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