The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

Political figures attend Civics hearing

The last of three Semester One Civics committee hearings wrapped up on December 20, with four out of over twenty originally proposed bills being signed and passed. 

The hearings are the apotheosis of students’ work in Civics, a new core social studies course offered for juniors in lieu of the prior American Government course, which focused more on a close reading of the Constitution. For the past three months, during class periods and outside of school, students in small groups have researched and written bills, debated and drafted those bills, and prepared speeches for the presentation of the bills on the auditorium stage for the final hearing.

 Jesse Perez, the social studies teacher who co-wrote and introduced the curriculum for Civics, designed the class flow to mimic the Congressional legislative process. Students were split into members of majority and minority parties, and a few were elected by the class to be party leaders, clerks, or assistant whips. The chair, Nathan Berkowitz, junior, presided over the hearings. Those selected for a special role spent more time preparing than others, often before and after school. 

“The kids ran the show and they did a tremendous job doing so,” Perez said. “[The rules committee] had to bang the gavel and make sure that… they kept an adequate amount of time so that everyone had opportunities [to speak]. It was just super impressive how well they did. A lot of this was hands off for me.”

Perez found the idea for the class curriculum at a constitutional civics event aimed towards social studies educators, which took place over the summer. 

“I noticed that there’s a lot more engagement when students are able to be part of a simulation,” Perez said. “ I want to make [Civics] something that kids, one, remember and actually enjoy, and then two, are actually going to learn from, and  retain some knowledge about the government [from].”

Three political figures spoke at the hearings. Ann McKaig, Shorewood Village President, delivered an opening speech on Monday. Darrin Madison, District 10 Representative, opened on Wednesday, and Mandela Barnes, former Lieutenant Governor and runner-up candidate in the Wisconsin gubernatorial elections last year, closed on Wednesday. President Biden was unable to attend.

The four bills that passed were Abolish the Death Penalty, Marijuana Legalization, Abortion Rights Restored, and Increased Funding For Immigration. The minutiae of these bills, and a detailing of all bills that were voted upon in Full Session during the hearings, can be found on the Ripples website.

Madison witnessed the hearing of the Marijuana Legalization bill. Cannabis legalization is a topic he has also authored bills about on the State Assembly Floor. 

“A bunch of the arguments that were brought up on both sides [during Civics Full Session] were things I’ve heard from either colleagues or the public when I introduced the legislation that I drafted earlier this year,” Madison said. “It was amazing to see folks really take time to research and make valid points, and then make some jokes still— we do that on the assembly floor too.”

Barnes expressed a similar sentiment, and encouraged the expansion of civics education statewide. 

“I think it’s really important for young people… to be able to know that politics isn’t just some abstract concept, to know that government isn’t some abstract concept, and you all are a part of it,” Barnes said. “It’s important that you learn early, because when you’re equipped with knowledge, we have a more informed population, and that’s how we more easily dispel disinformation. That’s how we are able to build trust in governing institutions. And even when things aren’t going the way you feel like they should be going, you should know that you have access and avenues to address those concerns.”

Maddie Kohler, junior and Civics student, helped to author Marijuana Legalization. She credited her friend Ariel for the original idea. 

Kohler enjoyed the full session experience, despite having to miss other classes and wear business attire. Kohler said that other students also expressed dissatisfaction about missing class, the unequal dispensal of business attire ‘exceptions’— some students were given formal wear exceptions and some were not, seemingly at random— mandated public speaking, and the length of the Full Sessions, which students felt could have been completed in a shorter time. 

“I personally wasn’t a fan of having to miss all of my classes for it, because I felt like I ended up becoming behind in a lot of them,” Kohler said. “But I did think [the full session experience] was interesting. The first full session day, we just debated all the bills and got to talk with people from our other classes. I thought that was cool, to see other people’s opinions on [our bill].”

To replace the close reading of the Constitution taught in American Government, Kohler said, students watched episodes of Constitution USA and were given pocketbooks of the Constitution. Overall, she enjoyed the class.

“It was fun getting my bill passed… [and] working with other people. The full sessions were really funny. I had a good time in the class as much as I complained about it,” Kohler said.

Darrin Madison expressed admiration for the class, and social studies education. 

“In general, in social studies, I think that it’s really important to be able to look at any historic materials that you receive and be able to analyze the origin and its value, its purpose, its intent,” Madison said.  

According to Madison, a Milwaukee native, students can, and should, self-advocate for issues that they are passionate about. 

“Commonly, people in positions of power make decisions on your behalf without bringing you to the table. That’s where young people should be getting engaged, should be holding stakeholders accountable– for the cost of education, for resources in our schools, even for looking at access points to have fun… These are things that you could be advocating for right now at the Shorewood Village Hall,” Madison said. 

In addition to expeditionary projects within schools, students can become civically engaged by joining school clubs or volunteering with a plethora of local or national organizations, Madison said. He cited, in particular, the organizations Leaders Igniting Transformation, Voces de la Frontera, and Transformative Justice Collective.

Barnes, who is also a Milwaukee native, emphasized the importance of the standalone Civics class.

“We want to push to make sure that all young people have that sort of opportunity,” Barnes said. “I think it’s as important as driver’s education. I think it’s as important as anything else. How to function as a citizen in a society is one of the most important skill sets that you can have, if not the most. In life in general, change doesn’t happen unless you are aware of how to make that change happen.”