At Yale’s Young Global Scholar (YYGS) program for elite high school students, I developed a massive—and massively popular—simulated re-founding. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Students learn by doing.
The simulation is extensive: over two hundred students participating in two days worth of debates, caucuses, and party meetings to draft and pass a new Constitution. The world is completely my invention. Students now wrestle with “megaregions”—interstate economic and cultural zones that are pushing for recognition under the new charter. There are also new parties (the “Warrenites” and “Cruzists”), along with an entire fifty-year history of economic revitalization, natural disasters, and medical miracles with which students must become acquainted. Students are also given “issues” they care about: for instance, whether they prefer “security” or “liberty.”
Below is a promotional video from the 2014 session of YYGS. The first student, Taylor Sellers, explains one of the great experiences at the program was writing the Constitution.
Yes, the simulation is fun. But the message is serious. As I tell the delegates in the welcome letter:
The task of reworking the Constitution, however, is only your first among many. Not only will you leave this weekend with a deeper understanding of political rights, but we also hope you walk away appreciating what it means to participate in a deliberative body. You will not always get what you want. At times you may become frustrated with the back and forth of floor debate and political alliances. You must learn quickly when to stand firm and when to compromise.
This simulation could translate into the college setting. With modifications for time and theoretical sophistication (replacing the invented parties with Democrats and Republicans, for instance), and with addition of a reflection paper, it could be valuable experience in “learning by doing.” I have seen other professors at Brown carry off a similar simulation. It is a skill that I have honed and which has been met with acclaim.