April 18, 2007

I don't think that word means what you think it means

According to this USA Today article, this second grade teacher seems to be unclear on what a "constitution" really is:

Each fall, Diana Schmiesing has her second-graders at Providence Elementary School develop their own constitution. Year after year, under Schmiesing's subtle guidance, the pupils discover that all their suggestions boil down to: respect yourself, respect others, respect our classroom. Students sign them into law in a Constitution Day ceremony.

By presenting rules as a problem-solving activity that'll help them all, Schmiesing finds that respect is something 7-year-olds understand. "It's a wonderful way of having kids vested in the class," says Schmiesing, 55.


Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition, defines constitution, in relevant part, as "The organic and fundamental law of a nation or state ... prescribing the extent and manner of the exercise of sovereign powers."

A constitution is supposed to limit the power of government over the citizens. In the case of a classroom, the government is the school and the citizens are the students. Schools are run like dictatorships or monarchies, not democracies or republics.

A proper classroom constitution, therefore, would define and limit the school's power over the students.

In contrast, Schmiesing's constitution appears to limit the student's rights and abilities by defining how students are supposed to act. That gets it exactly backwards.

And, Schmiesing is a member of the 2006 All-USA Teacher Team just in case you were wondering.

(I'm going to avoid commenting on the banality of Schmiesing's Rosa Parks social studies project, but feel free to leave your two cents.)

10 comments:

Robert said...

I can begin to see why so many liberals (and far too many conservatives) have no clue about how to handle the US Constitution. It's a legal document, folks, not a motivational poster.

CrypticLife said...

This bothered the heck out of me when my son brought home his "class bill of rights" as well. Somehow teachers want to turn it into a prescription for obedience. If the spirit of it were actually used for a government, it would be totalitarian. Applied to elementary school the exercise is a farce.

I don't know what teachers who do this think they're teaching. Clearly if they don't understand the concepts, the kids won't. I tried teaching my son the first part of the Bill of Rights, and even though I have my JD it's tough to put it to a level where a first grader will understand. The second amendment really surprised him, the sixth amendment is just outlandish to a kid who doesn't know the history, and even the fourth and fifth are difficult due to their nuances. Even the first amendment can be tricky.

Tracy said...

How does a club's constitution ora company's constitution fit in with your definition of constitution?

I belong to a tramping club and from reading it the club's constitution defines its powers and also defines how club members are to behave to each other. For example, one of the rules is no alcohol on club trips unless an exemption is given by the Chief Guide.

Michael said...


A proper classroom constitution, therefore, would define and limit the school's power over the students.


I suggest you read the OED, since you're the one who doesn't know what a constitution really is, or, apparently, that words often have multiple definitions. I also suggest you read Dickens's Hard Times; you're clearly portrayed in the first chapter.

KDeRosa said...

Why is it that the angriest loons never deign to explain their wacky arguments.

I'm sure this teacher was referring to some archaic usage of constitution only found in the OED when trying to teach her elementary school aged students.

Touche, Michael, your erudition is humbling.

KDeRosa said...

Tracy, that usage makes more sense because it is the club that is governing themselves,

CrypticLife said...

"who doesn't know what a constitution really is, or, apparently, that words often have multiple definitions."

True -- but do you really think the teachers are teaching it in terms of a general term, or do you think it's more likely they're associating it with the US. In my son's case, it wasn't a constitution he brought home, it was a "Bill of Rights", most of which described the student's responsibilities to behave rather than actual rights.

Anonymous said...

You see this is what our media LOVES to spotlight- liberal, so called "progressive" teachers who are doing things in contrast to the norm. People who go aganist the grain.

America got to the point where it's at for a reason- tried and true conservative values and METHODS!!!!!!! Most of these so-called "super teachers" spotlighted by the media are actually quite marginally at best when it comes to actually teaching children the fundamentals necessary to become knowledgeable citizens who WILL make a positive contribution to society. In the end they do a marginal job at best testing the fundamentals of reading, writing, mathematics, history, economics, and civics. They are just good at spouting liberal educational dogma- the same dogma spouted by the colleges of education and many schools and state departments of education.

Has it ever occurred to you that many teachers of the year chosen by counties and states are relatively new teachers, a few years out of college. These are usually "progressive teachers, with fresh ideas", attractive and make good spokemouths. They go around the state spouting the party line and looking good. We just got a new state teacher of the year named. This girl hasn't been teaching ten years. All she is a (supposedly) pretty face. All her principal is quoted as saying is that she is "full of enthusiam."

One thing to note- All of these teachers spotlighted by the New York Times, Washington Post, school systems, and state boards of education as "shining beacons of hope" probably believe in balanced literacy and WL.

Thomas

Mark said...

Ken,
I agree with your general premise that most teachers conflate their teaching of the US Constitution with these hokey lists of classroom "rights".

Read Philip Howard's easy read on the Collapse of the Common Good. This will add fuel to your argument that what teachers are doing is confusing our founding documents with a post-1960s legal culture that considers "freedom" the right to "do your own thing."

As you point out, the freedoms enshrined in the constitutions are defined in terms of a citizen's relationship with his/her government.

The Constitution is not a Robert Fulghum book full of kindergarten rules. It is a document that allowed a bunch of intolerant, religious fanatics to govern themselves while being intolerant (yes, intolerant) of one another (Puritans v. Quakers v. Anabaptists v. Catholics).

I also cringed when my sixth grader came home after studying the Bill of Rights, only to claim his "rights" vis-a-vis his little brother.

His teacher really led the poor kid astray. And his little brother whollopped him good, too. When the dust settled, I had to deprogram the kid to undo the damage done by his well meaning, but misguided teacher.

Oy.

Golf-man said...

Constitution, bill of rights, whatever. . .

It isn't going to matter a squibble unless sustainability gets onto our kids and our own curriculum BIG TIME.

Basic long division tels you divide one planet by 6Billion people eating fast food, driving SUVs, living the "consumer dream" and it don't add up.

In fact it doesn't add up with 1Billion either.

Slightly off topic, but the finer points of your kids' education won't matter a damn on a planet with a terminally screwed ecosystem.