Hear ye! Hear ye! The Town Meeting is Called to Order!

Hear ye! Hear ye! The Town Meeting is Called to Order!
Martha Washington: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One week


Standards Compliance
NCSS Strand 1
Culture
NCSS Strand 5
Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
NCSS Strand 6
Power, Authority, and Governance
NCSS Strand 10
Civic Ideals and Practices
NCTE Standard 6
Students apply knowledge of language structure, convention, and media techniques to create, critique, and discuss texts.
NCTE Standard 12
Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.
ISTE Standard 5
Technology research tools

Introduction:

One of the characteristics of a democracy is that the people participate in governing themselves.  In the United States, an important forum for discussion and debate about matters important to the common good is the town meeting, which is still a part of local government in New England.  The very first town meeting in the American colonies was held in Faneuil Hall in Boston, in 1743, when Martha Washington—who lived in Virginia—was 12 years old.

Objectives:

Students who participate in this lesson will gain experience in discussing and debating matters of importance to their classroom through holding one or more town meetings.  They will begin to understand the reasons for parliamentary procedure, and will be able to bring issues that matter to them to a vote.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; paper and pencils; a gavel.

Procedures:

1.  Introduce the lesson by engaging students in a discussion of issues of importance to them in the classroom.  These might be such things as classroom rules, uses of resources such as art supplies or computer time, ways of interacting with one another that produce harmony—in short, any issue or issues that students believe to be important.
 
2.  Announce that the class will participate in a Town Meeting to decide this issue (or these issues, if there are more than one).  Each student will have a vote on the matter, and the class as a whole will elect “officials” to run the meeting. As background, tell students about the origins of Town Meetings in New England, or have them explore the websites below.
 
3.  Before the meeting, students need to elect representatives, who will do the following:

  • Students elect a Board of Selectmen and Selectwomen, which consists of five members, each of which will have a regular classroom “job” or assignment, e.g., collector of money, bulletin board, feeder of animals, etc.)
  • Students elect a Clerk, who sends out the Warrant, or agenda, for the meeting, keeps a record of the proceedings of the Town Meeting, and is in possession of an official list all of voters (class members).
  • Students elect a Moderator (who runs the Town Meeting).

4.  After the election has occurred, and after students have discussed possible items to be decided at the Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen and Selectwomen should meet to finalize the Warrant, or agenda, for the Meeting.  The Warrant may have more than one Article (item), but must have at least one.
 
5.  The Warrant also has the day and time of the Town Meeting on it, and is then distributed to the voters (all class members).
 
6.  On the day of the Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen and Selectwomen sit at the front of the room, along with the Town Clerk, who keeps a record of the proceedings, and the Moderator, who calls the Town Meeting to order, reads the item or items on the Warrant, and keeps order as the discussion proceeds.

After each item on the Warrant is read and discussed, a vote is taken on the item.  A simple majority is usually sufficient for passage, but if it is a very important issue, a “super-majority” (e.g., 2/3 or ¾ of the voters) might be more appropriate.  Super-majority rules should be decided ahead of the Town Meeting, and will depend almost entirely on the seriousness of the issue in question.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by engaging in a ‘reflection period’ after the Town Meeting, in which students think about how it went, what could be done differently, or in a better way.  Pictures of the event could also be taken, and mounted on a special bulletin board in the classroom.

Sources & Resources:

Websites:

Definition of a Town Meeting

Citizens' Guide to Town Meetings

Faneuil Hall

Sturbridge Town Meeting Lesson Plan (Background for the Teacher)

Credits:

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.