They barely knew each other. They had little in common – whether it was their culture or background, whether they were from the city or the countryside. But they did something seemingly rare in these highly polarized times: they had a civil conversation about some of American’s most heated issues.
Is this some sort of society of enlightened philosophers?
Close – they were a group of high school students participating in Classroom Exchanges, part of the new Interactive Constitution: Classroom Edition.
A program first piloted in 2018 by the National Constitution Center (NCC), the Classroom Edition’s virtual exchange platform utilizes the latest technologies to bring the U.S. Constitution to life for middle and high school students across the country.
The platform, which officially launches Constitution Day, September 17, 2019, provides educational videos and lesson plans that explore several constitutional issues. It is an extension of the highly successful Interactive Constitution tool featured at the National Constitution Center, which has already been visited 25 million times since it was launched in September 2015. The tool showcases insights from liberal and conservative scholars on aspects of the U.S. Constitution.
“The dialogue really opened our kids’ eyes and broadened their views,” said Nick Hegge, a high school teacher at Logan View High School and one of the educators who participated in last year’s pilot of the virtual exchange portion of the Classroom Edition. “They got to see how much they have in common with students from other parts of the country.”
Through the virtual exchanges of the program, students of one class link up through webcams with students of another class—some thousands of miles apart. During these sessions, a moderator guides a discussion between the two groups of students on various clauses of the Constitution.
The exchanges give students the chance to think like constitutional scholars, asking not what the government should do, but what it may legally do. And according to Hegge, it’s been an unforgettable experience for his students. The emphasis, said Nick, is on listening to people who are different from you and who have different perspectives. “The students show a lot of respect for their counterparts.”
He’s also struck by his students’ enthusiasm for the program. The kids love the novelty of using technology and getting to know students from far away. “They work hard to prepare for the session. The program has really sparked in them an interest in civic issues.”
The Classroom Exchanges have already been piloted with over 2,300 students in 92classrooms across 27 states since September 2018. This year NCC is expanding the program with support from a broad mix of philanthropic partners including the Bezos Family Foundation, Charles Koch Foundation, and Laura and Gary Lauder Family Venture Philanthropy Fund.