When the government bans homework, lowers the drinking age and prohibits senior citizens from driving all on the same day, there can be only one explanation: those yahoos in Congress are at it again. But these young lawmakers have courage their older counterparts lack.
Every semester in the high school government classes that my colleagues and I teach, we hold a Mock Congress as we cover the nation’s legislative branch. Students write bills and try to pass them through every stage of the lawmaking process, including committee hearings, floor debates and amendment procedures.
Teen legislators propose ideas on both extremes of the political spectrum, with calls to raise and lower taxes, to expand and abolish the death penalty and to increase and decrease abortion rights. Some want to legalize all guns even for people in schools and prisons. Others want to ban weapons entirely without exceptions for police and military.
Some ideas fall under the “only kids could imagine this” category, like a congressman’s plan to train and equip an army of Batmen to fight crime nationwide. The same kid pitched a “National Beautification and Renewable Energy Creation Act,” which calls for flabby people to get in shape while generating electricity on specially-equipped stationary bikes.
One senator even tried to curry favor with a bill supporting my favorite baseball team: “This bill requires all mankind to be Giants fans because the Giants are legit!”
Despite the absurdity of many proposals, the activity effectively teaches students about the workings of the real U.S. Congress. This year it also taught me about the challenging lives and surprising maturity of my students.
A teen father in my class called for safe sex instruction at schools. Another young man campaigned for a “right to have a life-long relationship with an incarcerated parent.” This same student was involved in a nearly-fatal automobile accident recently and wrote another bill to increase the driving age to 18.
And in addition to the usual crop of marijuana bills, another common theme emerged in the legislation.
“In hopes of creating a tolerant and equal country for all, this bill will give all Americans the ability to wed whomever they wish,” suggested a young woman.
“Gay people should have the same rights as everyone else. The Constitution says nothing about marriage being only between a man and a woman,” wrote a young man.
“Gays and lesbians should be able to serve our country. There is nothing wrong with having homosexuals in the military,” penned a lawmaker.
“Tear down the walls of discrimination,” insisted one.
“If this country is based on equality and freedom, then isn’t it only fair to follow through with what is right?” asked another.
Only two bills passed Mock Congress this year. One legalized pot and the other established nationwide marriage equality.
Teachers should give credit where it’s due, and not just on report cards. So thanks to the Class of 2010 for giving me hope that our country will right its wrongs and, as a student legislator demanded, “prove America is truly the land of the free.”
Bay Area Newspaper Group, 2010