Constitution Day is a Golden Education Opportunity

With Constitution Day approaching on September 17, parents, teachers, and students looking to understand the principles and practices of American citizens have a place they can turn: the Bill of Rights Institute.

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BRI’s Constitution Day 2020 portal features lesson plans, resources, and more. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the 17th, the institute will host a live webinar on YouTube exploring the theme “United We Stand”—an apt topic given the growing discord in the United States.

BRI president David Bobb notes that all the institute’s resources are “designed to drive students to the Constitution as the foundation of their analysis of American history.” BRI offers a wide range of classroom materials for teachers and students that covers all of “American history, government, and civics.”

Bobb’s previous experience in higher education made him realize that parents and educators need to instill in students a “thoughtful patriotism that prepares them for a lifetime of moral and civic virtue.”

American civics is our “North Star—the promise of freedom and equality for all,” Bobb says, pointing out how these principles have inspired everyone from “America’s Founders to Frederick Douglass to civil rights leaders like the recently deceased John Lewis.”

Rightly understood, civics is a continual practice of self-government and cultivation of character that strengthens the bonds of republican government. A proper civics education, Bobb says, “means knowing our nation’s enduring principles and putting them into action,” thereby “completing the Revolution” that the Founders began in 1776.

This need won’t be met simply by viewing civics as just another “course that high school students take.” Bobb argues instead that civics should be seen as a means to chart America’s future, in part by “applying the constitutional principles and civic virtues that have made the American experiment work best.”

What makes BRI unique, Bobb says, is that it bypasses educational bureaucracies and goes “directly to teachers to give them what they need.” BRI offers “free, best-in-class, viewpoint diverse, and comprehensive classroom resources.”

Chief among BRI’s teacher resources is its free digital textbookLife, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the American Experiment (full content accessible here), a lively and readable resource for high school students that is aligned with AP U.S. History standards.

BRI says that another of its free digital textbooks, Documents of Freedom: History, Government, and Economics through Primary Sources, has already been used by over 1 million students.

Teachers and parents can access BRI Resources, a free digital storehouse including over 3,000 ready-made classroom lessons and activities, such as a recent feature on the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and women’s suffrage.

BRI also offers teachers of U.S. history, civics, and government opportunities for professional development—a “pedagogy of freedom” that Bobb states is “rooted in the idea that Socratic discourse helps students own the ideas of the American experiment for themselves.” BRI has reached more than 50,000 educators with these programs; the educators, in turn, are teaching 5 million students every year.

For students, BRI features live AP U.S. History and Government prep webinars, an annual Constitutional Academy summer program that brings high school students together in Washington (this year’s event was conducted digitally), an annual student essay contest, and primary source materials.

BRI also has a robust YouTube channel featuring its “Homework Help” series, comprised of short, informative videos on topics such as landmark Supreme Court cases and economic history.

In order to strengthen our “E Pluribus Unum,” BRI Senior Teaching Fellow Tony Williams says, “We can all play a role in restoring civic friendship and dialogue by listening to our neighbors, investing in our communities, and working toward solving problems together.” Designed to foster civil discourse among students, BRI’s “Think the Vote” project gives students the opportunity to debate pressing public issues of our time in a manner befitting self-governing citizens.

Quoting a letter in which George Washington remarked that the Constitutional Convention “can only lay the foundation—the community at large must raise the edifice,” Bobb says: “We have a lot of edifice still to raise in America, and the task is urgent.”

In these turbulent times, BRI seems up to the task.

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