Compare/Contrast: The United States and Alaska Constitutions
Alaska State Standards
- History: D
- Government and Citizenship: A, B, C, E
This lesson is designed for students in grades 11-12.
This lesson will take one-two class periods, plus homework time. It should be implemented concurrent with a study of Alaska’s government structure, and can be used in an Alaska History/Cultural Studies class, or an American Government class.
Students typically examine the U.S. Constitution at some point in their high school experience. Less often do they examine the form and content of the state constitution. Rarely do high school students compare and contrast the two. Yet, the Alaska constitution draws heavily on the principles of the U.S. Constitution while at the same time providing a uniquely Alaska perspective regarding such issues as individual rights, resource ownership, and land ownership/access. Therefore, an examination of the two documents provides an opportunity for students to ask important “how” and “why” questions.
Lesson — Directions to the Teacher
Make sure that all students have access to the U.S. and Alaska Constitutions. Preferably each student will have a personal copy of the Alaska Constitution, which is short enough to be easily reproduced. The constitution is available on numerous websites, including the Lt. Governor's website. Hard copies may also be accessed from the Lt. Governor's office and from most Legislative Information Offices. A personal copy of the state constitution allows students to "mark up" the document. The U.S. Constitution is typically accessible in U.S. History and government class texts as well as online and from numerous other sources.
Explain to students that they will have an opportunity to compare/contrast these two documents, one written in 1787 and the other written in 1955-56. Discuss/review with them the context in which both were written, and remind them that the format of the two constitutional conventions encouraged the 55 delegates at each convention to "deliberate in an academic atmosphere" (Hellenthal 1958: pg. 2), with less emphasis on political considerations and motivations.
Read the preamble for each constitution. Each preamble gives a reason for the writing of the constitution. Ask students to respond to the following in any format appropriate for the class:
- Identify the reasons given in each preamble.
- What do the two preambles reveal about the responsibilities of the national government vs. those of a state government?
Distribute packet Comparison of U.S. and Alaska Constitutions:
- Student Guide
- Chart 1: Constitutional Provisions
- Chart 2: Rights of Citizens
- Chart 3: Alaska Constitution Detective Work
Refer students to readings and resources available from the two websites; assign readings where appropriate.
The charts may be completed in different ways: independently, in pairs, in groups, or as a class. Each chart can be modified for the abilities of each class and of individual students. Or, the class may be divided into three groups with each group completing just one chart. Later, the class could be reconfigured so that the three charts are presented and shared among the students.
The completion of the charts should be followed up with a concluding discussion which includes a review of the basic form of each constitution, of the statement of rights in each, and the range of topics covered in the Alaska Constitution.
Vocabulary Terms for This Lesson
Article VIII: Natural Resources, is unique to Alaska and demonstrates the importance of the state’s natural resources to all citizens and to the state’s future. It also contains terms/phrases that are subject to various interpretations. These interpretations have become critical in the debate about resource access and allocation and the question of a priority for subsistence resource users. The “subsistence” issue has divided Alaskans for years and has yet to be resolved. Ask students to examine Article VIII, sections 1, 2, 3 and locate terms/phrases that may be interpreted in different ways depending on one’s perspective. Encourage students to research the subsistence controversy by identifying players, issues, and the history of the debate. This research should include: state/federal powers and relations, relationship between laws and constitutions, Alaska constitution, ANCSA, ANILCA.