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  Workshop 4: Constitutional Convention  
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Workshop 4

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Teacher Perspectives
Student Perspectives
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Student Perspectives: The issues

Alvin: We were talking about who could vote for Permistan's leader. We were saying, “What about immigrants? Do you have to be a citizen? What's our definition of a citizen?” [One girl in the group] was talking about the women because for so many years women have been held back, and we definitely want all women to be on equal playing field as men. If you establish a country that is, to steal a term from one of my teachers, "loosey-goosey" and has no set limits, the people are really going to go crazy. If you establish some rules, some people are going to follow them. You're never going to get everyone to follow them because people naturally want to be rebellious and different. A constitution and a set form of government make things flow. They say, "In the event that this happens, we're going to take this plan of action." If you don't have that, what are you going to fall back on?

Brionna: One of the big debates was over whether [all] people who pay income tax should be able to vote. Some people had a problem with people who were 14, 15, or 16 voting, even though they pay income taxes. Another big debate was about whether ex-cons should be allowed to vote. I think that they should be allowed to because they’re still citizens even though they committed a crime. We [also] had to determine the number of [legislative] houses. I wanted a uni-government legislature, because I feel that one is enough. In the U.K. and France, the upper houses are just ceremonial anyway. It ended up being a bicameral system just like ours is in America. We were able to negotiate to form a consensus on most things but sometimes we just didn’t compromise at all. That made it fun though.

Ceretta: My group has been doing pretty well [but] I think I've been a little bit of a problem. I wanted more of a Russian government, where the people would elect the legislative branch and the legislative branch would choose the president. I think they've been leaning more toward the United States government.

Chris: I don’t really believe that [the country] should be governed by the elite, but I do believe that people should know something about government. They shouldn’t just vote blindly. In Minnesota, Jesse Ventura basically got the vote of the 18- to 25-year-olds who are novice voters, and exploited his antics in the ring and his wrestling career. I don’t really think government should be a popularity contest. I think the best people for the job should be elected. My suffrage requirement was being 17 years of age and being able to pass a basic knowledge of the political history of your country and the issues of that particular election. Our class claims to be liberal, but they really don’t embrace new ideas. The only thing that I found interesting was that [they decided] ex-felons should have the right to vote. Then I thought--we’re in the District of Columbia and a lot of people know ex-felons and they don’t feel that they should be deprived of their right to vote. That kind of surprised me because they are really conservative and they came up with this really, really leftist idea.

I personally back plurality because I think that with plurality you can have a really right idea, a moderate idea, and a really left idea. If the moderate and the left come together, they can defeat the right. Some proposal that you never thought could get passed could slip in there and win. I think the constitution is basically like an infrastructure--things you can do and things you can’t do. I can’t believe that [the framers of the U.S. Constitution] actually came up with such a great constitution in that short period of time--and the compromises that they had to make and the sacrifice of time, effort, and money. It must have been a Herculean task. There is no way I could probably have done it. I would have walked out because these are really intelligent men and usually intelligent men think they know everything and they think that their way is the right way and sometimes they are not able to yield to other people’s ideas.

Elliott: Today we've been working on getting the executive branch together. In the beginning we got a little stuck. We have so many ideas that we had to tell ourselves to just move on. The first part was sort of defining the process of how the president would be elected and his duties. We talked about term limits. At one point I think my other three group members brought up literacy tests, which seems like lunacy to me, but they were pretty adamant about it. We compromised.

Jade: To me, it gets into the process of formulating legislation for people to live by. Sometimes rules are so broad that it's kind of hard to fit them in the scheme of things. Or, if your rules are not so broad, no one will want to follow them. You want to create a place that will be comfortable and safe for everyone to live in together. You may have a set of rules and people may still find a way to violate those. At the same time, it is really important to have a way of government [where] people can live comfortably and have a greater respect for themselves as individuals within a collective. The toughest issue was who would have voting rights. We decided to have no literacy tests and we really talked about how we think it's important that both taxpayers and non-taxpayers have the right to vote. We really went in-depth on the importance of having equal protection of the laws and being able to exercise political efficacy.

Toussaint: The constitution we end up with will be an embodiment of all of our political ideas and beliefs. Those political ideas and beliefs come from morals and everyday life. You can't move on without knowing your past, and governments are formed from a country's history. A lot of people would say that our constitution was written in maybe a year or two. Really our constitution was being written since people first landed on this land because their past experience helped teach them what they knew and they kept learning and it gave them the ideological beliefs to form our constitution.

Victor: Every decision my group wanted to make led to further questions. [One group member] brought up a good point--that we are trying to set up something totally different, something original, yet not. Our founding fathers were a spawn of a monarchy so they knew exactly what they did not want. I have respect for them because they went through a lot of drama and a lot of complicated [things], which led to a pretty decent nation. To create a basic constitution, you have to stress equality. You have to try to make one body of people, one body of laws that can co-exist. My group is basically conservative. What we've come to acknowledge is that we have deep respect for our forefathers.

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