A More Perfect Union: Seventh Grade History Students Examine the Constitution

Popular sovereignty. Self-determination. People power. No matter the label, it’s one of the primary reasons that the U.S. Constitution has survived since its ratification in 1788, according to JK-8 History Department Chair Mark Weinsier. “Popular sovereignty is at the heart of why the system of government under our Constitution has lasted so long. Happily–and justly–who has a voice in the structures of power has expanded since the writing of the Constitution in 1787, breathing ever more life into our precious democracy,” says Mr. Weinsier.
During a recent class, he tested his seventh graders’ knowledge of the enduring document with a review as he bounded from one side of the classroom to the other, posing questions with a contagious enthusiasm. 

“Who grants power to government officials in a republic?” (The people do by exercising their right to vote.)

“What are we referring to when we talk about a ‘separation of powers?’” (The division of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.)

“Why are checks and balances so important?” (They prevent any one branch of the government from becoming too powerful.)

“Through what mechanism can the Constitution be changed?” (Amendments to the Constitution can be proposed by Congress or a constitutional convention and ratified by state legislatures or state constitutional conventions.)

After each question was asked (and sometimes even before Mr. Weinsier could finish his sentence), students eagerly responded. And though it was impressive that more often than not students answered correctly, what was even more remarkable is that every time, the students replied excitedly. They were excited to understand the workings of the Constitution and to consider how they, in the not-too-distant future, will cast votes of their own. 

Nancy C. ’28 says, “It’s actually really interesting to learn about the Constitution. I’ve heard a lot of the words and ideas we’re learning before, but this is the first time I'm getting to understand exactly what they mean. In just a few years, I’ll be voting. Thinking about this makes learning about government more fun.”

We the people, indeed!
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Grace Church School is a co-educational independent school in downtown Manhattan, New York City providing instruction for nearly 800 students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12.