Sunday, March 27, 2011

"You Decide!": Studying the Bill of Rights

Many say the Constituion of the United States of America in an inspired document. But, when it came time to ratify the Constitution, many states felt that it did not guarantee specific rights to the people. Without this "bill of rights," the Constitution faced rejection. So with a promise to work on a Bill of Rights, the Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787. The Bill of Rights followed over four years later, on December 15, 1791.

No American education is complete without studying this vital document. What rights are guaranteed? Why did the founding fathers feel compelled to address these specific issues in the first ten amendments to the Constitution? How have these rights been challenged and upheld? What is the process?

You Decide! Applying the Bill of Rights to Real Cases, from The Critical Thinking Co., helps students learn about the Bill of Rights by casting the students as judges in ruling on 75 cases that went before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Each sections follows the same format:
You Be the JudgeStudents read two U.S. Supreme Court cases and answer questions about how they would rule.

What Does the Amendment Say?Students read the actual amendment. Then, the amendment is broken into segments, new vocabulary is defined, and then restate the amendment in their own words.

Some Past Decisions of the Supreme CourtA number of cases, with their backgrounds, are presented. Students use the Guide for Analyzing Cases, which helps the students break out the main facts of the case, what amendment was involved, what particular clause of the amendment was involved, what state law or provision (if any) was allegedly involved, what were the issues of the case, what the U.S. Supreme Court decided, and why the Court decided as it did.

What are the Origins of the Various ClausesThe Bill of Rights was not written in a vacuum; it can only be understood within its historical background. While the Court must rule with present considerations in mind, deeper comprehension comes with learning the reason the founding fathers felt these rights must be guaranteed in writing.

The Amendment TodayHow do these amendments affect our lives today? How have the Court's rulings secured and honed our rights?

The workbook and answer guide (You Decide! Instruction/Answer Guide Applying the Bill of Rights to Real Cases) are designed to be used in a student/teacher situation. Discussion points, question sheets, multiple-choice questions, and the Guide for Analyzing Cases provide thoughtful interaction and comprehensive methods to gauge understanding.

Another option for studying with the books is to use them as a jumping off point for family discussions. In our family, we instituted "Constitutional Law at Dinner." The name appeals to our children, but what they really enjoy are the discussions. Once or twice a week, while eating dinner, we work throught the book together. One night we read an amendment and discuss what it means. Another, we talk about its historical context. On yet another, we read two or three cases and say how we would rule and why. Sometimes we agree, but often we don't. Each person must support their opinion. If they struggle with their reasons, we work through it together. Then we read how the U.S. Supreme Court actually ruled and discuss why we agree or disagree. Occasionally, we really haven't understood the ruling, so we go back through the specifics of the case. Although we may still disagree with the ruling, we better understand it.

We can easily stay on one amendment for a couple of weeks, as You Decide! presents many cases and plenty of background information. Although the workbooks are geared toward grades 6-12+, by discussing them as a family, younger children will pick up concepts and vocabulary, as well as learn how to participate in friendly debates.

With You Decide!, our entire family has gained a deeper appreciation for the Bill of Rights and for the impressive document it is.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds a lot like the format of the website, iCivics, that we used for Civics lessons this year.

    I believe the target audience is probably middle school students, but I believe all ages could benefit from the information found there.