Professor Rowley Helps Lead High School Competitors to Success

Posted: August 26, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: August 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm

By Ethan Vaughan

Back in September 2009, Matt McGuire, a teacher at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies in Richmond, Va., was preparing his pupils for the rigorous “We the People” competition. The competition, which is conducted at the state and national levels, tests the civic knowledge of high school students across six units of study.

In the competition, several hundreds of teams from different schools around the country are questioned for two hours each by a panel of constitutional scholars on a particular constitutional theme.

“I wanted to introduce [my] students to classically liberal perspectives on some of the issues explored in the program, and I immediately thought of George Mason University,” says McGuire.

McGuire was already familiar with the research of Hugh Heclo, Robinson Professor of Public Affairs, and Jim Pfiffner, University Professor in the School of Public Policy. Through Mason’s Economics Department, he also met professor Charles Rowley.

It so happened that the theme of the 2010 competition was John Locke and the Social Contract.


“When I learned that Professor Rowley ran the Locke Institute, I knew he had exactly the expertise and viewpoint that could really help my students to appreciate the subtleties of social-contract theory,” McGuire says.

McGuire contacted Rowley, who agreed to meet with the high school teacher and three of his students at Mason in December 2009.

“During the visit,” recounts Rowley, “I first acted as the panel, taking them through a list of possible questions. I then evaluated their contributions and advised them on some substantive and some presentational changes. I then outlined for them additional readings to prepare them for the competition.”


McGuire’s team went on to win first honors in Virginia and third in the nation. His team of students who worked with Rowley scored the highest of any comparable team in the United States.

“I’m averaging about five visits to Mason’s campus a year with students because the quality of the insights and expertise offered at Mason is so strong,” says McGuire. “The lengthy drive is worth it.”

According to Rowley, the experience was invigorating for him, as well.

“I was thrilled to be able to help,” he says. “This sort of competition is really important. It is good for Americans to be reacquainted with what I call ‘the constitutional spirit.’ For a school to be doing this is a great contribution.”

Rowley says he was also impressed with the knowledge and acuity of the high school students.

“The most rewarding part of the experience was to see just how well-trained these students were and also how educated they were to be able to respond to new ideas quickly,” Rowley says. “I liked the interactive aspect of it. It really shook me how good they were.”

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu