One of the Unit’s most exciting projects is the United States Constitutional Convention. Each student is given a role as a founding father to portray at a mock Constitutional Convention. As students debate topics such as what form the legislative branch should have, how the legislators will be elected, and whether or not enslaved Africans should count when it comes to population and representation, they learn not only the make-up and form of the country’s government, but also the different opinions of the northern and southern states. It quickly becomes clear to students about how and why slavery was such a contentious issue and why the founding fathers did not outlaw slavery in 1787.
Following this Constitutional Convention, we hold a second Constitutional Convention in which students again step back to 1787, but this time to portray not a founding father, but someone who was not included in the original Constitutional Convention. Roles included white women, southern plantation owners, former indentured servants turned workers, members of the Iroquois Nation, enslaved African Americans, northern bankers and merchants, and freed African Americans. Needless to say, the debates at the second convention are markedly different to the first one. Students learned that the men with power, at the first convention, designed a system that was beneficial to keep the economy of the country afloat, but did not change the power structure that kept many people ensconced in slavery and poverty.
Students not only learned about the Constitutional Convention by reading; they experience the event by walking in the shoes of the different historical figures and connecting with them emotionally.