West Chicago American Government Legislative
History and Acknowledgements
Reflections on the History of West Chicago American
Government Legislative Semester, as recorded by former teacher Steve Arnold
I retired from teaching in June of 2002 and immediately started work as a
consultant to Lisle High School for the purpose of implementing the Legislative Semester into
their social studies curriculum. My goal is to create a community of Legislative Semester teachers
with the hope that their frequent sharing of experiences will produce both new innovations in the
curriculum and additional models that will assist is the spread of the program.
The history of the program follows and is written in two installments.
Any attempt to chronicle the history of the Legislative Semester at West Chicago Community
High School will surely be inadequate. The events that have unfolded in the past seven semesters
are too numerous to cover in a few pages. What follows is a brief overview of the Legislative Semester,
as well as a listing of key people who have contributed to its development.
What started out in 1993 as just another legislative simulation has evolved into a
school wide culminating activity that gives seniors a chance to put all of their skills,
values and beliefs to work in a semester long enactment of the legislative process. It is no longer a simulation,
it is a real experience in democracy.
During the semester students:
Throughout the process, students utilize technology to communicate with one another, write bills, publish calendars
and tabulate votes. Involvement and enthusiasm by students has been phenomenal. Many students discover for the first time
unknown talents of persuasion as they swing the votes of commit tee members to attain a majority vote for their bill.
Everyone discovers that his or her vote is equal to everyone else's.
- examine their own beliefs and values
- determine their own position on the political spectrum
- declare their party affiliation
- form interest groups to study issues
- choose elected officials
- write bills
- hold committee hearings on bills
- ultimately conduct two legislative general sessions to decide the fate of their ideas and dreams
The idea for the Legislative Semester came out of numerous trips to Springfield during the 1980's.
Throughout that decade, I took small groups of students to Springfield for the day (usually twice a semester). We would
spend the day meeting with Representatives, attending committee meetings, listening to legislative aides and staff members
conduct mini-workshops for us, and working on the floor as Pages. The trips were always a highlight of the semester for me,
and my students were typically thrilled with the experience. I was always frustrated that so few students had the opportunity to
experience the legislative process, so I decided to bring the Legislative process to West Chicago Community High School. I
started conducting classroom legislative simulations. After one semester of conducting four separate classroom simulations,
I decided to put all my classes together into one big simulation. It worked. The excitement generated surpassed anything I had ever
seen. The next semester other teachers' government sections were added so all seniors participated. Over the course of the last
three years we adjusted the curriculum and expanded the experience into a thirteen-week program.
There is no way to express my gratitude to the several hundred former government students, who, during the spring of 1993
and fall of 1994 allowed themselves to be a part of what was then an experiment. At that time policies and procedures were
not well defined or available to students. Chaos and confusion were constant. Students simply thought the simulation was a good
idea and blindly jumped into the process. It worked because of their willingness to try something new. I am especially grateful to
those former students who assumed the leadership positions and performed so magnificently with so little direction provided for them.
Nothing in my thirty year teaching career can match the challenge and excitement of creating, organizing, and managing the Legislative
Semester. I have been extremely fortunate to have colleagues who had the willingness to share their considerable talents and expertise. Mary
Ellen Daneels was the first to jump on board with me, combine her classes with mine and make the program a senior experience. Mary Ellen made
many contributions to the early structure and organization of the program. Barb Laimins, a former legislative aide, provided invaluable assistance
in establishing correct legislative protocol. Representative Tom Johnson and Senator Bev Fawell attended one of the General Sessions in 1996
and offered further suggestions to make it more authentic. Todd Reimer read, reread, and edited many of the materials used to describe the program.
Todd and Barb's help was especially appreciated since they are not directly involved in the program. Pat Procuniar has entered the program every
other year as an additional government teacher, and provided enormous help defining student expectations. Andy Glowaty, Director of Media Technologies,
and his staff, undertook the task of transforming the auditorium into an authentic General Assembly Hall, and converted the Learning Resource Center into
committee rooms. Andy provides additional assistance as we incorporate slide shows, web pages, and internet services into the program. The LRC staff directed
by Sally Olson has been incredibly cooperative and helpful from the very beginning. There would be no simulation without their research assistance.
George Strecker, Social Studies Department Head, and Dr. Alan Jones, Principal, have provided encouragement and support as I tinker with the
curriculum and alter the school structure. Mary Rash has been involved as a government teacher for the last four semesters. Because of her
willingness to work with me, we are able to create one large group out of 5 separate government sections. In addition, Mary has provided constant
organizational detail to the program and her political experience has allowed her to offer countless suggestions for improvement.
I am especially indebted to all of the hundreds of students who have given their time, talent, enthusiasm and support to the Legislative
Semester. They have made it successful beyond my wildest dreams.
The future of the Legislative Semester seems bright. There is little doubt that changes and innovations
will continue but the basic premise of the Legislative Semester will remain; to give students an opportunity
to experience democratic decision-making. Legislative bodies such as local School Boards, State General Assemblies,
and the U.S. Congress are the arenas for reasoned and controlled resolution of conflict. Those arenas are filled with
passion, punctuated with rational thinking and nearly always exciting. The Legislative Semester is no different.
The potential for powerful and meaningful dialogue makes every semester a time to anticipate. Students often
comment at the end of the simulation "I really thought I was a Representative". Hopefully, one day that will be the case.
Steve Arnold- November, 1996
I did not anticipate that I would wait six years before writing an update to the
original ‘History and Acknowledgements’ but the end of my involvement
with the Legislative Semester has arrived along with my retirement from the teaching
profession and so a few closing remarks are in order.
The number of changes and adaptations to the curriculum during the period between
1996 and 2002 were nearly as dramatic and important as those that occurred during
the early developmental years of 1993 to 1996. Discussion based on parliamentary
procedure begins on the first day of class. Every student is connected to the
curriculum through the use of Blackboard.com allowing students to stay involved
with the legislative process regardless of how many days they are sick or how
far from West Chicago their travels take them. The classroom debate process
throughout the semester (including the amendment procedures) now incorporates
all the structures of the committee hearing process making the actual committee
hearings far for efficient and productive. Committee chairmen are no longer elected.
Bills are no longer amended in the Full Session. Debate in the Full Session
alternates from the left side of the aisle to the right every three minutes.
Representatives who are granted the floor by the Committee Chairman or the Speaker of
the House can no longer be interrupted by points of information or requests to yield.
Thanks to student input during the fall 2001 Session the vote display program during the
Full Session obtained a new level of sophistication. Any student granted the floor during
committee hearings is guaranteed three minutes of floor time and 1 minute of floor
time during the Full Session. Bills that pass out of the Full Session can be vetoed by
the Chief Executive of the Legislative Session (a selected former student). Students
have the opportunity, at the conclusion of the Legislative Session, to challenge the
constitutionality of any of the bills that completed the Legislative Session. Finally,
the old multiple choice final exam was finally abandoned and replaced with an experience
that is more in-keeping with the philosophy of the program.
The above represents just a few of the many changes that occurred during the last six years.
I initially thought that fine tuning the events, experiences, and processes of the curriculum
would assure the success of the program and improve the quality of the experience for students.
While there is little doubt as to the value of the existing structures to the curriculum,
it soon became apparent that underlying these structures were fundamental educational principles
and philosophies and that one of the keys to the Legislative Semester realizing its potential
depends on the teachers involved embracing the values associated with these principles and philosophies.
Central to the Legislative Semester experience are four fundamental beliefs.
During the middle 1990's I was of the belief that the power of the curriculum was centered
around the Committee Hearings and Full Session. I discovered that belief to be less true than
I originally thought. It is now my view that what happens in the classroom on a daily basis
represents the heart and soul of the curriculum. It is not the technologies utilized or the
carefully sequenced events and exeriences that are responsible for the curriculums effectivesness
but rather the daily interaction patterns established by the teacher combined with the processes
of the classroom that make it possible for the signature events and experiences of the curriculum to be effective.
- It is the events, experiences, and processes of the curriculum that represent a much more powerful learning
force that the words of any teacher.
- Authentic learning environments produce intrinsic drives that supplant the need to impose point
driven evaluation systems.
- Student- student interactions have the power to produce a level of change and learning that
cannot compare with the typical direct instruction (you read this and answer these questions)
common to the typical classroom
- Less is more.
The curriculum of the Legislative Semester has proven to be more than a great set of experiences
that interests students. The curriculum is a set of powerful events that allow students to experience
and understand democratic principles and values in a manner unknown to previous civics curriculums.
There are certainly other equally important curriculums in the school but there are no others of more
importance. I am deeply appreciative to my family, administrators, teachers, parents, and students who
were consistently supportive of the nearly decade long effort to develop the curriculum of the
Legislative Semester. I sincerely hope that those who have continued connections with the curriculum
will respect its underlying values and to constantly work to create an experience for students that
is consistent with fundamental democratic practice.
Steve Arnold- November, 1996