“I do what I can to make them [my students] realize what they are capable of doing and being.”
That was Stephen Griffith speaking about his role as a leader of the Lincoln High School Constitution team. The Constitution Team (or simply Con Team) is an extracurricular where 36 kids prepare for nine months for a competition where they field questions about the United States Constitution. In the past six years, Lincoln High School has gone to the National Constitution Competition three times and won first place twice. Much of this is an indication of Griffith’s success as a coach and a mentor.
“I try to get them to think freshly about the world and show them that they have enormous potential and can make a difference.”
This may seem difficult. After all, the team is usually made up of sophomores. But Griffith has a clear understanding of how to make a student realize their full potential.
“I almost never share my view on an issue. I ensure them that I will always give them my honest feedback, and I try to work in a sense of humor. A class is a conversation.”
In fact, Griffith does not plan his classes. He knows the content going into class, but otherwise goes with the flow. One of his goals is calling on every single student in the class before the class is over.
“In my classes I have high expectations, but also a lot of humor. I create metaphors and mnemonics for the students. I try to imagine I am a student and what would be helpful for me.”
There is one tradition in particular that stands out. The most famous class Griffith teaches is called Locke around the Clock. This is where he lectures a group of kids about John Locke for twelve hours.
“The thing that makes this so successful is that it is so ridiculous. To have a group of high school students this nerdy willing up to give up a good Saturday to talk about John Locke who died 300 years ago. I mean it’s stupid. We go until one of two things happen; either we get through it, or someone dies. And so far there have been no fatalities.”
When I spoke to people who have graduated from the Constitution Team they say that while on Con Team they worked harder than ever before-and it was one of the best things they have ever done. How is Griffith able to work kids so hard but insure it is also the best time they will have in high school?
“That is exactly what kids want. They want to be treated like adults. And they can be. They have beautiful minds and they don’t realize it. I talk to the class the same way I talk to anyone else my age.”
Griffith teaches Con team for a specific reason: to show students of their potential. He cares more about making a student aware of their learning as supposed to simply teaching the student facts.
“Having a student learn is one thing-but it is not as important as having a student love to learn.”
He also sees Con team as a form of community service.
“You can be the smartest person, but to me you are an unspent coin if you don’t put it to some greater cause. So I am trying to create citizens.”
Con team is seen to do just this. Many former Con team members go on to work with Mission Citizen-an organization that helps immigrants pass the citizenship test by teaching the Constitution. Others seek jobs in law simply because they loved Con Team so much. No matter what they go on to do, one thing is for sure; what they learn here never leaves them.
Family?: A wife and three children, the eldest two of whom are married. His wife Chris started two early childhood schools in Portland – Rise and Shine, for low income families, and Kateri Park, for immigrants and refugees. He met her at the law firm were he practiced for 36 years. Their son David graduated from Lincoln in 2003 and lives in Washington DC,where he works for an education think tank. Their older daughter Meg graduated from Lincoln in 2005 and lives in Portland, where she works for the The Freshwater Trust. Steve and Chris recently adopted a 13 year old daughter named Jade.
Where did you grow up?: Washington, DC
Hobbies: running, hiking, backpacking, climbing, rowing, canoeing, sailing, bicycling; poetry; architecture; piano, singing; stamp collecting
Fun Fact: Steve rode a bicycle across the country 10 years ago. He also ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington,D.C. a few weeks ago.