Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Constitution High School

If there is something one can find in abundance in Philadelphia, in addition to great food and raucous sports fans, it's history. A fact many native Philadelphians perhaps take for granted, but never ceases to amaze its visitors, is that it's difficult to walk the streets of the city without seeing a blue sign indicating a noteworthy event that happened there. While returning a library book at 7th and Market Streets, one can happen upon the site where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. The city is bustling with remnants of the past, and a few steps down the street from the Jefferson landmark, unbeknownst to many who walk past it daily, is a place that is making history today--Constitution High School.

A unique partnership between the private and public sectors, CHS is the first school of its kind in Pennsylvania. The Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, the National Constitution Center, Ballard Spahr Law Firm, and the School District of Philadelphia have come together to create a school whose entire curriculum is centered around American History and is hinged on the principles of democracy and U.S. government. As a result, instead of school rules or a student handbook, CHS has drafted its own constitution. In lieu of policies being handed down from on high by administrators, the school has pioneered a ground-breaking school government model, that divides the school into the three branches of government--the House of Students, the Faculty Senate, and the Executive Branch comprised of the principal and student body president. Through the process of democratic deliberation, all components of the school act together to generate policy that works for everyone.

Students from Constitution High School, who attend classes in the heart of a city that was pivotal in the birth of this nation, are the ideal candidates to provide a stark contrast to those attending Marefat. CHS students pass the mural celebrating Abraham Lincoln's 2nd inaugural daily, casually lunching under the words, "With malice toward none, with charity toward all," while their female counterparts in Kabul have only recently regained the right to even attend school.

It is with these Afghan students that the Philadelphia students will participate in the Being We the People project. One can expect their photographs and interpretations of freedom to vastly differ from one another. However, perhaps what the resulting exhibition will actually show us is how similar these young people really are despite the thousands of miles and years of life experiences that separate them.