The Morality of Democratic Citizenship: Goals for Civic Education in the Republic's Third Century

R. Freeman Butts
Center for Civic Education
Calabasas, California

Chapter Two
Another Clear Mandate: Teach the Constitution

B. How We Have Taught the Constitution in the Past?

In general, the urge to promote the study of the Constitution in American schools arises when individuals or groups believe that such instruction will promote national unity, or tend to prevent some perceived threat to the stability of the society at large, or be of benefit to their own special interests. The tendency throughout much of our history could be summed up as follows: If the Supreme Court was supporting a view of the Constitution which favored "us," then ask the schools to teach the Constitution; if it was not, then teach something else until the Court's membership or decisions come our way. Seldom, until recent times, did major groups in American society want the schools to deal with controversial meanings or disputed interpretations of the Constitution.

"The Constitution Enthroned" (1790s-l890s)

For the first 100 years of the Republic, the Constitution played the most important part in virtually all texts written on civil government for the schools. They reflected a tone of respect and even adulation for the document as the symbol of national legitimacy to which all citizens owed allegiance, loyalty, and devotion. With the removal of the British crown as the symbol of legitimate sovereignty, the Constitution came to play a comparable role in establishing a common symbol of identity for the new Republic. I believe it is fair to say that this was a common theme among the vast majority of those early advocates who argued for teaching the Constitution in the schools.

This first blush of enthusiasm for teaching the Constitution as early as the 1790s is illustrated by the two winners of the American Philosophical Society's prize essay contest on the best system of liberal education adapted to the genius of the new republic. Both were generally Jeffersonian in their political orientation. Samuel Harrison Smith argued that students in his proposed system of secondary schools should have it as their duty "to commit to memory and frequently to repeat the Constitution and the fundamental laws of the United States. Samuel Knox referred repeatedly in his essay to "our happy Constitution," which should form an integral part of "a well-digested, concise moral catechism. This catechism would have three parts: natural theology, the first principles of ethics, and "the principles of jurisprudence; the nature of civil government, containing a short historical view of the rise and progress of its various species and particularly that of the federal government of these states.  7 

Then, when the textbook writers came along, they seemed to have a particular view of the Constitution, which they believed should be enthroned in the teachings of the schools. For example, the first textbook on civil government to be published in the United States (1796) was avowedly written by a staunch New England Federalist in order "to stem the rising tide of the Jeffersonian democracy" by instructing youth in the genuinely sound principles of the Constitution.  8  This "Plain Political Catechism" by Elhanan Winchester may not have been widely used in the schools, but there is no doubt that Noah Webster's American Spelling Book was widely used. The edition of 1798 contained not only a "Moral Catechism" on such virtues as humility, mercy, justice, truth, charity, and frugality but also a "Federal Catechism" containing a short explanation of the Constitution and the principles of government. In this catechism Webster makes a good deal of the defects of democracy in contrast to the advantages of a representative republic.  9 

These were good Federalist doctrines with which to combat some of the tenets of Jefferson's "creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction," which he stated in his inaugural address of 1801:

...the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti republican tendencies; the preservation of the General government in its whole constitutional vigor ... ; a jealous care of the right of election by the people ... ; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which there is no appeal but to force....  10 
Whether the differences of interpretation of the Constitution between the broad construction of Federalists and the strict construction of Republicans ever came to the fore in school instruction about the Constitution may be doubtful, especially in view of their "catechetical" approach in which set questions and answers were memorized and whose prime purpose was to inculcate the "truth" without question or debate.

A later and more common approach, presumably approved by the teachers as well as the textbook writers, was a "clause by clause" method of explication of the wording of the several sections of the Constitution. This obviously emphasized the formal structure of the three branches of the federal government as contained in the unamended Constitution. Relatively great attention was paid to the separation of powers and checks and balances with relatively little attention to the Bill of Rights. Virtually no attempt was made to criticize or explain changes in interpretation over time or deal with the fundamental controversies that so often threatened to tear the nation apart: from the growing debate and conflict over the limits of federal power and states rights to the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and on to the extension of slavery to the West, Dred Scott, the Civil War itself, and Reconstruction.

Little controversial teaching about the Constitution could be found in the textbooks, although the onset of the Civil War did bring some considerable attention to the preserving of the Union. Apparently the vast majority of Americans were willing for the schools to teach the wording of the Constitution and the clause-by-clause description of the formal structure of the federal government, so long as the life and death struggles over its practical application to national politics and the national economy were not obviously portrayed. A certain amount of information and unswerving loyalty to the Constitution, no matter what diverse opinions might be held about its meaning, seemed to be the major expectations of most citizens, whether early Federalist or Republican, interim Whig, or Democrat or later Republican or Democrat.

Meanwhile, the number of textbooks on civil government and the Constitution continued to grow. The vast majority were written from the Federalist or a Unionist point of view, several were written in the 1830s to counteract a tide of individualism and states' rights emerging from Jacksonian democracy, and some in the 1840s and 1850s stressed attachment to the Union in the face of Southern secessionist arguments prior to the Civil War.

The upshot is that despite the continuing political debates and even warfare over the nature of the Union and the Constitution, controversy was relatively little touched in classroom teaching about the Constitution at least on the surface. Americans apparently wanted the schools to prepare citizens in general but not to indoctrinate students in the tenets of any particular political party, faction, or association. The preeminent school reformer of the nineteenth century, Horace Mann, epitomized this view by arguing that the constitutional structure and powers of government be taught, but teachers should avoid all controversial views.

None was more eloquent than Horace Mann on what he candidly called "political education." Summing up his conclusions on twelve years as secretary of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts in 1848, Mann began with the assumptions of the founders that citizens of a Republic must "understand something of the true nature of the government under which they live." He spelled out the civic program in terms that will sound similar to all teachers of civics since that time:

... the constitution of the United States, and of our own State, should be made a study of our Public Schools. The partition of the powers of government into the three co-ordinate branches--legislative, judicial, and executive--with the duties appropriately devolving upon each; the mode of electing or of appointing all officers, with the reason on which it was founded; and, especially, the duty of every citizen, in a government of laws, to appeal to the courts for redress, in all cases of alleged wrong, instead of undertaking to vindicate his own rights by his own arm; and, in a government where the people are the acknowledged sources of power, the duty of changing laws and rulers by an appeal to the ballot, and not by rebellion, s~should be taught to all the children until they are fully understood.  11 
But the difference between the ideal structure of the political community and the actual operation of the system began to be apparent even to the educators. Caught in the swirl of contesting forces in Massachusetts occasioned by the immigration of Irish and Germans of Roman Catholic faith and by the changes in urban life attendant upon the industrial factory system, Mann knew all too well that "if the tempest of political strife were to be let loose upon our Common Schools, they would be overwhelmed with sudden ruin." He recognized that many would object to any study of political matters in the schools because the Constitution was subject to different readings. He saw the dangers of political partisanship in the appointment of teachers on the basis of their political fitness in the eyes of the local school committee or the majority in the community:

Who shall moderate the fury of these conflicting elements, when they rage against each other; and who shall save the dearest interests of the children from being consumed in the fierce combustion? If parents find that their children are indoctrinated into what they call political heresies, will they not withdraw them from the school; and, if they withdraw them from the school, will they not resist all appropriations to support a school from which they derive no benefit?  12 
Mann could not admit that the public schools should avoid political education altogether, nor could he risk the destruction of the public schools by urging them to become "theatres for party politics." His solution was similar to that which he proposed for religious controversies: the schools should teach the common elements that all agreed to, but skip over the controversial:

Surely, between these extremes, there must be a medium not difficult to be found. And is not this the middle course, which all sensible and judicious men, all patriots, and all genuine republicans, must approve?--namely, that those articles in the creed of republicanism, which are accepted by all, believed in by all, and which form the common basis of our political faith, shall be taught to all. But when the teacher, in the course of his lessons or lectures on the fundamental law, arrives at a controverted text, he is either to read it without comment or remark; or, at most, he is only to say that the passage is the subject of disputation, and that the schoolroom is neither the tribunal to adjudicate, nor the forum to discuss it.

Such being the rule established by common consent, and such the practice, observed with fidelity under it, it will come to be universally understood, that political proselytism is no function of the school; but that all indoctrination into matters of controversy between hostile political parties is to be elsewhere sought for, and elsewhere imparted. Thus, may all the children of the Commonwealth receive instruction in the great essentials of political knowledge,--in those elementary ideas without which they will never be able to investigate more recondite and debatable questions.  13 

In attempting to stress the transcendent values of the political community, Mann would pass over controversial issues about the constitutional order and omit critical opinions about the actual operation of the system. Political knowledge should concentrate on the formal structure of governmental institutions, but the skills of participation should be delegated, along with the controversial, to the non-school agencies of party, press, and caucus of adults.

Mann was so intent upon getting common schools established for an ever wider range of the potential school population that he would not risk failure of the common school idea in order to bring political controversy into the schools. Thus it came about that the emerging public schools were largely satisfied with civic programs that initiated the poor, the foreigner, and the working class children into the political community by literacy in English, didactic moral injunctions, patriotic readers and histories, and lessons that stressed recitations of the structural forms of the constitutional order. But Mann's emphasis upon a "common core of civic values," taught without mention of controversial issues, had its problems then, just as it does today.

The Constitution Diminished (1890s-1920s)

Toward the end of the 19th century and in the opening decades of the 20th century the expectations for the teaching of the Constitution in schools were increasingly influenced by professional and academic organizations whose committee reports helped to shape the textbooks and the pedagogical concerns of the schools. Academically-minded educators tended to dominate the secondary school curriculum in the 1880s and 1890s. As described in Chapter One, the effort to expand and stiffen the study of history reduced the emphasis on civil government and explicit study of the Constitution itself.  14 

Citizenship training, we recall, was the original purpose for the study of civil government and especially of the Constitution. But, now, the claims upon the curriculum being made by the "new" and more "modern" studies, such as history and the social sciences, not to speak of practical vocational studies, led to a squeeze that in effect was going to make it harder and harder for explicit and formal study of the Constitution to maintain itself.

The pressures from outside as well as within the academic profession were building up to give separate and special attention to the study of government apart from history, but these pressures did not necessarily result in more explicit attention to the Constitution despite the upsurge in study of civil government in the early 1900's being promoted by the new social science disciplines of political science, economics, and sociology.

Soon after it was organized in 1903 the American Political Science Association became interested in the teaching of political science in lower schools. A report of 1905 gave details on what 238 students in ten universities had learned in high school about government. Based on a scale of 100 the students made the following average scores on these test items:

Explain how members of Congress are chosen and state what you know about their terms, qualifications, and compensation. 12% correct.

Write a brief account of the federal courts. 2% correct.

Describe dearly the process by which the constitution of the United States may be amended. How may it be interpreted? 5% correct.

Outline the government of a county in your state. 9% correct.

What is meant by the New England plan of township government? 6% correct.  15 

These "startling" and "shocking" results (which ought to make the results of recent National Assessment tests sound a little better) prompted the American Political Science Association to appoint a Committee of Five on Instruction in American Government in Secondary Schools. Its report of 1908 argued for formal study of government in separate half-year courses in both the 8th and the 12th grade: With regard to secondary school textbooks, the recommendations seemed to take aim at earlier texts on civil government as well as at the historians' Committee of Seven:

  1. Avoid the book that consists of clauses of the Constitution with comments thereon.

  2. Avoid the book that is in large part historical or an attempt to correlate history and government in one course.

  3. Avoid the book that gives the larger portion of its space to the national government and relegates the State government with its rural and urban subdivisions to a few general chapters.  16 
These were exactly the recommendations that dozens of textbooks on community civics began to follow. Furthermore, a Committee on Instruction of APSA reporting in 1916 continued to argue that the standard courses on civil government should be shaken up. Instead of starting with or emphasizing the study of the U.S. Constitution, giving a description of the formal and structural organization of government, and then proceeding to a similar study of state constitutions and governments, the procedure should be reversed. The committee endorsed the study of "community civics" on the assumption that political affairs nearest to home were the most important and should be considered first.

And, furthermore, the aim of civic instruction was not to study abstract theories or the machinery of government, but to enable pupils to promote community welfare and recognize their personal responsibility through civic action.  17  Of course, the committee admitted, attention must be given in the high school to government organization, the separation of powers, the Congress, and the Executive Department, but the main goal is to relate these to the functions of state and local as well as the national government. Study of government should be functional, not formal; and it should not be left to historians or the teaching of history.

The committee was much impressed by a questionnaire survey conducted by the U.S. Commissioner of Education, which showed that most teachers of civics gave at least half their time to the national government, largely because the government texts did this. But most teachers believed that the texts gave too much time to the formal study of the national government. The teachers seemed to want more practical and local materials.

As might be expected, the committee set forth strong claims for more separate and explicit courses in government. For the junior high school this should be a course in community civics stressing community welfare: health, protection of life and property, recreation, education, beauty, communication, transportation, migration, wealth, charity, and correction. For the high school there should be a full year course in the social sciences (exclusive of history) and at least half of this should be devoted to civil government with more emphasis on local affairs. Thus, the academic disciplines of history and political science were themselves tending to diminish study of the Constitution in favor of other topics. Their views heavily influenced those of professional educators at the time.

Under the auspices of the NEA's Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education (whose final report, Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education was published in 1918), a Committee on Social Studies was at work from 1913 to 1916 preparing its report for the overall Commission. The current ideas of Progressive reform were dearly evident. In a preliminary statement in 1913 the chairman of the committee, Thomas Jesse Jones, a sociologist, revealed the intent to make civics much more than a study of government and of the Constitution:

Good citizenship should be the aim of social studies in the high school... the old civics, almost exclusively a study of government machinery, must give way to the new civics, a study of all manner of social efforts to improve mankind. It is not so important that the pupil know how the president is elected as that he shall understand the duties of the health officer in his community. The time formerly spent in the effort to understand the process of passing a law over the President's veto is now to be more profitably used in the observation of the vocational resources of the community. In line with this emphasis the committee recommends that social studies in the high school shall include such topics as the following: Community health, housing and homes, public recreation, good roads, community education, poverty and the care of the poor, crime and reform, family income, savings banks and life insurance, human rights versus property rights, impulsive action of mobs, the selfish conservatism of tradition, and public utilities.  18 
The final, over-all Commission Report on the Cardinal Principles of 1918 tended to reduce the political concerns of civic education in favor of social and economic and practical personal problems. Note the withdrawal from "Constitutional questions" in the pursuit of good citizenship:

Civics should concern itself less with constitutional questions and remote governmental functions and should direct attention to social agencies close at hand and to the informal activities of daily life that regard and seek the common good. Such agencies as child welfare organizations and consumers' leagues afford specific opportunities for the expression of civic qualities by the older pupils.  19 
Indeed, if the Constitution was to continue to be interpreted by the Supreme Court as favoring corporate property interests, "separate but equal" school systems, and injunctions to prevent strikes by labor unions, while prohibiting national child labor legislation, no wonder that the Progressive movement seemed inclined to downgrade such teachings about the Constitution and turn to social and political reform movements at the state and local levels. Progressive politicians, progressive educators, and political scientists might agree that good citizenship should concentrate on local social problems, but they did not reckon with the onset of World War I and its aftermath.

"The Reactionary Impulse" (1920s)

Robert H. Wiebe, professor of history at Northwestern, uses a telling phrase to describe the politics of 1920-24. He refers to the period as "The Reactionary Impulse" when "a host of private citizens and public officials set out to eliminate organized radicalism in the name of 100 percent Americanism."  20  The "Great Red Scare" not only applied to Communists, Bolshevists, and Socialists but foreigners, immigrants, and aliens who had been coming by the millions from eastern and southern Europe and thus appeared to be double threats to the image of Protestant Angle Saxon native Americans. The nativist movements infiltrated all sorts of patriotic, fraternal, social, business, and professional organizations, symbolized at its most extreme by the Ku Klux Klan and culminating in the National Origins Act of Congress in 1924, clamping quotas upon further immigration from eastern and southern Europe and Asia.

The fears and frustrations of anti-radical and anti-foreign movements had, of course, been fed by the fears and anxieties and losses of World War I with its demands for outward as well as inner loyalty and patriotism and sacrifice. It was in this setting of the post-war period that a massive movement to require instruction about the Constitution in the nation's schools and to do it by the passage of state laws achieved remarkable success. By 1923, 23 states had been persuaded to pass or reemphasize such laws, and by 1931, 43 states had done so (all except Connecticut, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, and Wisconsin).

The two most influential groups in achieving this remarkable legislative sweep were the National Security League and the American Bar Association working cooperatively. The National Security League was formed in 1914 to awaken America to the dangers of autocracy and the threat of the Central Powers to democracy in the United States as well as in the European West. Once the War was won, the National Security League turned from fighting pacifists and awakening a sense of martial patriotism to promoting citizenship education in the schools, based on combating radicalism and especially on political campaigns to persuade state legislatures to require teaching about the Constitution. The League drew up two drafts of a legislative bill upon which more than 20 states modeled their bills very closely.

Until around 1928 the League's Committee on Constitutional Instruction continued to lobby successfully for such legislation. The House of Representatives responded by passing a resolution in 1925 calling upon all educational institutions in the nation to offer a course on the Constitution as a part of their regular curriculum. No penalty ever seemed to have been inflicted for failure to apply the legislative mandates. But the fact remains that most of these statutes as amended are still on the statute books. The 1920s were the formative decade in widespread social expectations that the Constitution should be taught explicitly with the intention of promoting a common loyalty, a common patriotism, and a common Americanism among all segments of the school­going population.

Perhaps even more influential in promoting study about the Constitution in schools was the American Bar Association. Although not primarily a professional patriotic organization, the ABA responded in the early 1920s to some of the same calls for the Constitution to become a bulwark against radicalism and for Americanization of immigrants. If anything, it was even more explicit about the necessity for Constitution-teaching to be a fundamental support for protecting the values of private property against Progressive and labor and populist attacks as well as against socialism and communism.

The ABA's "expectations" were very high and very explicit; they included monitoring what schools were doing and outlining the content of courses and of texts for various grade levels. In general, its special Committee on American Citizenship wanted the texts to revert to the style of detailed commentaries of earlier days and to be written by authors thoroughly versed in constitutional law. By this the Committee clearly meant to approve the Supreme Court's defense of corporate and private property rights.  21 

The Liberal Impulse (1930s-1960s)

By the end of the 1920s and the opening of the New Deal the climate of opinion in politics and education shifted markedly away from the excesses of reactionary eagle-screaming of the early 1920s. Besides, the legislative mandates to teach the Constitution had virtually covered the country. But the tone and temper of many educational leaders began to shift to other more pressing social issues. Never acceding very willingly to the idea that legislatures should control the curriculum of school or college, many educators looked with skepticism on the intentions and motivations of most of the patriotic organizations that sought to legislate teaching of the Constitution.

A generally liberal and progressive view tended to permeate the writings of one of the most extensive and elaborate professional studies of the school curriculum ever undertaken: the Commission on the Social Studies of the American Historical Association supported from 1929 to 1934 by the Carnegie Corporation. In view of the reactionary campaigns of the 1920s, the depression, and the Supreme Court's decisions striking down so many New Deal measures, it is no wonder that the Commission's recommendations do not say very much explicitly about teaching the Constitution in the schools. This was precisely the period when the "activist laissez-faire" Court (in Archibald Cox's terms) was reaching its "nay­saying" peak. Shortly thereafter, the Court began to shift its preoccupation with the relation of government to the economy towards individual rights.  22 

By the end of the 1930s, however, a few professionals in law and education began to look upon the Bill of Rights in a new light as new war clouds gathered in Europe and vigilantism and invasions of civil liberties escalated under the stoking of the House Un-American Activities Committee from 1938 onward. As if to make amends for its stance in the 1920s, the American Bar Association established a Special Committee on the Bill of Rights in 1938. The new president, Frank J. Hogan, argued that the ABA had long rendered great public service by defending institutions, laws, and ideals important under a free government, but it was now time that the Association become vigilant in the defense of the rights and liberties of individuals. The Special Committee filed a brief of amicus curiae in the Gobitis flag salute case in 1940, which it lost, but did so again in the Barnette case in 1943, which reversed Gobitis. But World War II intervened, and an impetus that might have turned to the schools for teaching the Constitution with emphasis upon the Bill of Rights was long delayed.

In the 1940s and 1950s both a revival of the reactionary impulses and a renewed liberal impulse gained strength. The story, of course, cannot be repeated here. The American Legion, the Hearst papers, and many other patriotic groups hounded Harold Rugg's social studies texts out of the schools; loyalty oath laws for teachers were passed in 30 states by 1952; and the Feinberg Act to ferret Communists out of the schools in New York was passed in 1948, followed by a half a decade of McCarthyism. On the other side, the Supreme Court began a new interpretation of the First Amendment on religion in the schools (Everson in 1947 and McCollum in 1948) and a tentative approach to desegregation under the Fourteenth Amendment (in Sweatt and McLaurin in 1950), which culminated in Brown in 1954 after Earl Warren became Chief Justice. And President Truman's Commission on Civil Rights forecast in 1947 much of what was to come later.

The upshot of all this is that a few educators' voices began to be raised in favor of teaching about the Constitution in the schools with special emphasis upon the Bill of Rights. For example, the Citizenship Education Project at Teachers College documented from the Constitution and the law in great detail the premises of liberty. That was a most useful undertaking making available solid political knowledge and reversing the usual subordination of the political so common in other approaches to civic education.

The Bill of Rights Resurgent (1960s-1980s)

Within the scope of this short historical perspective I cannot possibly deal with the decades of the 1960s and 1970s in any detail. One thing, however, seems clear. Constitutional issues, conflicts, and controversies cropped up recurrently and aggressively in almost all aspects of public life and in many reaches of private life. The Supreme Court and the federal courts seemed to be hearing and deciding a constant stream of cases dealing with individual rights and civil liberties. Indeed, the Watergate confrontation and Richard Nixon's resignation revealed a genuine constitutional crisis over the "separation of powers" compared with which discussion of this topic in earlier civics textbooks did indeed seem bland and dull. Similar disparities surfaced during the Iran-Contra affair in 1986-1987.

Through most of the period liberal activists made it clear that they "expected" the Constitution to be interpreted to support racial desegregation in the schools and busing if necessary, affirmative action on behalf of minorities and women, protection of individual diversity in belief and lifestyle, and freedom of teaching and learning on matters of religion and science and politics. Towards the end of the period the power of conservative "re-activists" grew ever more evident in their demands for reassessment and reversal of several decades of Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They would thus prohibit racial desegregation by "forced" busing, permit teaching of religion and offering of prayers in the public schools, permit or even require the study of creationism along with evolution, and provide public funds for private religious schools through tax credits or vouchers. There were resurgent calls for constitutional amendments to turn the tide of judicial interpretations on these and other matters, or for legislative action by Congress to remove the courts from ruling on such issues, or indeed for the convening of a new constitutional convention.

In all these recurring political conflicts one of the most salient points is that many of the recent constitutional controversies have to do directly with educational matters and with the public schools. They not only range across such issues as those lust mentioned, but also children's and students' rights in relation to parents' rights, teachers' rights, administrators' rights and responsibilities, the relations of the sexes inside and outside of school, censorship or monitoring of books and school materials, criminal and civic justice for youth, the draft for men and women, and on and on. Whatever else may be said about the study of constitutional issues from the 1960s to the 1980s they need no longer to be looked upon as dull and formalistic nor remote from or irrelevant to the daily life of schools, teachers, and students. It was in this overall context that the impulse to stress civil liberties and civil rights as the essential core of teaching about the Constitution was developing.

By the end of the 1960s the public expectations for redoubled efforts to stress constitutional concepts and values in school curriculums included not only the academic world of deans and professors of law, education, and the social sciences but also the practical world of professional lawyers, judges, justice agencies, school systems, and such government agencies as the U.S. Office of Education, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the Department of Justice. Especially active have been bar associations, local, state, and national. The State Bar of California, established the Law in a Free Society Project in 1969, and the American Bar Association established its Special Committee on Youth Education for Citizenship in 1971 while Leon Jaworski was president. The tone and outlook of the ABA's leadership in the 1970s were dramatically different from those of its efforts in the 1920s. "Law-related education" mushroomed throughout the United States. While it is not confined to teaching about the Constitution, no other movement in social studies has given as much explicit attention to the rights and liberties as well as to the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship as they relate to constitutional concepts and meanings.

Even though social studies "innovation" was being dominated by the curriculum projects of the "New Social Studies" (inquiry learning, decision-making, the structure of the disciplines, etc.), the impulse toward interest in civil liberties and civil rights as the essential core of teaching about the Constitution was growing. A full story would include during the late 1950s the role of the Fund for the Republic (a spin-off from the Ford Foundation), the Carrie Chapman Catt Fund of the League of Women Voters, and the Civil Liberties Educational Foundation, which produced a report from a 1962 Williamstown Workshop for high school teachers conducted in cooperation with the National Council for the Social Studies.

In 1963 a national program for improving teaching about the Bill of Rights was launched at the NCSS convention by a keynote speech by Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., followed by a seminar at Airlie House attended by Justices Brennan and William O. Douglas and a notable list of judges, lawyers, educators, and public persons of a generally liberal persuasion. The National Assembly on Teaching the Bill of Rights grew out of the cooperation of the Association of American Law Schools, the American Political Science Association, and the National Council for the Social Studies. It produced materials, conducted seminars, and held training sessions for teachers. The Center for Research and Education in American Liberties at Columbia University and Teachers College was a direct outgrowth of the National Assembly.

A number of other significant enterprises developed in the mid­1960s, including a Seminar on School Curricula for Instruction in the Bill of Rights at Boulder, Colorado; action by the California State Board of Education to promote critical study of the Constitution and Bill of Rights in the public schools; creation of the Constitutional Rights Foundation in Los Angeles; city school system projects in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, New York City, and elsewhere; and university­based projects at Tufts, UCLA, Syracuse, Stanford, Columbia, Georgetown, and elsewhere.

Nothing could better illustrate the differences between the reactionary impulse of the 1920s and the liberal impulse of the Bill of Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s than the statement approved by the California State Board of Education in 1963:

California public schools are to instruct in the principles of a free government and lead students to a true comprehension of the rights and duties, and dignity of American citizenship...
So far this could be the 1840s of Horace Mann or the 1920s of 43 state laws, but then the resolution went on:

We believe that teaching in this field, no matter how controversial the issue, should be conducted within the framework of free discussion. Not only the history of the Bill of Rights should be taught, but contemporary issues it raises, such as the debate over separation of church and state embodied in the First Amendment, and the privilege against self incrimination as provided in the Fifth Amendment, should be discussed. Now is the time to help our young people to become aware of the risks, the privileges, and the personal demands of freedom.

We urge all school superintendents to give this subject the highest priority. We hope that the very conduct of the classes studying the Bill of Rights will reflect its spirit and be a demonstration of civil rights in action.  23 

I would not hazard to estimate how well the school superintendents or teachers or the parents of California carried out this resolution of 1963. But I believe that it well states the liberal impulse of the law-related education movement of the past two decades. There was a significant follow-up in the publication by the State Department of Education of a source book for teachers on The Bill of Rights in 1967, produced by an excellent project staff and a notable advisory of lawyers, law professors, and educators and supported by a grant from the newly formed Constitutional Rights Foundation.

To be sure, the conservative and reactionary movements have by no means disappeared. The power of the New Right in politics and in religious fundamentalism make it clear that in the 1980s there are still controversial and fundamentally different conceptions of constitutional rights and liberties as they apply to abortion, busing, gun control, affirmative action, women's rights, creationism and evolution, prayer in the public schools, vouchers and tuition tax credits for private schooling, and much else.

Teaching about the Constitution in the schools promises to be no easier in the future than in the past, but it may very possibly be even more important than ever. We still have before us the prescient challenge that Chief Justice Earl Warren gave soon after the historic school desegregation decision of Brown in 1954:

...when the generation of 1980 receives from us the Bill of Rights, the document will not have exactly the same meaning it had when we received it from our fathers. We will pass on a better Bill of Rights or a worse one, tarnished by neglect or burnished by growing use. If these rights are real, they need constant and imaginative application to new situations.  24 

Continue to Chapter 2, Part C

7. See Frederick Rudolph, ed., Essays on Education in the Early Republic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965), pp. 211 and 332.  back 

8. H. Arnold Bennett, The Constitution in School and College (New York: Putnam's, 1935) pp. 46-49; and Rolla Tryon, The Social Sciences as School Subjects (New York: Scribner's, 1935), pp. 252-253.  back 

9. See David B. Tyack, ed., Turning Points in American Educational History (Waltham, Mass.: Blaisdell, 1967), pp. 189-190.  back 

10. Gordon C. Lee, ed., Crusade Against Ignorance: Thomas Jefferson on Education (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1961), pp. 53-54.  back 

11. Lawrence A. Cremin, ed., The Republic and the School: Horace Mann on the Education of Free Men (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1957), p. 93.  back 

12. Ibid., p. 95.  back 

13. Ibid., p. 97.  back 

14. Hazel Whitman Hertzberg, "The Teaching of History" in Michael Kammen, ed., The Past Before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980), pp. 478- 498.  back 

15. Tryon, Social Sciences as School Subjects, pp. 39-40.  back 

16. Ibid., p. 42.  back 

17. American Political Science Association, The Teaching of Government (New York: Macmillan, 1916), pp; 27-28.  back 

18. Quoted in Daniel Calhoun, ed., The Education of Americans: A Documentary History (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1969), p. 495.  back 

19. National Education Association, Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1918), p. 14.  back 

20. See Bernard Bailyn, et al., The Great Republic: A History of the American People (Boston, Brown, 1977), p. 1058. See also Paul L. Murphy, World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties in the United States (New York: Norton, 1979) and The Meaning of Freedom of Speech; First Amendment Freedoms from Wilson to FDR (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972).  back 

21. For example, see Samuel P. Weaver, "The Constitution in Our Public Schools," The Constitutional Review, Vol. XI 1927, pp. 105-112; and "Teaching the Constitution," American Bar Association Journal, Vol. 15, 1929, pp. 580-642.  back 

22. Archibald Cox, The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 33; and Michael Kammen, The Machine That Would Go of Itself; The Constitution in American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1986).  back 

23. Quoted in Minna Post Peyser, Seminar on School Curricula for Instruction In the Bill of Rights (Boulder, Cole.: University of Colorado, 1963), p. 16. See also The Bill of Rights; A Source Book for Teachers (Sacramento, Calif.: California Department of Education, 1967); Isidore Starr, "Teaching the Bill of Rights," Social Education, Vol. 23, Dec. 1959, pp. 373-378; William J. Brennan, Jr., "Teaching the Bill of Rights", Social Education, Vol. 27, May, 1963, pp. 238-43; Robert M. O'Neil, "An Approach to Teaching the Bill of Rights," Teachers College Record, Vol. 65, December 1963, pp. 272-279; Howard E. Wilson, et. al., Teaching the Civil Liberties, Bulletin #16 (Washington, D.C.: National Council for the Social Studies, 1941); and A Program for Improving Bill of Rights Teaching in High Schools: The Report of the Williamstown Workshop (New York: Civil Liberties Educational Foundation, 1962).  back 

24. Earl Warren, "The Law and the Future," Fortune Magazine, November 1955.  back 

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