Where’s The Crisis?—The Constitution Settles the Question

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Lesson At A Glance

This lesson will occur at the end of a unit on the Constitution.  After studying the Constitution and its origin, the Preamble, Articles, Amendments, Public Opinion, and, Political Action, students will focus on policymaking and the constitutionality of their own policy.  Each student will write their own public policy and present it as a policy specialist before a student panel (or teacher), who have taken on the role of the president and his advisors.  The policy must pass the test: does it have a basis founded in the Constitution or will it be challenged by policymakers/advisors?


  • Students will understand the elements of public policy, how it is created, and be able to analyze whether the policy has a basis which is founded in the Constitution.

Standards Addressed:  

History Social Science Standards

12.1.3  US Constitution reflects a balance between classical republicanism concern with the promotion of the public good and the classical liberal concern with protecting individual rights, and discuss how the basic premises of liberal constitutionalism and democracy are joined in the Declaration of Independence.

12.8.3  Explain how public officials use the media to communicate with the citizenry and shape public opinion.

12.10  Students formulate questions and defend their analysis of tension within our constitutional democracy and the importance of maintaining a balance between the following concepts: 1. majority rule v. individual rights, 2. liberty v. equality, 3. state v. national authority in a federal system.

Common Core State Standards for ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

Key Ideas and Details:

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.

2. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Craft and Structure:

1.  Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and  phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context

2.  Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, identifying important issues that remain unresolved.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

Big Idea:

  • The strength of a democracy is equal to the strength of its citizens.
  • E Pluribus Unum:  out of many, one.

Essential Questions/Issues:

1. What problems would you encounter in transferring some of the ideas of classical republicanism/natural rights to American society?

2. What basic rights/freedoms are specified in the body of the U.S. Constitution?

3. Identify and explain how public officials use the media to communicate with the citizenry and to shape public opinion?

Activity Steps;

Click here to download activity steps

Purpose  Teacher Learner
Into (Hook)






The Constitution and Current Issues

Day 1
–Teacher will display different quotes around room and students are asked to stand next to one quote in which they feel strongly about. They are directed to discuss this quote with the small group before sharing with the class.
Suggested quotes: (Under student handouts)

DAYS 2-4-Teacher presents issues involved in “policy-making”.   Leads discussion with students:

What is “public policymaking”?  What are some important things to consider as a policy maker?

The teachers shares that public policy making is essentially problem solving by someone in an authoritative position to get the job done.

When considering public policy, problems must be analyzed using the following four elements:
SCOPE – How widespread a problem

INTENSITY – How troublesome a problem

DURATION – How long a problem

RESOURCES -- Costliness of the problem

Above All: It is essential that we use the Constitution as a basis for formulating any evidence we may secure to validate such policies before implementation.

Teacher shares article for class reading and discussion. TIME Magazine, (“One Document, Under Siege”) July 4, 2011 pp. 30-45.  Article may be found:  http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2079445,00.html.

Students are to read about each issue in the article and analyze the issue:

  1. Taking notes on the scope, intensity, duration, and resources involved.
  2. Has policy been made in regard to this issue?  Can the policy by validated by the constitution? Explain… What is your opinion?

Students will read and participate in class discussion on the following:

Issue 1: LIBYA Article 1 Section 8 ‘The Congress shall have power..To declare war’.  Article II Section 2 ‘The president shall be commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy of the United States’

Issue 2: THE DEBT CEILING Article I, Section 8 ‘The Congress shall have power…to borrow money on the credit of the United States.’  14th Amendment, Section 4, ‘The validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned.’

Issue 3: OBAMACARE Article I, Section 8, Clause 3, ‘The Congress shall have power….to regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states.’

Issue 4:IMMIGRATION 14th Amendment 1868, ‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside

Culminating Project:

  • Students may choose a topic from the article, or choose from a selected topic list and may serve on a panel of policy specialists to create their policy.    As policy specialists they will research and create a public policy report to be presented to the president and his advisors.
  • Instructions for policy paper provided on rubric. Suggested library time one to two days researching policy.  In addition, teacher suggests the following:
  1. Check the local newspaper or go online to see which public officials have spoken out on your issue.
  2. Do research on which interest groups have taken positions on your issue. 
  3. See if you can find public policies that already have been made on your issue.
  • Students are provided with a list of appropriate websites.
  • As outlined in the GRASPS (above) students will present daily first 12 minutes of class. (3 per day until all classes have had an opportunity to present.)  Presentation rubric will be used in addition a rubric for public policy paper.
  • See Important Questions to Ask
Students discuss the quote in groups.  Choose at least three main ideas that “surfaced” from the discussion of the quote. 

Groups each share out the main ideas and content of discussion 

Students “pair-share” answer to the question and return to larger group to add their thoughts to discussion.





Students read independently and take notes on the elements to be considered for each issue.







After the class has read the article and all four issues, four groups are established.


Each group is assigned one of the issues and leads a discussion with the class regarding this specific issue and the elements as they apply to this issue: scope, intensity, duration, resources.

The group must formulate a question regarding the constitutionality of their issue as it relates to public policy for the class in order to prompt discussion.

President and advisors will give specific feedback on the constitutionality of the public policy proposal (in writing), and why they will or will not support the policy.

 Beyond   Reflect and share learning.

Special Needs of students are considered in this lesson:

Students can be paired or provided with accommodations regarding content, technology use, or scaffolding of ideas.

Extension Ideas:

Students create films (documentary) of public policy positions to influence the public.


Materials, Resources or References:

Sample Quotes:

“The crisis of democracy is a crisis of citizenship.” Perry

“It would be ironic if we were to win both the war in Iraq and the fight for Iraq’s democracy…”  Perry

“The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush.  It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment.” Robert Hutchins

“The trouble…is that we have taken our democracy for granted; we have thought and acted as if our forefathers had founded it once and for all.  We have forgotten that it has to be enacted anew in every generation.”  John Dewey

“When you go into court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.”  Norm Crosby

“Ultimately, we are granters of power to government.”  Unknown

Suggested Policy Topics for Student Selection

QUESTION:  Is the government responsible for keeping hikers safe?

TOPIC:  GLBT – Contributions in statewide curriculum
QUESTION: Should state curriculum include the GLBT community contributions made in US History?

QUESTION:  Voters in some states are being required to carry voter registration cards.  What should be the requirement for allowing a person to vote in an election?

TOPIC:  REDISTRICTING BASED ON THE 2010 CENSUS  (US Congressional seats-House of Representatives)
QUESTION:  How will the voters in future elections feel when they wake up and they are now in a democrat or republican district?

QUESTION:  To whom should they be made available?

One Document, Under Siege

Here are a few things the Framers did not know about:

  • World War II
  • DNA
  • Sexting
  • Airplanes
  • The atom
  • Television
  • Medicare
  • Collateralized debt obligations
  • The germ theory of disease
  • Miniskirts
  • The internal combustion engine
  • Computers
  • Antibiotics
  • Lady Gaga


People on the right and left constantly ask what the Framers would say about some of these issues!

Public Policy – Questions to Ask

1.  Viability – Is it doable?  Can anything realistically be done to address your concern?   Can government do anything about it?   If so, which level of government?

2. Community benefit – What are you providing to the community with your policy initiative?

3. Valuable proposition – What are your objectives?   What, precisely, do you want to achieve?   Are you proposing significant change or a modest alteration of the status quo?

4. Options – What are the policy alternatives?

5. What criteria will determine which of the policy alternatives is best for you?

6. Did you determine a favored policy alternative? Does it focus on the objectives you seek to reach?   Does it best address the various criteria you have defined?

7. Anticipated consequences – What changes may occur as a result of your efforts?   What are the trade-offs?  The likely benefits and costs?

8. Unforseen consequences – Will the new policy or arrangement create new problems even more challenging than the ones you are attempting to solve?

9. Constitutionality – Does the policy fit within constitutional guidelines?

Times article: hhttp://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2079445,00.html.ttp://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2079445,00.html