As an educator at The Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas, I have the unique opportunity to touch the lives of over 160 young men in my 7th grade Texas History and 8th grade US History classes.
Not long ago, we had actress Janine Turner founder and co-chair of of Constituting America come to my class to speak to our young men about the relevancy of the US Constitution today. Uniquely Janine explained how the Constitution “empowers them” and she enlightened them about what she calls the “tools in their tool box” in the First Amendment, how to use them and how the tool of petitioning – followed by press, speech and assembly – can affect long lasting legislative and amendment change. She also stressed how they are not to young to start this process. Ms. Turner has visited our school for the past 4 school years to help our students learn about their rights, and her non-partisan approach to the Constitution is refreshing compared to the usual treatment it receives in the mainstream media.
Each morning we have a character-building assembly called “Lyceum..” After the tragic events that happened in Las Vegas, our principal decided to teach some of our students about thinking flexibly by looking at gun control. First, our principal approached it from a pro-gun control point of view, using a viral Jimmy Kimmel video to begin a discussion. During our classroom discussion, one of our young men brought up some information Ms. Turner provided to them: “Ms. Turner told us that we have the Right to Petition and we need to start a petition to make the background check process much more thorough.” Another young man said, “I believe any legislation regarding gun control would be useless. Only those who obey the laws already will obey the changes.” The next day in Lyceum we discussed gun control again, but this time from the opposite point of view. I am constantly amazed at the level of thinking of our young men – and deep too.
One day, I decided to illustrate for my students that the fact that 11 teenagers die every day from texting and driving accidents. I called some of my young men out into the hallway and asked them to stay there. When I went back in the classroom some other young men asked: “Where did they go?” I explained that they represented the 11 that had died that day from texting and driving accidents. The realization hit that these numbers were real. Even 1 death was too many, much less 11 each day.
After showing my young men the statistics, I told them that I was going to petition my Congressional Representatives to write a law banning cell phones for teenagers. They were quick to respond saying “You can’t take away something my parents purchased.” They also explained, “My parents will get me one anyway.” One student said, “There aren’t enough Policemen to regulate it.” Another said, “If my Parents want me to have one then it is my right to have one and they can’t stop me.”
Then one of my students spoke up saying “That was exactly my point about gun control.” You see, he was the one that said earlier, “I believe any legislation regarding Gun Control would be useless. Only those who obey the laws already will obey the changes.”
There really are some smart young men in our school. I am grateful to Ms. Turner for taking time from her schedule to come to our school and remind our young men, in a non-partisan and unbiased way, that the US Constitution applies as much to us today as it did our founding fathers in 1787 and how they can have an influential impact on the future of our Republic.
Tom McLaughlin is Retired from the US Navy and is currently a 7th grade Texas History and 8th grade US History Teacher at the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas, Texas