A school based on Constitutional Citizenship

Those of you at the second week of James Madison and Constitutional Citizenship at Montpelier may have heard about my school and our work with Professor Harris. Our charter high school was created by a group of parents in 1998 with a mission to teach citizenship. From the beginning we tried to fulfill this mission by incorportaing lots of civic education and community service into our curriculum as well as trying to think about the skills and dispositions of a good citizen that we wanted to foster in our students. However, our efforts felt disparate and we felt as if we lacked the philisophical grounding for what we were doing as a school.

Then, I attended a weekend seminar at Montpelier and was introduced to Res Publica: An International Framework for Education in a Democracy. Found online at http://www.civiced.org/index.php?page=res_publica

My faculty studied portions of this document. Then we met at a retreat at Montpelier, heard from Professor Harris, and finally with all of that in mind, we got to work. We sat small groups of folks in different departments and tried to discover the commonalities in our approaches to teaching, to working with students, and to our disciplines. What we found was that there were clear principles guiding what we did as a school. Some of the principles we felt we lived up to, others we aspired to, but these principles (which we formed into a kind of Constitution) guided our school and were the philisophical basis for Constitutional citizenship mission.

So, here is our Constitution

Citizenship Preamble and Principles

We, of RCHS, intend to cultivate the understanding and practices that sustain individual self-determination and community self-government.  We have adopted the following principles in order to ensure that all who pass through our halls can imagine, create, and govern a more perfect world.


We believe:


That a foundation of knowledge and ethics must precede all intellectual inquiry;


That if we

encourage self-awareness

build and maintain local communities

develop an awareness of our membership in ever larger communities

engage in common enterprises with people who are different

accommodate and address conflict and change

facilitate problem solving

foster balance and moderation in life

and take ownership and responsibility for learning


We will become good citizens.

We continue to work to use this document as a guide for our school and our programs. Lately, that has meant thinking about how to communicate these ideas to new faculty, to our students, and to our parents. In addition we struggled with developing a principle that communicated the ideas of educating makers and not just users. We ultimately felt as if that idea was just below the surface in many of these principles, but still aren’t sure how to make that idea come alive in just a phrase (especially for an audience unfamilier with Professor Harris’ ideas about constitutional citizenship).

I would love to hear your thoughts about our work and its applicability to your schools.


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  • hobbes21 says:

    Wow! Again, what you’re doing at your school is ultra-cool; y’all definitely have St. Elmo’s fire–that awesome. I love the rainbow of your principles, as well as the mission.

    My take on implementation is that a school creates a mission statement, then they produce outcomes; but the function through which each mission passes to accomplishment must be the curriculum.

    Since you’re a charter school, do your outcomes have to match state ones? If so, you’ve got to tailor your curriculum to meet those specifics; yet it wouldn’t be that hard to incorporate your mission (i.e. write a personal narrative in which you detail a transformative life event, LANG ARTS; use lab reports with scientific method and emphasize the discussion/use of failure, SCIENCE; self-awareness activities, PSYCH or SOCIOLOGY; and so forth). I can see a whole high school really revolving upon this axis.

    If your school can create their own outcomes, you have even greater movement in curriculum creation.

    Do you practice team-teaching..? What are your core requirements..? I have a million questions, of course! (I guess I’ll visit the website..!)

    My point is this: the doing is the making. It is there, just under the surface of each color: just as the doing is underneath the Preamble, but it’s the Constitution that’s the concrete. So, I guess I’d call your mission a Preamble, and your curriculum the working text.

    I help to run a private school, but also taught in public, so I do have some perspective. I once sat through a series of meetings in which we wrote outcomes, and noted a much older teacher roll his eyes. I was excited to be part of what I took to be a Constitutional moment, this construction. But what he understood was that the implementation is the trick; “we did this three years ago,” he said. “It just had a different name.”

    The real trick of your school will be in getting new teachers to buy into the mission, but also to include them in drafting lesson plans that make those goals work; having department heads or team-leaders work to weave the colors together into a beautiful tapestry; and, most importantly, empowering students to create and make within the curriculum, rather than regurgitate and deliver.

    Students must be offered choices and freedom to REALLY own their preparation/ frustration, accomplishment/ failure, and evaluation/ reflection. Just as with our polity, there is no way to make everyone participate, let alone altruistically. However, the very structure of your curriculum can reinforce that for which you’re looking.

    Of course, you’ll have a sense that your document is no longer living when teachers claim they’re meeting all of the principles by using “group work”. [Half-empty moment there, sorry.] As administrator, I’d want each lesson plan that crossed my desk to state which color it was addressing and how (which may be insulting to some, but it would do the teachers good to know WHY they’re teaching what). And make some departments work to incorporate a balance of colors; there’s much to be shown through balanced equations regarding moderation in life!

    Anyway, I’m so glad you posted! As the incoming leader at our school, I’m excited to hear other visions in order to clarify my own. I’m eager to visit the site and read more before I open my mouth any more. Look for my return, with more questions..!


  • hobbes21 says:

    Okay, I just visited http://www.raleighcharterhs.org/aboutus/index.asp
    and can I have a job? Your school sounds like a fantastic work environment! I am highly impressed with the advanced training of your staff, and with the diversity of your Board of Directors.

    Way to go, AD!

  • stepwinder says:

    I especially like “accommodate and address conflict and change.” So many campuses aren’t comfortable with conflict in any form. Aren’t those the moments in which you’re most aware (or should be) of yourself, your community, its enterprise, and your membership? If the work of your school community can facilitate problem-solving that includes approaching those moments with balance and moderation as all parties take ownership and responsibility, you’ll be the model for us all.

    I think I’d mine that particular line for the tool to teaching new faculty, students, and family. Thanks a bunch for sharing your work here.

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