Once upon a time, there was a student who argued that points could not be deducted from his inaccurate research paper because, “I have the right to free speech.” That fairy tale did not end happily ever after. Students today are eager to demand their rights and express their opinions. Many have difficulty understanding that everyone has equal freedoms, even those with opposing view points. Their questions are telling:
It would be easy to dismiss these questions. Rarely do students think through the issues or their impacts on all Americans. Each question stems from minimal understanding and memorization of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They memorized the amendments using songs or quirky abbreviations that lack intent or detail. Students today need to practice applying concepts to real world situations.
Creating assignments that incorporate historical background allows for analysis and including current events is a challenge. As instructors we strive to create the perfect class - the one where we lecture brilliantly and then engage our students in a lively discussion where everyone participates. Creating that lecture on a daily basis takes time and resources. The Bill of Rights is a complicated topic with no concrete right or wrong answers. The true challenge is to create a historical perspective lecture, sprinkled with the changes that have occurred over time that stimulates that lively discussion.
The National Archives and other organizations have created wonderful websites to provide faculty with a vast number of free resources. These include:
Congress Creates the Bill of Rights: a webpage with videos and links to four free eBooks, Get the Background, Go Inside the First Congress, Amendments in Process and Join the Debate. Each of these provides primary sources, critical thinking questions and assignments that can be tailored to meet any academic level.
Putting the Bill of Rights to the Test is a free workbook provided by the National Archives. The workbook explores a key freedom guaranteed in the document along with primary sources. Students are provided with thought provoking reading questions and discussion questions. The primary sources are long enough to facilitate discussions or be short assignments. The book is designed to promote critical thinking without providing clear cut answers for students.
Teaching American History is a website that provides viewers with an interactive entitled The Origin and Politics of the Bill of Rights. The interactive allows searches based on primary sources and even provides a downloaded spreadsheet for analysis.
We all want to teach that perfect course, it’s our fairy tale. Join our conversation and tell us your favorite student question and how you teach the Bill of Rights.
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