Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Donnelly on Constitutional Stories in High School Textbooks

Tom Donnelly, Climenko Fellow, Harvard Law School, has posted two related articles.  The first is Our Forgotten Founders: Reconstruction, Public Education, and Constitutional Heroism, which appeared in the Cleveland State Law Review (2010).  Here's the abstract:
This Article examines a set of constitutional stories that has not been the subject of focused study by legal scholars — the stories we tell our schoolchildren about the Founding and Reconstruction. These stories offer new clues about the background assumptions that elite lawyers, political leaders, and the wider public bring to bear when they consider the meaning of the Constitution. Since the early twentieth century, our leading high school textbooks have tended to praise the Founding generation and canonize certain Founding Fathers, while, at the same time, largely ignoring Reconstruction’s key players and underemphasizing the constitutional revolution these “Forgotten Founders” envisioned (and began to wage). As a result, generations of students have been left with a relatively pristine view of the Founding, while receiving (at best) a “warts-and-all” account of Reconstruction. These disparate accounts (presented for decades in our classrooms) have helped to construct a constitutional culture that reveres the Founding generation, but gives short shrift to their Reconstruction counterparts.
Also posted is A Popular Approach to Popular Constitutionalism: The First Amendment, Civic Education, and Constitutional Change which was published in the Quinnipiac Law Review (2010).  Here's the abstract:
Popular constitutionalists often ignore one of the most important features of popular constitutional culture — the constitutional life of the average citizen. Although these scholars have detailed the key role played by non-judicial actors in promoting non-Article V constitutional change, they have spent little time considering how changes to constitutional meaning become part of our popular constitutional fabric. This Article fills a gap in the literature by examining how popular constitutional meaning is shaped “on the ground,” once the most recent controversy fades and constitutional life returns to normal. To that end, it focuses on a pathway that has been largely ignored by legal scholars — civic education. In particular, this Article scrutinizes the free speech stories presented in our leading high school textbooks. In the end, these popular constitutional narratives are not particularly popular — and have become even less so in recent decades. Furthermore, the patterns of change in these accounts suggest that transformations in our popular constitutional narratives tend to follow periods where key public officials and broad-based social movements promote similar changes to constitutional meaning.

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