Build Weeks at Long-View are a chance to span and expand our academic blocks; they typically focus on one, rich challenge, involve experts from the larger community, and call for higher levels of reasoning and discourse. Our second Build Week of the year concluded last week and was again a huge success. Ultimately, the children followed in the path of countries around the world by writing a constitution, and they did their work by using a new and pretty amazing platform called Constitute, which provides resources and analysis for constitutional drafters in new democracies. 

  • The Setting: Keecklah Island
  • Population: 3,856

When Long-View learners arrived on Monday of Build Week, they discovered that they were residents of a small Island called Keecklah, home to thriving agricultural, industrial, and research sectors, and the site of some serious controversies. Each learner had their own role within the island community, and they spent the morning getting to know their identities and their sectors, and familiarizing themselves with a giant map of the island, taped out on the floor. Just as the young miners, farmers, developers, manufacturers, and indigenous people began to settle into their roles, the plot started to thicken. A landslide flowed from the mining sector into the farmlands, destroying the island’s crops. Pesticides from the agricultural region polluted the river, bringing toxins into the regions inhabited by the miners and indigenous people. The wealthier classes began insisting on mandatory school attendance, while the indigenous people wanted to educate their children at home, and the miners’ children struggled to get to school, due to illness caused by pollution in their sector.

Within a day, it seemed, Keecklah Island had descended into chaos. The learners quickly selected representatives from their sectors to negotiate these issues, only to discover that they had no shared set of expectations to guide their negotiations. By Monday afternoon, Esmé threw her hands in the air, and said, “We need a constitution!”

As luck would have it, Coleman’s dad, Zach Elkins, is a constitutional scholar at UT Austin. We called him up, and he rushed over to Long-View to teach us the basics. He told us about his project called Constitute, where he has compiled the constitutions of every nation in the world and tagged them so users can explore and compare constitutions by topic. He confirmed that Keecklah Island could benefit from a constitution, and told us we were in good company. Though the American constitution is centuries old, many nations write and revise their constitutions frequently--some as often as every 7 or 8 years! Constitute’s website even allowed us to explore different drafts of recently-written constitutions.

Inspired by what they saw on Constitute, our learners broke into committees and began drafting four key parts of the Keecklah constitution: Rights and Duties, Principles and Symbols, Culture and Identity, and Government Structure. Our negotiators learned how to do 1-minute caucusing so they could efficiently report back to their sectors after committee meetings. What they discovered, however, what that the drafting process would be more complicated than they anticipated. Some committees had been discussing overlapping topics. For example, both the Rights and Duties committee and the Culture and Identity committee had discussed the topic of citizenship, and had arrived at different conclusions about the citizenship status of the Keecklaly indigenous people. Meanwhile, the Keecklaly people had concluded that they felt underrepresented in the constitutional negotiations, and were not interested in continuing to participate. Our constitution-writers began to see how much work lay between them and a completed constitution.

Luckily, we got a surprise visit on Monday afternoon from Sanford and Cynthia Levinson, authors of Fault Lines in the Constitution. They talked to us about some of the flaws in the American constitution, and gave us some great tips about how to avoid similar pitfalls. One big take-away: if your constitution is going to last, you need to imagine and account not only for your society’s current problems, but for the problems it might face in the future.

With this in mind, our learners revisited the issue of Keecklaly indigenous people’s citizenship. How would the future of Keecklah Island unfold if the Keecklaly people stepped out of the constitutional negotiations? Could their land rights be protected? Could they ever be forced to pay taxes? These questions seemed impossible to negotiate without the voices of the Keecklaly people themselves. The learners concluded that they needed to work harder to incorporate the needs of the indigenous Keecklaly people, and the Keecklaly people agreed to stay in the negotiations for one more day. Optimistic, the writers returned to their committees to negotiate and draft their sections, pulling ideas and inspiration from international constitutions on Constitute. Zach Elkins called to let us know that if we ratified our constitution by Thursday, he could post it to Constitute alongside existing nations’ constitutions. The pressure was on!

The writers worked hard all day Wednesday, and right up until lunch on Thursday, frantic to meet their noon deadline. Some learners even stayed during lunch to compile the sections written by the four committees and do a final round of revisions. After lunch, the air was heavy with anticipation. The residents of Keecklah Island sat in rows, facing a podium. One by one, the sectors sent their members to the podium to sign the document. The constitution received 38 signatures--much more than the mere 26 needed for a ⅔ majority. The Keecklah Island constitution was ratified! The Keecklah Island anthem was sung (in both English and Keecklaly), the flag was hung, and the citizens of the new nation raised a cheer.

Does forming a new nation constitute a successful Build Week? We vote yes!

***Explore the Keecklah Island (2018) Constitution on constituteproject.org:

  • Our constitution is here.
  • You can see Long-View listed in the index here.
  • Here's a comparison of the equality clauses in the US Constitution and the Keecklah Constitution. (The nice folks at Constitute worked hard to tag our document by topic so that it will return results in topic searches, just like all the other documents on the website.)
  • If you are an educator and interested in utilizing the resources we created during this Build Week, you can find them here. Please protect our intellectual property by using only for your own personal classroom use!

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