Our citizenship class is made
up of adults (mostly refugees and mostly parents) from Somalia, Ethiopia,
Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Russia, Peru, Cape Verde Islands, and Eritrea.
It is offered two afternoons a week, for two hours. Many students come after
a day of work, and several stay for night classes which go from 6-8:30.
The level of English of most students is low-intermediate, though several
who have fairly competent speaking and comprehension are still struggling
with English literacy.
The Family Constitution lesson grew out of students' struggles to understand the United States Constitution. They seemed to have problems absorbing the intent and structure of the constitution, believing that the Constitution is all the laws of the country. They had trouble distinguishing between the body of laws that govern us and a constitution that doesn't make the laws, but sets up criteria by which our laws will be evaluated. This lesson was an effort to create a more familiar frame of reference and have them bring ideas of their own into play. The process seemed to clarify the difference between laws and the Constitution (though they all know that the Constitution is the "supreme law of the land"). We tried to make it clear that the Constitution was rather the "how" and "who" of making future laws, as well as rights of those involved, rather than the details of laws themselves.
We demonstrated the role of the Constitution by having students create a family constitution that might guide the decision-making in their families. First we reviewed what they had learned about the Constitution's structure and why it was written. We talked about how the colonies were like a new family and that they wanted to have rules so that they could live in harmony. The class decided that, in order to set those rules, they would have to answer the questions: How will we make the laws? Who decides? How will it be structured?
While discussing the family constitution, we considered
the kinds of issues families have to deal with - discipline at home, money,
jobs in the house, where you choose to live.
The class that day was all women - Russians, Somalis, and Ethiopians, who were mixed ethnically in their working groups. One group was very definite that the father and mother should be equal and have the final say in all decisions. Several women said that in their country the father made all decisions, but now that they were in America women should be equal with men. After discussions, the two groups came back together and wrote their ideas on the board in categories:
1. GOALS: (Why are we making a constitution)
4. WHO DECIDES (VOTES):
6. CAN THE CONSTITUTION BE CHANGED?
Some students held that, as children grow older,
they can have more responsibility. At 18, they could be living on their
own, so they should be able to have a vote in their family.
Through this lesson, they experienced the challenge
of setting groundrules that could guide a community over time and amidst
change. The lesson also succeeded in demonstrating for students the difference
between a process for making rules and the rules themselves. We discovered,
in the final discussion and voting, that many students did not understand
the concept of majority vote, so just the exercise of choosing among different
options provided them a new "civics" experience.
England Literacy Resource Center