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Con team coaches debate article

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In response to “Con team switch-off raises questions,” February 24, 2017.

To the editor:

As the team of volunteer coaches for the Lincoln Constitution Team, we were deeply troubled to see some of the comments and insinuations raised by team alumni in the article in the February 23, 2017 edition of The Cardinal Times, entitled “Con team switch-off raises questions.” The gist of the article is that the judges in the state “We The People” competition identify which team is Lincoln, the program disfavors Lincoln in odd-numbered years, and Lincoln coaches are privy, if not party, to that switch-off.  In short, the 2017 Lincoln Constitution Team was not judged fairly.

This line of reasoning manages to demean, in a single stroke, the Classroom Law Project, the community leaders who volunteer to judge the competition, the Grant High School Constitution Team, the coaches of the Lincoln Constitution team, and the students on the three Lincoln Constitution teams who have won the state and national championship in recent years.  As coaches we are embarrassed by it.  We have a few things to say to everyone.

First, the Classroom Law Project deserves the gratitude of everyone.  In Oregon, they run not just the We the People competition, but also many other civic education programs. They are important advocates for civic education broadly, training teachers and providing tools for educators. We are proud to be part of their extended family.  Based on our nearly 100 years of coaching experience, we have faith in the integrity of Classroom Law Project in running the competition. This faith extends to the community leaders who volunteer their time preparing for and judging the district and state competitions.

Second, a major reason why the Lincoln Constitution Team has been able to compete and win at the national level is the high-caliber of competition we face here in Oregon. The rivalry between Lincoln and Grant, as well as the continued excellence of other teams at the state competition, has made both teams not only better but the best in the nation. Each year we are acutely aware that Lincoln could win or lose because of the excellence of our opponents. Each year we give roughly the same speech after hearings are over and before results are shared, to prepare Lincoln students to be both gracious winners and gracious losers.  Any difference in what we say from year to year is unintentional and immaterial.

Third, throughout each year, we intentionally talk very little about winning or losing a competition – and even less about our rivals at state or at nationals – because we strongly believe that the Constitution team experience is not about beating somebody else.  Winning, properly understood, is the relationship between what you have done and what you could possibly have done.  It has nothing to do with other teams.  The purpose of the Constitution class for us is to develop citizens, bring people together for a common goal, have fun, and develop life-long learning.  We hope to inspire our students each year, reminding them that doing their best and being good to each other is what the process of the competition is about. Any students who feel otherwise clearly missed our message, which is deeply disappointing to us.

Finally, we strongly urge Lincoln students to guard against the spirit of entitlement.  The spirit of entitlement is the opposite of the spirit of service.   The spirit of entitlement looks to blame others, or the process, instead of honoring the opponent or looking inward.  The spirit of entitlement means that all wins are deserved and all losses unjust.  There is too much of this spirit in the world.  Lincoln students can, and should, be ready to recognize it in its various forms, not only in the future, but in the present.

As always when we don’t win at state, we wish our best to the Grant Constitution Team in their quest to keep the Oregon streak alive at the national competition.  Grant is the Oregon standard bearer this year.  We will be cheering for them in the spring.

                                       The Lincoln Constitution Coaches

The views expressed in this column are those of the coaches. The Cardinal Times stands by the publication of its article, but is happy to open its pages for debate.

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