Term Limits for Congress? Yes, Please, Say Some 4th and 5th Graders

Fourth and fifth-grade students argued the case for or against term limits for members of Congress and Supreme Court justices at the finals of the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Education‘s Citizenship Challenge. The Challenge, an essay contest which drew entries from classes across the five-county Philadelphia region, culminated in a series of presentations by 10 teams of finalists on December 14 at the National Constitution Center.

Nearly three-quarters of the finalists’ essays supported the idea of term limits for Congress and the Supreme Court. The essay prompt noted that the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution places term limits on the president of the United States, and asks: Should the Constitution be amended to impose term limits on members of Congress? Members of the Supreme Court? Why or why not? If so, what should the limits be?

Students from Buckingham Elementary School, for instance, proposed a limit of two six-year terms for Senators and six two-year terms for Representatives, plus an 18-year limit for the Supreme Court. With an original song and signs, they urged Congresspeople who have served longer than that to find the exits. Their signs read, “We need new ideas,” “Serve your country, not yourself,” and “Term limits = Restores respect.” Or as the students sang: “You’ve got to go home — after two terms, go home!”

Students from St. Bernadette of Lourdes School, in Drexel Hill, imagined what life would be like if there were no term limits in school — a high school student continuing to serve as a class president in elementary school? A fifth grade football captain who’s still captain of the team when he’s in college? The class from Perelman Jewish Day School in Wynnewood proposed 16-year term limits for Congress but not the Supreme Court, arguing that having inexperienced judges would cause the court to become unstable.

The winners were:

  • First place: Cynwyd Elementary School, Lower Merion School District, Melissa McGuire’s 5th grade class
  • Second place: Buckingham Elementary School, Central Bucks School District, Linda Raitt’s 5th grade class.
  • Third place (tie): Kirkbride Elementary School, Philadelphia, Lisa Yau’s 5th grade class.
  • Third place (tie): St. Bernadette of Lourdes School, Drexel Hill, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Christina Behan’s 5th grade class.

The judges were: Former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell; Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Sally Flaherty, curriculum advisor in social studies, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; and Alison Perelman, executive director, Philadelphia 3.0.

The 5th annual Citizenship Challenge was presented by the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Education and co-sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the National Constitution Center.