Thursday, February 19, 2009

Attorney General Eric Holder on race

The new Attorney General, Eric Holder, in a speech to Justice Department employees marking Black History Month, commented that average Americans “do not talk enough with each other about race.” The Exchange, the National Constitution Center’s national student program, offered the venue for high school students to talk about race in America from the writing of the Constitution in 1787 to today.

On January 14th 2009 young people from Delaware, Kentucky, New York State, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and Texas deliberated the question: Is the Constitution Color-blind? These students offered excellent insights about race through historical, contemporary and personal context to the discussion. Because The Exchange allows young people from across the nation to discuss contemporary constitutional issues with one another in real time, they were able to tackle issues of fairness and equality that are manifest in any discussion of race. Deliberation, which calls for people to listen and consider the perspective of others, allows for candid discussions about issues that polarize Americans.

The high level of conversation impressed professor Cornel West of Princeton University and Tavis Smiley developer of the new exhibit at the National Constitution Center, America I AM: The African American Imprint, who were both on hand for the discussion and spoke to the students during the video conference.

The Exchange is the National Constitution Center’s conversation series among high school students that promotes deliberation on current constitutional issues via Internet2 video conferencing technology. The downloadable lesson plan is a great way for students to join the conversation even if they do not take part in the video conference. The Exchange teaches students about the mechanics of our nation’s democratic process: understanding the Constitution, researching the issues, voicing one’s opinions and finding consensus with other citizens.

Teachers and students can watch the January 14th video conference or past Exchanges, download the lesson plan and readings, and start conversations about constitutional issues at The Exchange online community at

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