“We The People” Needs We The Westporters

In 2020, we celebrate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which recognized the right of women to vote. Despite recent controversy, the Equal Rights Amendment has not yet been ratified. What are the similarities and differences between these two amendments?

“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.” (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)  To what extent has this view influenced American culture?

In the 1793–94 Pacificus–Helvidius debates, Alexander Hamilton contended that the power to declare war was both legislative and executive in nature. James Madison disagreed, saying that this power was exclusively legislative. Whose opinion do you favor and why?

Could you answer those questions?

Staples High School’s “We the People” team is confident they can.

That’s not just teenage we-can-conquer-the-world cockiness.

In December, 23 students in Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Politics and Government class were crowned state champs in the annual competition. The momentous win broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place.

Staples High School’s 2019 “We the People” champions.

Now the students are preparing for April’s national contest, in Leesburg, Virginia.

It’s quite a task. Each team is divided into 6 groups. Each must be ready to answer 3 separate questions on history, politics and law.

Only one will be asked in the oral question round. But all team members must participate. And each of the 6 groups must be strong. If one falters, the entire class score suffers.

Like all schools, the Staples students, teachers and parent supporters will be isolated in one room. They can’t watch anyone else. It’s a pressure-filled day, as judges shuttle in and out to question the teenagers.

Many schools — including Trumbull — treat “We the People” as a separate course. At Staples though, it’s just one part of the AP curriculum.

In the past, Trumbull prepared for the national competition by enlisting a host of townspeople — lawyers, college history professors teachers, politicians — to assist.

The Staples students get help from just a couple of parents. Andy Laskin — an attorney — takes time off from work. He attends class in person, and FaceTimes too.

For example, for 4th Amendment search and seizure issues, he brings in school resource officer Ed Woolridge. Laskin creates hypothetical police issues, then tweaks the conduct slightly to see how that changes the officer’s suspicions and reactions. It’s complex. And exactly the type of preparation the students need.

Another lawyer, Jamie Dockray, works with them in person, during the week and on weekends at the library.

But it’s labor-intensive. Each adult can only be with 4 students at a time, because each group gets separate questions.

So the “We the People” advisors are asking we — the Westporters — for help.

A lawyer in town who offers his or her conference room; former college history majors who love to talk about politics, law and the Constitution; actors to work on presentation skills — all are welcome.

Volunteers could also help as “judges,” during a practice competition before the April trip.

All could be “game-changers,” Laskin says. The key is to help teenagers “look, sound, act and think like lawyers — and learn the skills to do the research and pull off the argument in front of real judges. It’s very cool.”

“We have plenty of brilliant minds in Westport,” he notes. “There are parents of former We the People students, parents who can get involved before their kids are juniors and seniors … this could be a feel-good, come-together Westport story.

“Suzanne Kammerman puts her heart and soul into this. Some kids say We the People was the defining moment of their high school careers. Let’s all support this amazing program any way we can.”

Interested in helping? Email andylaskinesq@gmail.com, or text Andy Laskin: 203-610-7065. For the full text of all 18 “We The People” questions, click here.

2 responses to ““We The People” Needs We The Westporters

  1. JOHN GREENSPAN

    Bravo to Suzanne Kammerman for your leadership of this amazing class and program at Staples. Big thank you to Andy and Jamie for everything you do. My daughter was fortunate to take this class a few years ago, proved to be a transformational educational experience for her, combined with all the other great curriculum at Staples. Econ with Drew Coyne was another game changer. Keep up the great work Staples!

  2. Chris McCormack

    Congratulations from this Trumbull resident, ex-Westport Staples ’74, and practicing lawyer who’s had the privilege of helping woodshed the Trumbull WTP teams for several years now. Not surprised it was Staples that broke the streak. I second the recommendation to volunteer – it’s a great experience and the kids are inspiring.