Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of Education John King gave an inspiring speech on civic education at the National Press Club. As part of his speech, he called for a commitment to nonpartisan constitutional education in our classrooms. At the same time, he recognized that civic education isn’t easy. Even for teachers and administrators with the best of intentions, these conversations—which often cover some of the most contested issues at the center of our public life—can skew partisan. This is no small problem.
To navigate these conversations effectively, teachers must have training on how best to facilitate these discussions and must receive support from their principals, their administrators, and the wider community. However, teachers must also have access to trusted, nonpartisan information about our Constitution and its history—information that can be hard to find in our polarized age. That’s where the National Constitution Center comes in.
As a national headquarters for civic education, the National Constitution Center delivers balanced, trusted educational programming and online resources that inspire, excite, and engage Americans about the U.S. Constitution—its text, its history, and its enduring importance. The centerpiece of our civic education efforts is our Interactive Constitution—already dubbed an “internet sensation” by USA Today.
This tool is a free, online platform sponsored by the heads of the two leading legal organizations in the country, the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society, and supported by the John Templeton Foundation. It presents the full text of the Constitution, with clickable essays on every clause by the leading liberal and conservative scholars in America, exploring areas of agreement and disagreement. Since its launch in September 2015, it has already reached more than 6 million downloads. We are working with partners like the College Board to bring this free, online tool to every classroom in America, and we are continuing to refine this material to make it accessible for students of all age levels and from all backgrounds.
We are also working to promote constitutional dialogue in our community through our Policing in a More Perfect Union program. Developed with former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, this program teaches police officers about the Bill of Rights and provides a forum for officers to discuss the importance of their role in protecting the rights of all citizens. As part of the program, we also unite officers with high school students for constitutional conversation. Through this program, we seek to transform constitutional understanding by the police, bridge the divide between officers and their communities, and ensure that constitutional education remains at the core of police training across America.
Echoing Secretary King’s speech, our ultimate goal is to help create informed citizens who understand both sides of key constitutional debates, learn how to engage in civil dialogue, and are willing to defend the rights and liberties that define us as a free society. We want every American—from age eight to eighty—to understand the constitutional heroes who have written the unique story of American freedom. We want them to understand how these principles remain the subjects of spirited debate. We want them to understand the difference between constitutional and political arguments. And we want to help them understand how the Constitution can inspire students across America to exercise their rights and responsibilities as American citizens.