National Constitution Center (11/05/2011)

Our scout troop participated in the National Constitution Center‘s (NCC’s) Scout Day program.  This program is designed to help scouts better understand the roles and responsibilities of citizenship, the design of our government and especially how the constitution acts as the “supreme law of the land” in the USA.

NCC is located immediately North of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Pavilion in Philadelphia, PA.  At check-in, we were supplied with maps of the museum, workbooks, and schedules for classes, tours, shows and special exhibits (which would be on display only during certain hours of the event).

There were many scouting units present.  So many had signed up that not all could be accommodated — some units are coming next weekend as “overflow” from this weekend’s program.  There were Cub Scouts, Webelos and Boy Scouts mixed together, but with distinct advancement goals and activities.  The workbooks supplied by the NCC were tailored to help each type of scout (segregated by age range) learn about those details that could fulfill specific advancement requirements.  For our Boy Scouts, this meant that we had the opportunity to substantially complete up to three merit badges (including one that is required for Eagle Scout):  Citizenship  in the Nation; American Heritage; and Law.

One of the key features of the NCC is it’s “theater in the round” — a program called “Freedom Rising” is held in this round, bowl-shaped theater.  It is a multimedia presentation with live narration from an actor who engages the audience by moving around and interacting with the media being shown on the floor, ceiling and even on the audience themselves.  The program highlights why the USA needed the constitution when it did, the difficulties we faced as a new nation, and how the drafters struggled to complete their negotiations on what to include and what had to be excluded in order to get it ratified.   In particular, the opening phrase “We the People” is examined to better understand what it really meant to be included in that phrase and how interpretation of “the People” has expanded to be more inclusive over years of civil rights action.

The presentation sets the context for the rest of the day’s activities and learning objectives — we live in a nation with a remarkable governmental structure that derives its power from us, and requires our participation in various ways.

One of the most engaging and fun presentations was “Pass the Citizenship Test” where the presenter challenged us with actual questions from the tests administered to foreign nationals who are working on becoming naturalized US citizens.  How many amendments are there to the constitution?  Can you describe some of these amendments?  How many have been repealed?  What are common examples of the benefits/rights of being a US citizen?  What are common examples of duties/obligations of citizens?  Governmental power is shared by three branches of government — name them and describe their functions.  And so on.  Some questions seemed very easy, but others were real puzzlers.  The audience got several key questions wrong, but used the situation to better understand the correct answers, too.

A docent led, multimedia program taught us about memorials:  what they’re for (purpose), why we make them (what the process means to us); and helped us recognize memorials that have been built (large or small, well-known or obscure, etc.)

A lecture in a classroom taught us about key US documents like the Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.  Why they were drafted, when and by who.  It was interesting to hear the scout’s interpretations of the documents; “a list of complaints” (Declaration of Independence); “a bad plan of good intentions” (The Articles of Confederation) and “an elegantly simple, but effective social contract” (Constitution).

Another lecture examined three speeches and how they affected the Nation — Thomas Paines’ “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”; F.D.R’s “Peal Harbor” speech (asking Congress to declare war) and M.L.K Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

One of the most interactive presentations was the “Meet A Lawyer” program.  A lawyer talked to the scouts about how to become a lawyer, what lawyers really do, how lawyers fit into the justice system, how judges get elected (state) or appointed (federal), and much more.  The attorney used a hand-held microphone to interview scouts and have them ask him questions about his experiences and what it’s like to go through the various steps of dealing with litigation.

Tables with representatives from the National Park Service, FBI, DEA, local police and local firefighters were set up in the atrium so that scouts could interview them and learn about what they do and what kinds of training/education is needed to pursue a career in their type of “civil service”.

Among other docent-led and self-led activities, we also participated in a mock trial of Mr. Wolf, accused of blowing down two houses and double homicide of two piggy brothers. Witnesses included the surviving piggy brother who lived in a brick house and Granny Wolf who confirmed that her grandson was in the wrong place at the wrong time with hay fever sneezes that toppled improperly built structures.  It gave us an opportunity to have some laughs, but also see the steps involved in a trial, the importance of a jury and how everything fits together as a check and balance system.

Of course, no scout trip’s really complete without mentioning food — we ate at their excellent cafe and toured their interesting gift shop, too.

From 10 AM to 3 PM we managed to exhaust our scouts mentally and physically.  It was a very good trip.

Photos have been uploaded to our troop’s photo share site.

Monday evening is our election of Senior Patrol Leader, and our service project that starts at 6:30 PM!

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About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
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