At last, a nonpartisan, multi-media curriculum for the Constitution in Colorado classrooms
Authors: Andy McKean, Jimmy Sengenberger - March 28, 2018 - Updated: March 28, 2018
We hear it often, especially from conservatives: “They’re just not teaching the Constitution in schools anymore.”
Yet in our experience, schoolteachers are not avoiding the Constitution and American government in their classrooms. If twenty-two years of the Liberty Day Institute’s civic education programs has taught us anything, it’s that teachers are doing the best job they can. But they lack the tools and the resources to provide their students with the most effective lessons on the subject matter.
Materials are crucial: most elementary schoolteachers especially are specialists in certain areas of passion and generalists in others. They haven’t the time nor the background to be an expert in math, science, English, social studies, and other subjects. So many educators are without the kind of expertise on the Constitution and American government that would enable them to teach those topics without much assistance.
And with continuing budget cuts and standardized tests deprioritizing the social studies, teachers are at an even greater disadvantage in deficient resources and time available to cover it.
That is why programs like Liberty Day in the Classroom exist: to help fill the void for teachers who do tremendous work day in and day out, but who lack what they need to get the job done most effectively.
We just launched a brand-new, Constitution-themed website, called the online “Liberty Day Classroom.” The site, which includes our own state-of-the-art “learning management system,” is geared primarily toward fifth-grade and middle-school students learning about the material for the very first time.
Just released on Monday, it has already been touted as “clear, intuitive and comprehensible for students” and “a great resource for any educator teaching the Constitution,” according to one Colorado middle-school teacher And a former fifth-grade teacher notes that “the content is perfect for fifth-graders.”
The site covers constitutional foundations, individual rights and many of the 27 amendments to the Constitution in a fun and interactive way. It features videos, assessments (including quizzes and essays), on-screen content and printable documents and activities. We view it as an all-in-one suite on the Constitution.
Unfortunately, many in the civic education space get lost in the idea that technology is the one key to reaching students today. But there is absolutely a critical role for hands-on learning and community engagement.
Students and teachers alike love having something that they can touch and feel. In our case, they enjoy personal copies of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which offer interactivity with primary source documents. We also provide 24 Q&A flashcards, perforated inside the booklets, that enable students to study basic facts and engage their family in a game-based learning style. These are both critical factors in an effective civic education.
There is one other component to effective constitutional learning: Community engagement completes the triangle with web resources and hands-on materials. We have found that bringing in elected officials, attorneys, college students and other community leaders and friends of education into the classroom for presentations offers a tremendous opportunity to accomplish two objectives.
First, classroom speakers help reinforce the knowledge and understanding already gained by the students in their study of the Constitution. Second, community members get to impress upon young people the importance of studying and learning about American government so that they can appreciate what we have as Americans.
Web resources and the latest technologies are crucial in civic education today. That’s why we launched the online classroom. But too many organizations seem to lose sight of the inherent benefits of young people taking ownership of their own copy of the Constitution, interacting with materials in a hands-on way, and hearing meaningful testimonials from folks other than their teachers.
It is also essential that this education be nonpartisan. That is why, for example, the Institute has coalesced videos from disparate political figures, such as Colorado’s own Governor John Hicknelooper (D), Senators Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D), and U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette (D) and Mike Coffman (R), among many others. And for the past several years, the state House has welcomed fifth-graders to read one of our nation’s founding documents on the House floor in honor of Liberty Day, James Madison’s birthday — no matter which party holds the majority.
Robert M. Hutchins once noted, “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” Instilling in our young people – especially children learning about the Constitution for the very first time – knowledge, understanding and appreciation for our system of government is critical to a sustainable and engaged future.
Interested classroom volunteers may sign up at LibertyDayVolunteers.org.