The room is loud. A group in one corner of the room calls out “Hear, hear!” indicating they have come to a consensus. At the next table, a young man changes the conversation to bring his concerns to the attention of those around him. Throughout the room individuals are busy considering how best to balance their own interests with those of everyone else.
Think we’re describing a well-functioning elected body making critical decisions? Think again. This scene came out of our recently piloted program From Many to One, in which students were challenged to work together, wrestle with tough issues, and come to a decision that addressed the needs of each person. As one of our newest middle school offerings, this program merges history curriculum with civic skill-building, to help learners build their capacities to negotiate and compromise.
The program takes students back in time to the Richmond in 1861, and invites them to become the Delegates who convened and decided whether or not Virginia would secede from the Union. As they make their decision, they are challenged to weigh the varying geographic, economic, and constitutional concerns of their constituents, their region and the state as a whole. At the end each class must make a majority rules decision to secede from or stay with the Union.
Set up as a card game with three rounds, students work together to understand the opinions and concerns of people throughout the state, and then use the skills of compromise and negotiation to form coalitions and make decisions. If the students are able come to a conclusive decision, the whole class (i.e. the state of Virginia) is able to sign a proclamation of their choice and present it to their teacher, acting as President Lincoln (top hat included)!
It was exciting to see the students work towards finding common ground and use critical thinking skills to persuade their fellow delegates .The program encourages students to actively participate, listen to others, and take responsibility for their choices– qualities that are key to leadership and engaged citizenship.
Don’t just take our word for it—see for yourself! Look how much fun the students at Smarts Mill were having during their time playing From Many to One.
Morven Park is a nonprofit that relies on donations from friends like you. All donations directly fund our work in historic preservation, our world-class equestrian center, youth sports, and our unique civics education programming. Your donation is an investment in Morven Park’s future, ensuring that generations to come will enjoy this vital public resource. Please donate today at www.MorvenPark.org.