On June 4th, 1787, Roger Sherman, delegate from Connecticut to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, cautioned his fellow statesman on an important matter. According to James Madison’s notes, Sherman was against “enabling any one man to stop the will of the whole. No one man could be found so far above all the rest in wisdom. He thought we ought to avail ourselves of his wisdom in revising the laws, but not permit him to overule the decided and cool opinions of the Legislature.” Of course, we know that opinions like these shaped a constitution that has brought stability to our nation for over two hundred years, but our students today can only live that moment through the notes of Madison and even less immediate research. They are disconnected from that moment, right?
Not in Brian Fritz’s AP US History course. Here, students live that historical moment through a role-playing reenactment of the Constitutional Convention. Each student in APUSH was assigned a delegate from the convention to research and personify during the debates in class. The assignment stated that “props are mandatory,” so students showed up with eighteenth century wigs and topcoats, flags representing their original nationality, and even the famous wire-rimmed glasses of Benjamin Franklin. Students embodying George Washington led the convention as students debate issues like the strength of the new national government, the structure of the various branches of government, and the legality of slavery. Each student voiced the historically-recorded views of their assigned figure.
The result was an exchange that began a bit scripted, but quickly evolved into animated as students felt the arguments they uttered. Excitement emerged as the discussion addressed the deficiencies of the Virginia and New Jersey plans, and laughs sounded as Alexander Hamilton proudly proclaimed that his “Hamilton Plan” was far superior. Every once in awhile, Mr. Fritz would prompt the students to nudge the debate in one way or another and help the students experience the historical moment, but always was the students’ preparation evident.
Each student in the class on this day will face exams in and out of Mr. Fritz’s course where they will prove that they know the story of the Constitutional Convention and the importance of its impact. When they prove their knowledge, it will not come just from reading about the event, but from living it for one class period. And that makes a world of difference.