constitutional teaching

2009 National Academy: Taking it Home

The scholars of the 2009 National Academy

The scholars of the 2009 National Academy

The “dance party” finally pulled the plug at nearly 1:00 the next morning. Others had already said their goodbyes in order to pack the last of their things or to sleep before an early morning departure. The National Academy had reach its final destination.

The last day’s presentations included two Creedal Affirmations, Constitutional Currency, Light and Dark and a Colorized Constitution. What would Cicero think of his words providing the backdrop for a new U.S. currency? Texts like the Declaration of the U.S. and the Constitution once seemed complete in black and white but now resonate with the theories of Hobbes, Locke, the Federalists and Antifederalists. I hope each presentation team will consider sharing some piece of their work here so I can come back and add links to this post.

Will’s final remarks Friday began with “What Can Brown Do For You?,” a reference to last year’s conversation seeking to discover six words for the National Academy.  Several of this year’s participants used that mode for the re-writing project too! When assessing what the boxes might look like in 3D, Will pointed to Hobbes21’s posts about his “Serial of Boxes” where students lent their talents to the model presented at the National Academy. While it is a relief to have finished the three weeks at Occidental, the secret to the Academy’s success lurks in stories like these and the community that continues to work together to make those stories possible.

“Trending topics” at the conclusion of this year’s Academy included concerns about what to do next, the difficulties of deliberation, the essential nature of constitutional thinking and vows to continue the conversation. Politicolor is here to help!

This is a place to…

Share your favorite stories….

Contemplate what it all means

Consider a new approach to education

Celebrate success in the classroom

Or simply chat about world events.

Adding your voice to the conversation can be as easy as leaving a comment. Federal Teacher, a participant this year, has vowed to give at least 20 minutes to reading and responding to posts each month. This is a forum that begs you to write too. KFox, a National Academy Preceptor, has pledged to write one new post each quarter and I’m going to try to match him. We posted his work about Constitutional Teaching last year and Melani posted her thoughts on nomos after her presentation last week. We all have a start. We just need to work together to keep the momentum.

If we each make a pledge to meet in this virtual space on a schedule that fits our life in the real world, we can continue the conversations and work together to teach constitutional citizenship.

Constitutional Thinking Requires Constitutional Teaching

At the National Academy today, Kevin Fox presented his thoughts on his own constitutional thinking and teaching. In the Academy tradition, his inquiry started with, “What is it?”. His answers included…



Creative constructive imaginative

Present on-going

Whole ordered (not orderly)

Scientific systematic experimental

Balanced (between extremes)

Inclusive (of the parts and the whole)

Serious (treat ideas seriously)

Complex (surplus of mind)

Teaching beyond the test

Purpose driven

Problem generating & solving

With a quick wit, he concluded this line of thought with a simple paraphrase of James Bradley Thayer’s doctrine of constitutional interpretation, “Let them hurt. Make them feel it.” We’re convinced, however, that it doesn’t have to hurt! We can work together to craft classrooms to promote constitutional thinking.

As an example of constitutional thinking and teaching, Kevin shared an activity he uses in his classroom to confront the misunderstanding of Locke’s theory that it requires us to give up our rights to be protected by the government. He gave us each a blank piece of paper and asked us to designate a two-inch margin by drawing a dotted line down the length of the page. We then designated three separate sections of the paper by writing “LEGISLATIVE,” “EXECUTIVE,” and “LEGISLATIVE” across the page. It’s important that these headings cross the dotted line and use part of the reserved margin. We then wrote our rights of “LIFE,” “LIBERTY,” and “ESTATE” between the previous headings. This time it was important to not use the reserved margin.

We then consented to our contract of government by tearing that two-inch margin from the page and contributing it to the “government pot” Kevin provided. A portion of the legislative, executive, and judicial power from each of us was contributed to the government while we each retained the remaining powers and our rights. This activity effectively confronted the misunderstanding Kevin had targeted, but there was a new problem. We each still had some of our executive and judicial power in reserve! What a model of constitutional teaching! Just like constitution making, our newest solutions provide even newer problems.

With this as our model, the 2008 National Academy took time to consider how to improve on this model or how to carry a central concept from the past thre weeks back to their classrooms. Ideas included Play-doh Leviathans and lots of boxes! A previous post on Politicolor also asked us all to consider constitutional teaching through the words of the Preamble. Let’s share those ideas…

Please use the comments below to share your ideas as a  result of today’s activity. Alumni, you can join the effort by sharing your stories of what you were able to include in your classroom this past year.