2009 National Institute

As someone who has attended two of the Center of the Constitution’s weekend programs, I was overly excited when I was accepted to the 2009’s National Institute.  Of course I couldn’t wait to pick Will’s brain for more and more insight, but quickly I have learned this Institute is much more than that.

This institute is a way not to just learn about polity and community, but to also build our very own community and polity. As I climbed  the mountain behind Occidental,with a few of my friends, to watch the beautiful California sunset, I finally figured why we were here at Occidental. We are Scipio, climbing to the top of our own little world, looking down to see the wholeness and order that is so clearly there. We are here to build a republic, a group of citizens of common interest, putting the theories that we are learning into practical applications. But we will be building our own community on the foundations of all the former institutes. Because the institute’s whole is truly greater then the sum of one of its years part.
It is really interesting to watch a group of people, with no more then a common interest to learn and living on the same floor of a building, in just a few short days turn into a community.  I just hope my initial optimism wont give away to the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

After speaking to Shellee, and  her wanting to try to include the former institutes by tweeting her experience. I thought that I too had an obligation as citizen of this world to build common interest between  all members, past and present.  I hope to blog every few days about what is going on in the institute, I just hope, you will all join in with comments.

A Paradigm: Six Words for the National Academy

You might remember a New York Times contest to craft a six word motto for the United States. We turned the powerhouse of Academy thinking at the question. Laura suggested a phrase you might recognize…


I think that phrase resonated as a result of her work at Monpelier’s NEH Landmark institute. Keith reviewed his notes from the Academy and provided a whole list of possibilities! This year’s National Academy wrestled a rigorous three weeks but still found time to toy with the idea of what six words would be the best represent their three weeks of scholarship in Los Angeles.

It’s something like the re-writing project…

What six words would you propose for the National Academy if you wanted to communicate as much of IT as possible with only THIS fragment?

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.

What Are the Most Federalist Songs?

Something Will said this Summer boomeranged and smacked me into thinking about Federalist songs.

What would make a song distinctively Federalist?  I began to brainstorm characteristics which I thought Federalist in nature: SCIENCE, FUTURE, HOPE, FREE, WORLDLY, REGENERATING, OPEN-MINDED, and so forth.  Many songs are upbeat, and do convey multiple aspects of Federalist thinking.  In fact, I think that when some people think about the spirit of ROCK, they do so with a very Federalist ideal: think Jack Black in School of Rock or Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny.

I’m going to withhold my favorites in hopes that we get some traffic going here at the site.  PLEASE (you know you love it when I beg) respond and leave your ideas for the most Federalist songs.  Additionally, feel free to add comments on the nature of Federalism in music, as I tend to focus on lyrics.  (Yeah, I’m tone deaf.)

There can also be submissions for songs that are ANTI-Antifederalist, as I believe “Signs” to be.  You remember that one: “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign…”, right?

If I can find a way to post music, as I think I might be able to at MySpace, I can do some of that, too.