“Bong Hits for Jesus” and Gun Control: Classroom Simulations and the C3 Framework

By Dan Fouts posted 22 days ago

Dimension three of the C3 Framework calls on students to evaluate sources, use evidence and formulate strong arguments.

Unfortunately, students often don't care enough about the subject matter to want to master these skills.  As a result, teachers' efforts to help them are met with resistance or indifference.

So the teacher question becomes-- What type of environments can we create which will best motivate students to work on these skills?

Answer:  the classroom simulation.

In a simulation students are first asked to assume the character of another person. Think about that for a moment. Playing a character has little to do with "evaluating sources and using evidence" and nothing to do with argumentation -- as far as most students are concerned. It is a chance to invest emotionally in a learning experience through acting. This emotional investment, then, serves as the soil for the intellectual engagement with the subject matter. All of a sudden, using evidence, evaluating sources and making arguments become necessary preparation for a future performance. The focus becomes the performance, not the skills.

One of my favorite simulations takes place during my unit on the judiciary when we recreate the oral argument in the famous 2007 Morse v. Frederick "Bong Hits for Jesus" case. Briefly, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school officials can prohibit students from displaying messages that promote illegal drug use. Although students do have some right to political speech even while in school, this right does not extend to pro-drug messages that may undermine the school's important mission to discourage drug use. The dissent argued that the majority opinion was "deaf to the constitutional imperative to permit unfettered debate, even among high-school students [...]." (Source: Morse v. Frederick at Oyez.org)

In the classroom simulation, some students assume roles as attorneys who must mine facts and shape arguments to the Supreme Court. Others play judges who listen carefully and construct arguments to justify their ultimate decision on the case. Other students, representing interest groups like the Christian Legal Society and ACLU, file amicus briefs and distribute them to members of the Court.

Again, because the primary goal here (in most students' minds) is to put on a performance (not to build skills), students are actually more likely to engage in authentic skill-building! And therein lies the beauty of simulations-- they satisfy the goals of the C3 Framework but do it in an imaginative, roundabout way.

Moved by the recent tragic events in Florida, I just completed a simulation of a civic debate on gun control, which I posted on my socratesquestions blog. We transformed the class into the Senate Judiciary Committee and debated the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. Students showcased the skills modeled in dimension three of the Framework and even formulated compelling questions after it was over. I shared some of these questions in a follow up post.  (See other teaching resources suggested by NCSS members in the TSSP newsletter regarding the issue of gun control).

Dan Fouts
AP government, US history and philosophy teacher
Maine West High School, Des Plaines, IL