By Jenna Fournel
Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt like the rules you were subject to were unjust and you wanted to change them?
This is the question that Peniel Ouabo, a junior at the National Cathedral School in Washington, DC used to open Center for Inspired Teaching’s virtual Speak Truth discussion on May 21. Participants shared examples, all of which came from their experiences in school:
- In one school students were expected to walk silently in lines in the hallways, and if they violated this rule they were sent back to their starting place to redo the walk again. This was described as “an abuse of power and really excessive.”
- Another school didn’t allow dual enrollment during the school day, which limited opportunities. On a related note, limits to who can get into AP classes were cited as being based on rules that are often opaque to students.
- Dress codes at one school were described as a “suppression of creativity for a lot of people because you can’t always wear what you want.”
From these initial observations students expanded their thinking to larger injustices faced by the nation as a whole and the means by which citizens can or cannot enact change. The focus of the conversation was whether or not a Constitutional Convention should be held to amend the Constitution. Peniel guided the group through a thoughtful exploration of the many considerations involved in pursuing such an action.
Some questions and responses included:
Is it time to change the Constitution?
“I think people are scared to change it because they fear that they are taking away the integrity or soul of America if they change [the Constitution],” said Ambar Condori-Boughton (Duke Ellington School of the Arts). “But if we look to other countries… they amend their laws a lot more than we do. In Norway they’ve amended their Constitution 148 times and the U.S. has only done it 27 times. Think about it as evolving America rather than taking away.”
Ra’Mya Davis (Thurgood Marshall Academy) noted that the context in which the original document was created should be kept front of mind. “Remember the Constitution was originally written during the slavery era.”
Sophia Ungar (School Without Walls) also pointed to history when considering the question. “The Constitution was designed to separate people from power. It was created at a time in which transportation was very different, so a unified country was less likely. Also, the federal government was feared and not held responsible for health care, regulations, or a lot of the functions it now does . . .We don’t know how much can get amended. Amending could go in other directions. The Constitution has a lot of problems, but stability is also important, and it provides stability, so opening it up could weaken that.”
“I feel like a Constitutional Convention is for long-term solutions and long-standing issues needing a series of steps to solve,” observed Ishaan Barrett (The Maret School). “It would be worth noting that just because we choose to amend the Constitution does not mean we’d have a suddenly unified America.”
“I think an important problem is also enforcing some of the things of the Constitution,” added Maria Bizaki (The Maret School). “[Consider] the 19th Amendment, even though women have the right to vote there is still inequality facing women in society. It’s challenging to get the Constitution to really balance that power between the people and the government.”
Do you believe it is wrong that as citizens of America we cannot directly change the laws that govern our societies?
“I think that the ‘by the people for the people’ idea was an idea in the first place to avoid an overpowering government that the founding fathers were so scared of,” responded Lola Rogin (DC International). “However, I think that is a really good example of what is able to be elaborated on in the Constitution.”
“It’s important to remember that there are local and state elections and at the local and state level there are laws on the ballot,” added Emma Lawrence (The Ohio State University / Banneker). “It is a lot easier to go to your city hall and say ‘I want this to change.’ While it is important to talk about a Constitutional Convention it might even be more important to focus on what you can do at local level and not enough people think about that.”
What alternatives can we propose to enact REAL political change (if not conventions or referenda)?
“People voting in their local governments and putting high importance on that piece allows more people to be represented effectively at a local level,” said Eleanor Boomhower (National Cathedral School). “I think this can create more change than at a state or Federal level if enough people believe in something.”
How much should we look to the government to solve our problems? Especially if we have to go to the same avenues that caused our problems to fix them?
Ishaan replied with something many others echoed and agreed with. “I think the most important and influential power anyone has is to stay educated and make local choices about things that matter to them. A lot of blame is placed on Capitol Hill for problems that states can solve. It starts with staying educated.”
After listening to students discuss the power of the government and the people to create change, one feels hopeful for a future in which these brilliant minds might make that possible. But they were also realistic about the many ways in which those in power are currently letting them down.
Speak Truth is a space where students wrestle with both current realities and future plans, tapping into the purpose, persistence, and action at the core of Inspired Teaching. It’s always eye-opening to be present for their thinking and we hope you can join us for their last session on June 4 at 6 p.m. ET.