Three Branches
Three Branches

Earlier this week I stopped by 5th Grade while the students, in groups of three sitting in the classroom and hallway, were writing and practicing skits on the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. Their prompt was to convince the other two branches of the government that their branch was best. Here's a snippet from their rehearsal session:

  • Legislative: We get to make laws....
  • Executive: And I can veto them....
  • Legislative: And with a 2/3's vote we can override your veto.....
  • Judicial: And we can rule your laws as unconstitutional and invalidate them....
  • Executive: And I am the one who nominates who gets to serve in your branch....
  • Legislative: And without our approval your nominee will never become a Supreme Court Justice.....

It went on like this for a few minutes as they captured the spirit and balance of the three branches as imagined by the authors of the Constitution in 1789. Afterwards, the four of us talked about this constitutional equilibrium and its brilliance. Then I queried them as to how it could go wrong. That is, under what circumstances might this triumvirate fall out of balance? They all looked at me quite perplexed:

"For example, how would this system of checks and balances work if the three branches all shared the same opinions and viewpoints?"

  • "Oh, well that would not work at all!"
  • "Why not?"
  • "What do you mean?"
  • "Well, what would it be like if the three branches never disagreed with one another or didn't have different viewpoints?"
  • "That wouldn't work, because then only one opinion would matter."
  • "I agree."

Silence. And then they all chimed in:

  • "That is why it is important to disagree with one another."
  • "And why you need to form your own opinion, not just go along with your friends."
  • "But you need to disagree in a friendly way, otherwise it'll just turn into a big argument."

I have to admit, walking back to the East Campus I had a bounce in my step as I was feeling pretty good about the learning that was happening with those 5th graders. First, they were fully engaged in and excited about how the three branches of our government worked. Second, they were working collaboratively with one another—listening, supporting, challenging, and even being playful. Third, they gave each other useful feedback that was quickly incorporated into the presentation. Fourth, they appreciated the value and necessity of diverse opinions within the three branches of our government. And fifth, they recognized the difference between disagreeing with a person's viewpoint as opposed to disagreeing with the whole of that person.

While this was a highlight moment for me that afternoon, it was just one of many instances I witness each week of thinking critically and creatively within the security of our Core Values. It's a great recipe for success.

Have a great weekend.

Dr. Mike

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