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Teaching the bill of rights to students. It’s all about the relevancy of lessons. Why are we studying this? Because you need to know your rights and be a participant in democracy. First amendment cases are good for teaching because they get at the basics of student beliefs and misconceptions. It’s surprising how many of them think that it’s illegal to criticize the government, or the military, or that it’s illegal to burn the flag.

 In order to facilitate this discussion I framed it in the current Snyder v. Phelps supreme court case. It’s a strong teaching case for two main reasons. One, it is so outrageous that we avoid the discussion of are they correct or not to say what they want. All of my students agree that it’s in bad taste, it’s rude, it’s abhorrent, it just shouldn’t be done. Because we all agree on that we can have a real discussion about should this speech be protected. We don’t argue about the content of the speech, but the constitutionality of it. It allows us to have a real issues discussion. Secondly it helps so much to have an undecided court case. I introduced the case on the same day as oral arguments. It’s a prediction of how the court will decide, and that give the students agency. They are actively interpreting current events in a way that directly relates to our school work. The current events aren’t tacked on, and there is true context and relevancy for the issues that extends beyond the classroom. They matter to the world, and that matters to the students.

As I continue to teach government I plan on keeping in mind that the court begins its sessions in October and intentionally lining my lessons up with that schedule. It’s so meaningful to use current cases as opposed to cases that have already been decided. It takes more work as a teacher, but it makes a clear link to following the news and education. Citizens have to be informed, and structuring the government class in a way that makes students participate in current events as well as understanding the structure of government dramatically increases student engagement and helps them create meaning from their schooling.

The New York Times today posted a story discussing how some states (Tennessee, Arizona, Virginia, Georgia) are allowing patrons to bring loaded firearms into bars.  I can’t help but think that this goes beyond the intent of the second ammendment, but it does so in a way that would be extremely clear to students.

The Second Ammendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

It’s beyond me that personal safety covers the “security of a free state.”  I think this article is useful for a government class regarding the discussion of individual rights and the common good.  This is a case that helps illustrate this point in clear terms.  Having guns in an alcohol serving establishment seems like a clear violation of the common good as peoples’ judgment is impaired while under the influence and the potential danger posed to the general population is extremely high.  This article could be well used in a class as a counter to an article that discusses the importance of maintaining the common good at the expense of individual rights.  (A pro-gun control article would be the logical choice.)

To take the next steps one could work with these laws from the abovementioned states and contrast them to some of the stricter gun control laws in the country as a way to work on a true solution.  Students would be then able to use real evidence to support a structured way of handling the issue of gun control.  This would line up nicely to a Structured Academic Controversy, or a mock congress, or both.