Week Nine: The Rule of the Game is to Change the Rules

Posted by Paul Wilkinson on 10/23/2022

A new eight-hour podcast out Thursday is getting attention for reframing the march of knowledge in the digital era. Like James Madison, whose Constitutional ideas we studied last week and will continue to examine, tyranny also concerns Lex Fridman’s guest, Balaji Srinivasan. The podcast includes the idea that “the rule of the game is to change the rules”—precisely what Madison and his colleagues did 235 years, one month, six days ago (85,868 days ago total) when, instead of amending the Articles of Confederation, which was what they were assigned to do, they created a new federalist system of separate powers, checks, balances, and bicameral legislation.

One source we used in class asked directly, “When is it okay to break the rules?” The idea is that the framers of the Constitution themselves broke the rules by exceeding their mandate to merely amend the Articles of Confederation. In modern terms, they created an entirely new operating system instead of forking an existing program. Asking students if it is okay to break the rules can make teachers nervous. The good news: Most agreed that it is rarely a good idea to break rules at school.

Our study of “How Did the Constitution Guard Against Tyranny” is a popular middle school civics unit because it seeks to explain the Constitution’s unprecedented longevity using a combination of source documents, modern analysis, and students’ common sense. Much of U.S. history that follows covers the causes and consequences of the amendment process while cultural mores evolved. Changing technologies, too, mean rights are subject to new analyses. (See also standard 33 in the Week Seven post below.) How does the Constitution continue to guard against tyranny in the digital era? Learners may more completely explore this question in their Ph.D. dissertations and careers, but as we study the Constitution and Bill of Rights, seventh graders have enough experience with justice, fairness, and common sense to start to explain the mechanisms of governance and rights in clear and concise language. That is what we will be practicing this week as we plan, research, draft, revise, edit, and submit our essays on the topic.

First-quarter grades are being posted now. Monday is a fresh start. Encourage your learners to hit the ground running; complete all tasks on time; organize and maintain their three-ring binders, notes, and evidence of learning (all returned work must be kept in their binder along with their notes); be curious, and ask thoughtful questions. Have a great week!