Teens to explore U.S. Constitution — through comics

In this summer’s Constitution & Comics Camp at the Putney library, young people will learn about their rights, then create stories about them in comic strip form

PUTNEY — The Putney Public Library is offering teens a unique program through which they will not only be able to learn about their privacy rights, cite Supreme Court cases, and explore counter arguments, but also illustrate their basic Constitutional rights by drawing them in comic form.

Constitution & Comics Camp, facilitated by Constitutional scholar Meg Mott and comic artist Marek Bennett, is the library's free program offered to teens ages 12 to 18 from Monday, June 27 to Friday, July 1, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Mott, a former professor and a Constitutional scholar, successfully led the library's Free Speech for Teens Camp in the summer of 2021 and has developed the “Debating Our Rights” series about the first 10 amendments that brings civil discussions on contentious issues to public libraries and colleges.

Her opinions on Title IX have been published in Inside Higher Ed and The Washington Post, aired on New England Public Radio, and lauded in conservative media.

Mott, who previously taught at Marlboro College, ran week-long camps there “during the first Obama administration.”

At the library last year, she used the case of a student cheerleader who sounded off with foul language in an off-campus social media post. On June 23, 2021, the Supreme Court sided with the cheerleader, ruling that the school's disciplinary action against her violated her First Amendment rights.

“I knew the Supreme Court was coming up with a decision, and I knew it would be a big First Amendment case, so I thought, 'Let's talk about this with high school students,'” Mott says.

“The thing that's so great about doing educational law is the parties involved are all high school students in these cases,” she says. “We also went back to earlier cases, like not wanting to do the Pledge of Allegiance. So it's a way for them to learn how high school students have done a lot for expanding what it means to be a citizen in a country that has free speech.”

Bennett is a teacher/comic artist and 2021 New Hampshire Governor's Arts Award for Arts Education recipient who leads discovery-based comics workshops for all ages throughout New England and beyond.

His comic work includes the graphic novel series The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby as well as drawing, translating, and editing for El Viaje Más Caro/The Most Costly Journey (2021) with the bilingual El Viaje Project.

Last year's free-speech camp, with visuals

Youth Librarian Julia von Ranson says this year's theme is an expansion of the 2021 free speech camp with the added creative visual element.

“It's accessible to all teens in the way it's presented,” she says. “There are a lot of real-life scenarios from the kids' own experiences. They do read and write, but there's also a movement and something called Fishbowl, a style of debate.”

“Last year was focused on free speech in schools and we did a zine at the end, so this year it's comics,” von Ranson says.

This year students will read and debate excerpts from the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Vermont Constitution, Supreme Court decisions, and graphic novels with historical and constitutional themes. Participants will then draw their own Constitution comics and debate the issues in the context of 21st-century schooling.

Topics will include what privacy rights students have inside schools and whether schools should be able to search student lockers and backpacks.

“You don't have to be a lawyer to know about this,” Mott says. “This is your document.”

She says the class is “very hands-on” as students consider what parts of the Constitution they would keep and what parts they would jettison.

“And the addition of comics is so great because here you have a document that's pretty short, and it benefits from focusing on the words and not going too quickly,” Mott says. “The comics make you slow down and look at the words and figure out how we're going to draw that and really look at what it says.”