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Fifth-graders field questions at mock congressional hearing

BATTLE GROUND — If you’ve caught much C-SPAN in the last couple of years, this is probably a familiar scene: elected officials staring down fidgeting panelists, grilling them on what they know (or don’t know) about current affairs.

But there’s no robotic smiling Mark Zuckerberg here. William Barr isn’t defending his presentation of the Mueller report. And, as eminently quotable as 10- and 11-year-olds are, there’s no moment quite as iconic as James Comey’s “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

This is a fifth-grade classroom at Tukes Valley Middle School. Things are much friendlier here.

The Battle Ground middle school hosted its annual We the People mock congressional hearing Wednesday, a chance for fifth-graders to show off their understanding of the nation’s foundation and the U.S. Constitution in front of a panel of judges.

They included Chris Reykdal, the state’s elected superintendent of public instruction, Mike Dalesandro, mayor of Battle Ground, and Eileen Quiring, Clark County Council chair.

In other words, these are serious adults.

“The kids are super nervous,” lead teacher on the project, Linda Korum, said to the crowd of judges. “However nervous you are, they’re way more nervous.”

Teachers around the country use the We the People curriculum, giving students hands-on experience in their history classes. Students at Tukes Valley have run a series of practice congressional hearings over the past two months, putting constitutional theory into scenarios that make sense for fifth-graders. Students have tackled questions of whether it’s OK for the government to limit smoking in public spaces (yes) or having the school principal search your backpack without cause (no).

“Learning government can be boring,” Korum admitted. But it’s “important that they understand how the government works.”

Judges asked rotating groups of students about their understanding of the Articles of Confederation, the Bill of Rights and other parts of United States history. Having “famous people” listen to them, as 11-year-old Lilly Brown put it, only reinforces the weight of the topic.

“We’re learning to speak in front of people and talk,” she said. “That’s a lesson we’ve definitely learned.”

Juliann Tapani, 11, added that she enjoyed learning about how governments balance “the common good” with “individual rights.”

“You have your own idea of what your own rights are,” she said.

Tristan Schnell, 10, was tasked with learning about the Bill of Rights. Don’t ask him what his favorite amendment is, though. He’s too much of a diplomat for that.

“In ways they’re all equally powerful,” he said.

Sure, students were stumped by some questions. Reykdal’s question about the balance of states’ rights versus federal oversight received blank stares from his panel. Others resonated better, such as his question of whether everyone’s equality was granted consistently when the country was founded.

“No, ’cause most of the time only guys were able to vote,” said Matteo Lang, 11.

“White men,” piped up Lilly. “Then African Americans, then women.”

Well, they’ll fill out the rest of the details later.


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