Jennifer Weems (center), a field rep for Sen. Bob Corker’s office, enlightened Martin Middle School eighth-graders Tuesday morning about the federal government system in celebration of Constitution Week.
Martin Middle School eighth-graders were given a lesson on the Constitution Tuesday morning when Jennifer Weems, a field representative for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, paid a visit to teacher Stacey Baker’s classroom.
For many students, it served as a refresher course. For others, it was an enlightenment into the federal government system.
To celebrate Constitution Week this week, Weems and other field agents for Corker have toured classrooms across the state. Students were presented with pocket-sized Constitutions and quizzed on their knowledge of the foundation of the United States of America.
According to Baker, the eighth-grade U.S. History class at Martin Middle School got a head start on the lesson that wasn’t planned for introduction into the classroom curriculum until late October or early November.
“In 1787, the colonies, with the exception of Rhode Island, held a meeting to form rules that would govern commerce and inter-state security issues,” Weems told the class.
The framers of the Constitution had three goals from the writing of those rules that would later be molded into the U.S. Constitution.
Weems explained the three objectives.
• The Constitution created a national, or federal, government.
• The Constitution recognized rights that cannot be taken away, which are guaranteed at birth.
• The Constitution gave states rights to make decisions and laws.
The first three articles of the Constitution formed the federal branches of government.
Article I formed the legislative branch of government, which consists of Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate. The legislative branch is charged with making laws.
Article II of the Constitution formed the executive branch of government, which executes the laws. The head of the executive branch is the U.S. President. Currently, Barack Obama is the president.
Article II formed the judicial branch, which consists of the Supreme Court – the highest court in the country. The responsibility of the judicial branch is to carry out punishment to those who do not obey laws.
Fortunately, Weems said, the Constitution is designed to provide a separation of powers so that no branch of government becomes more powerful than another.
This concept is also known as “checks and balances.”
Weems then went into greater details with the class about the functions of each branch.
The legislative branch is comprised of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
House of Representative members, or Congressmen, are allotted to districts based on their population. Currently, the 8th District of Tennessee has one U.S. Representative – Stephen Fincher.
Representatives are elected for a term of two years and can serve an unlimited amount of terms.
Each state is allocated two senators. They serve six-year terms and there is also no limit to the amount of terms a senator can serve in the U.S. Congress. Tennessee’s two senators are Lamar Alexander, a former governor of Tennessee, and Corker.
The president is elected to serve four-year terms and can only serve two consecutive terms in office.
The Supreme Court consists of nine members, who are appointed by the president and approved by the chambers of Congress.
It is typically a long process, Weems explained, as a Supreme Court Justice is allowed to preside for life. Once the president appoints a Supreme Court justice, there is a lengthy process of background research and committee approvals before someone can sit on the panel.
Weems asked the group of students if they knew the process of “changing” something in the Constitution. Changes are known as “amendments” to the Constitution. Currently there are 27 total amendments of the Constitution.
The first 10 amendments are, more notably, the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was created to “belong to the people,” the class shared.
Weems and the class discussed at length what is considered one of the most important Bill of Rights – the First Amendment.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” Weems asked the class to describe the meaning of the first portion of the amendment.
“There will be no official religion,” one student answered.
“Why?” Weems asked.
“So no one would be left out,” another student responded.
“There’s a lot we take for granted here in this country,” Weems said.
The freedom of speech declaration of the First Amendment allows citizens in this country to criticize their government without fear of reprimand, which is the case in other countries.
Freedom of the press allows the media to report what actually takes place, not just what the government would like for people to know, Weems explained.
“Other countries do not have access to information that we have here in this country,” she added.
The right of the people to peaceably assemble grants citizens the right to gather and protest in peace.
The final interpretation of the First Amendment involved a more detailed explanation.
“ … To petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This allows citizens to request information and results from their legislators.
“People can call my office and suggest legislation or cite their disagreement or agreement with a decision that Bob Corker has made,” Weems said.
After the students’ lesson on the branches of government and the First Amendment, Weems and the class discussed ways to become a citizen of this country.
If someone is born in this country, he/she is a United States citizen.
A second way to become a citizen is through the naturalization. Immigrants who undergo the process to gain citizenship must pass a naturalization test.
Students were then quizzed on their knowledge of the United States.
After the morning’s Constitution lesson, the eighth-graders fared well on their quiz, proving that a little knowledge can be very powerful for the country’s future leaders.