Xlandia: a government created by the people, for the people

Students use knowledge of real governments to create their ideal system for an imaginary one

Students in Pierre Sirois’s government class who took part in the nation-building project are, from left, junior Taija Alviero, senior Dan DeLano, senior Matthew Langley and sophomore Amelia West

In the imaginary tropical country of Xlandia, a dictator has just been overthrown. A committee of Xlandians (Xlandiganders?) wants to create a new government from the ground up, with the goal being to create an orderly, just system that is as fair as possible to all. 

At issue: president or parliament, and why? Should there be a written constitution? Executive and legislative branches? Should citizens vote, and if so, should it be mandatory?

Students in Pierre Sirois’s government class worked in four groups to form delegations of up to seven representatives from real countries such as the U.S., Australia, Turkey and South Africa.

Each group was tasked with working for about two weeks to make a case for specific governmental systems. They presented those cases to a trio of outside judges who acted as Xlandia committee members. Role-playing the parts were Officer Collin Wallace, school police liaison, who represented the wealthy; counselor Michelle Harper, leader of the rebel forces; and School News Network reporter Morgan Jarema — aka yours truly — representing the peasant class (of course). Each of the three was given a list of questions to ask the groups as they presented, in order for Sirois to gauge students’ understanding of the concepts.

In order to make recommendations, students studied their assigned home countries and weighed the effectiveness of the current governments there.

Teacher Pierre Sirois

Everyone Votes, Almost 

One group recommended compulsory voting.

“The good thing about compulsory voting is that everyone votes,” said senior Dan DeLano, a delegate from South Africa. “And of course the bad (thing) is that people vote even though they don’t know all that much about what they’re voting on.”

Dan’s group, however, only recommended voting for those ages 18 to 64. After that, the “old-fashioned ideas” of the elderly, as Dan called them, should make way for fresh, new ones.

Another group recommended free health benefits for those they called “agricultural elites,” pointing out that food production is pivotal to any country — developing and developed.

How to prevent tyranny came up often during group presentations to the committee. Spreading power among judicial and executive branches, term limits and encouraging literacy among citizens were among measures proposed.

To avoid government corruption, said Taija Alviero, representing Uruguay, “stay true to your constitutional checks and balances.”

Learning by Doing  

Sirois (Seer-WAHH) said he’s led the Xlandia unit for about a decade, tweaking it over the years. 

“I enjoy it because it’s real problem-based learning,” he said “They ask themselves ‘What do we know? What don’t we know?’ and from there the discussions just take off.”

He said he sees students learn by asking questions and trying to solve something themselves. 

“A typical student won’t ask ‘What is Federalism?’ And if they do and I give them the answer, they won’t necessarily absorb that,” he said. “But if they’re given a problem to solve and the concept of Federalism comes up in the discussion as maybe relevant, they are more likely to listen and ask more questions, which I think is genuine learning.

“It’s a dynamic class, totally dynamic. And that’s what makes it fun.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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