September. As soon as the date for the 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 questions to be used in the Mock Hearing

The more the legislator knows about what you'd like to accomplish, the better he/she can prepare.


 THE LESSON PLAN "Don't We All Agree?"

Time Requirements

Part I - One Class Period
Part II - One Class Period
Part III - One Class Period
Out of class research time - two weeks

 

Part I - Setting up the Panels/ Preparing for a Legislative Hearing

Questions:

1.  Does our state constitution protect a citizen's right to privacy adequately? Does our state constitution have any better protections for privacy than the U.S. Constitution? Should we pass laws or amend the state and/or U.S. constitutions to provide for better protection for our right to privacy?
    • Should the criminal records of all persons convicted in our state of violent or sexual crimes be available on the internet. Explain.

    • Should the government be allowed to place video cameras in public places to monitor citizen behavior and watch for possible criminal acts? Explain.

2.  Should public schools teach classes about ethics, moral values and character? Would such classes violate separation of church and state? Explain.
    • Should daily prayer in public school classrooms be protected as a way of improving the moral behavior of students? Explain.

    • Does a school team saying a prayer before it begins an athletic event violate separation of church and state? Explain.

3.  The right of citizens to vote is absolutely essential in a representative democracy. What constitutional protections exist for our right to vote? Has our fundamental right to vote been violated when some votes are not counted because of voting errors. The New York Times has estimated that as many as four million votes did not count in the 2000 election. Does this damage the legitimacy of the election of the president or others who were elected by very close margins? Explain.
    • Should we have a uniform method for voting for the president, vice president and members of Congress? Who should pay for the cost of improvements in the voting process?

    • Should voters be required to demonstrate that they can read and that they understand the voting process before they are allowed to vote? Explain.

Choose three groups of students [3 to 5 students per group] to respond to the three questions above and act as witnesses in a legislative hearing. Each group or panel shall be required to prepare to formally answer one of the questions [including all of it's subparts]. Students who do not participate on one of the panels will serve as judges at the legislative hearings.

Explain to the students how the legislative hearing will be conducted.

Brainstorm in class possible answers to each of the questions. The whole class should participate. The three panels of students should spend at least a week doing research on their questions. Since there are several students on each panel they can divide up the work to save time. Students should find as much evidence as they can to support their answers.

Part II - Preparing Opening Statements

Each panel of students should have at least one class period to write its opening statement. While the panels are working on their opening statements, the rest of the students should write questions they'd like to ask the visiting legislator(s).

Part III - The Legislative Hearing

Arrange classroom as much as possible to resemble a legislative hearing room.

HEARING

  • Introductions

  • Question Read

STUDENTS OPENING STATEMENT [3 minutes]

LEGISLATOR[S] ASK FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS [4 minutes]

  • Feedback from Legislators [3 minutes]
  • Repeat process with next two panels
  • If time permits after the three panels have testified, then class discussion with the legislators can follow.
  • At the end of the class period all students serving as judges should turn in their judging forms. 

 

 

LEGISLATIVE HEARING SCORE SHEET Group # ____________ Question # ______________Evaluator [student judge] ________________________________For each criterion listed, score the group on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best score.

1 - 2 = Poor 3 - 4 = Fair 5 - 6 = Average 7 - 8 = Above Average 9 - 10 = Excellent
 

Score

Notes

1.UNDERSTANDING: To what extent did participants demonstrate a clear understanding of basic issues involved in the questions.    
2.CONSTlTUTlONAL APPLICATION: To what extent did participants appropriately apply knowledge of constitutional history and principles?    
3.REASONING: To what extent did participants support positions with sound reasoning?    
4.SUPPORTING EVIDENCE: To what extent did participants support positions with historical or contemporary evidence, examples and/or illustrations?    
5.EVIDENCE: To what extent did participants support positions with historical or contemporary evidence, examples and/or illustrations?    
6.RESPONSIVENESS: To what extent did participants' answers address the questions asked?    
7.PARTICIPATION: To what extent did most group members contribute to the groups presentation?    
Group Total    

This project is supported by a Robert H. Michel Civic Education Grant sponsored by The Dirksen Congressional Center, Pekin, IL.


Posted 9/10/01
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