This first module in the Constitution 101 curriculum introduces you to the Constitution’s text and to the skills necessary to engage in constitutional conversations. As you explore the Constitution throughout this course, it’s essential to separate your constitutional views from your political views and, in turn, to think about how the Constitution defines or limits the powers of the government. That is how constitutional lawyers, scholars, and judges read, interpret, and apply the Constitution.
History of State Constitutions
Students watch, analyze, and respond to video clips that detail the goals of the writers of the first state constitutions, explore historical the background, and and examine Virginia’s, Pennsylvania’s, or Massachusetts’ first state constitutions.
1912 Republican Convention: TR Starts the Bull Moose Party
This four-minute video provides students with an introduction to the election of 1912 and the emergence of the progressive Bull Moose party, named for Theodore Roosevelt’s saying after an assassination attempt that he was “fit as a bull moose” to become president again. Focusing on Theodore Roosevelt’s decision to challenge President William Taft for the 1912 Republican Party nomination, the video shows students how the newly created system of direct primaries affected the race, and how Roosevelt’s failure to wrest the nomination from Taft resulted in the formation of the short-lived Bull Moose party. The video is useful for lessons focused on the election of 1912, or for lessons focused on the political reforms of the progressive era.
Election of 1860: Slavery Splits the Democrats
This four-minute video explores the causes and consequences of the Democratic Party’s division into two parties following the Democratic national convention of 1860. After rejecting Stephen A. Douglas’s failed attempt to reconcile the Northern and Southern factions of the party with his doctrine of “popular sovereignty,” the Southern delegates walked out of the convention. That decision led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and 50 years of Republican dominance in national politics. A concise summary of the unusual events that allowed Abraham Lincoln to win the election of 1860, the video fits into any sequence of lessons on the factors leading to secession and the Civil War.
Presidents vs. Press: How Pentagon Papers Leak Set Up First Amendment Showdowns
This 12-minute video clarifies the connections between the New York Times Co. v. United States Supreme Court case and the recent battles that Presidents Obama and Trump have fought to contain national security leaks. Focusing on the broader issues of freedom of the press in a democracy, the video helps students draw a line between the New York Times decision from 1971 and the ongoing disputes between the public’s right to know and the president’s right to secrecy. Useful for examining the First Amendment and the role of the press in a democratic society, the video also provides students with the historical context surrounding the Pentagon Papers, and the Vietnam War and consequences of the New York Times court decision.
How to Fact-Check History
This lesson and its accompanying seven-minute video introduce students to a professional fact-checker, who describes the methods and processes he employs to verify information that appears in news stories. The video explains which claims can be fact-checked, and why some sources are more reliable than others. How do fact-checkers engage in analysis of contemporary and historical claims? How do we distinguish between “bad facts” and “bad narratives” when critiquing media sources? Examine the tools that fact-checkers use to identify and interrogate claims, and put those skills into practice.
From Women’s Suffrage to the ERA
This seven-minute video and accompanying lesson plan looks at how throughout the 1960’s and 70’s the second wave feminism movement worked to address gender inequality across the United States. While the movement had several important victories, the Equal Rights Amendment was not passed. Was the second wave feminist movement a success nonetheless?
Civic Art Project: Notes on the Constitution
Students create art works based on an examination of the language of the Constitution and the personal connections they make. These art works will incorporate words, illustrations, and mixed media images.
This lesson can be adapted for different grade levels. High school students can use an abridged version of the U.S. Constitution. Elementary and middle school students can use the Preamble, or introduction, to the Constitution.
Preamble of the Constitution Activity Sheet
Students can use this activity sheet to draw ideas about what different phrases and words in the Preamble mean.
Abolitionists and the Constitution
Two great abolitionists, Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, once allies, split over the Constitution. Garrison believed it was a pro-slavery document from its inception. Douglass strongly disagreed. This provides writing prompts and a group activity on debating who had the stronger argument.