Are you a Patriot, Loyalist or Neutralist? The answer was relevant this week in history class when seventh graders re-enacted the Second Continental Congress, the meeting in 1776 where American colonists decided to declare their independence from Great Britain.
To demonstrate their understanding of the issues surrounding this decision, each student impersonated a delegate with one of three political perspectives. They were challenged to not only understand and articulate their characters' views, but also to debate and defend those positions based on facts. Immersing themselves into the historical context of the period, their speeches included obsolete terminology, details of colony life and examples of how the discord with Great Britain impacted lives. Some students dived deeper into their roles with costumes or props that reflect the 1770s.
“At first, I was a little bit nervous when I was assigned to be a Loyalist because most of the historical events that we have been learning about have been centered on the Patriots,” shares Luca Siringo (7). “Through the process, I was able to debate confidently as a Loyalist because I learned more about different perspectives of the historical events we all know about.”
Throughout the debate, students engaged in “pacting” sessions to force action on other delegates and to persuade Neutralists to vote for or against a revolution. As the Neutralists were courted by each side of the debate, they asked thoughtful questions: “Could a small American militia defeat a big army? Aren’t you afraid that a lot of people will die?”
“It’s important to recognize that American independence wasn’t inevitable,” shares teacher Emma Perkinson. “Many colonists were against declaring war. There were real fears and dangers.”
Aside from learning history in a more intimate way, another objective was to practice parliamentary procedure. “There is an art to formal deliberation,” says Ms. Perkinson. “Students are practicing how they must treat everyone with respect, even those with whom they do not agree. They have to engage in logical reasoning and even more importantly they are honing their ability to listen closely to each other.”
Students seemed to embrace the experience. Bricin Mahoney (7), says, “Using a British accent made me feel even more like I was in the 1770s and open debates were a chance for me to be creative and respond to what others were saying and challenge it.”
Her classmate, Graham Judge (7), says, “I loved the whole project. It was really cool to just feel the tension and realism of the Congress and the importance of the decisions being made.”