Mock Congress

Ideally, classes would have an opportunity to visit an actual state legislature or at least city council and see it in action, with a teacher or guide able to explain how things work. As part of such a program, we would like to see an operation that on a near-daily process holds mock legislatures for visiting students that last for several hours. But such programs also can take place within a classroom or school. Here is one proposal.

Before holding a mock congress, the teacher should divide the class in two parts, between the senators and the representatives. The teacher should propose adapted topics to the debate in Congress. These topics should be related to the students' interests, or a bill on which it's easy to have an opinion. The concept of Internet Voting and student loan policies might be good examples.

Students should be divided into three political parties, so students can see, in action, the role played by the majority party, minority party, and a third party or independent. Students should also be divided into committees to debate one or two issues of the students' interest. If the teacher does not want to divide the students into political parties, it is possible to separate them by opinion on the bill, which would then allow for the real opinion of the students on the questions.

After forming committees within each legislative chamber, students should work within their respective political party to draft a bill. If they are in the government's majority, their bill will be introduced in the Mock Senate. If it's a minority party, they will draft a bill, but it will not be introduced in the assembly. Elements of it could be offered as amendments, however.

While students are drafting bills, the teacher should interrupt them with phone calls, letters, or visits from constituents, lobbyists, and activist. These roles potentially can be assigned to students, who are given certain identities and/or interests to research. These interruptions will show the students the various pressures upon congressmen when drafting legislation.

After the students bills are drafted, committees should have a chance to review them and propose amendments. Although in actual legislatures committees might be able to block legislation, in this case bills generally should be able to get to the floor, where the bills can be debated and amended by all students. This process shows students the need for compromise and negotiation, providing them insight into partisan/bipartisan legislation. Ideally students would follow basic rules of parliamentary procedure involving when to speak, what topics are germane to the issue at hand and so on.

When the debate ends, have the students participate in a simulated roll call, where every student is individually called to vote.

If competing bills are passed in both chambers, then the students can designate a group to work together in a conference committee to reconcile any discrepancies between the respective bills. Once the final bill is created, have each chamber vote again to pass the bill.

We would not recommend giving any student veto power, but that power should be explained and its implications for the legislative process.

After every step of the experience, students should write what this experience taught them, if there are any question that maybe the students didn't dare to ask during the class, and if there are any propositions to improve the experience or the democratic system. It's also a way to make them think about the questions and most of all, to involve them in the learning process.

Holding a mock congress is a great way for students to actively learn about the democratic process. Instead of seeming like an abstract concept in a textbook, student will understand the process of creating laws, and their roles, as constituents. Mock congresses allow students to become part of their government, rather passively learning about the job description of their representatives. Through their engaging roles in this mock congress, students will be better prepared to hold their elected officials accountable to their wishes and become more engaged in both their local and federal democratic communities.