Joplin High School takes top score at congressional hearing competition
Show Me the Constitution gives students opportunities to consider and debate constitutional topics
You’re never too young to debate large constitutional issues, a lesson many high school students took to heart during this year’s mock congressional hearing competition.
Joplin High School came in first place at the 2023 Show Me the Constitution, beating out six other Missouri schools. Central High School and Kickapoo High School took second and third places at the competition, held April 3 in Columbia.
During Show Me the Constitution, each school was given three controversial constitutional topics – Miranda rights, religious expression in public schools, and judicial review – to research and present arguments about. The teams had five minutes to present their opening arguments before a panel of volunteer judges – comprised of lawyers, current and retired judges, and educators. The competition judges then asked questions to gauge the students’ understanding of the larger issues and allow them to apply their logic to other similar scenarios before giving each school a score at the end of the round.
Joplin seniors Elijah Neville and Grayden Cravens said religious expression in public schools was their team’s favorite Show Me the Constitution prompt since it involved schools and impacted them as students.
“We (as a team) have very different opinions sometimes, but this is the type of environment where we can dig into the problem and try to understand it,” Neville said. “There are more things we agree on but there are also things we have to learn from each other. If I could do this for a living, that would be the dream.”
Seeing students ponder and debate large constitutional topics in a civilized manner made Hon. Gary Lynch, retired Court of Appeals judge, “hopeful.” As one of the competition judges, Lynch said opportunities like these allow students to engage with their civic duties early and establish a foundation that will assist them as they get older.
“Digging into these questions, really thinking about them, and then sharing your thoughts with other people in a thoughtful debate – even though you may have disagreements – is the model for a lifetime of conversation,” he said.
Following their presentation on Miranda rights, the Central High School team couldn’t stop smiling once they realized they debated in front of Supreme Court of Missouri Judge Hon. W. Brent Powell. The team – Sophia Leonard, senior; Elana Hadi, junior; and Lindsay Nel, freshman – agreed the competition provided valuable opportunities for them to not only debate complex issues, but also prepare them for their future careers. For Leonard, that involves going to law school to become a lawyer.
“I think it’s really interesting to get out there and interact with things that have real-world implications, even if people don’t necessarily see how abstract issues like constitutional law or current political issues affect their lives,” Leonard said. “It’s really important for young people to be able to engage with those issues.”
Throughout the competition, Powell routinely asked difficult questions to tie in other larger topics that students may not have considered, allowing students to ponder various scenarios and apply their logic in other instances. At the end of the rounds, Powell applauded many students for their understanding of the subject matters and ability to engage in thoughtful discussions.
“It’s exciting to see young people, students, not only appreciate and learn about the law but get excited about it,” Powell said.