The Constitution is Everywhere

2020 was quite a year. The U.S. Constitution was invoked throughout it. In an impeachment trial, rules relating to pandemic response, how to bring about true racial equality, appointing Supreme Court Justices, what to do when a sitting president refuses to concede a lost election, how to navigate an “omnibus bill” passed by Congress, and surely the list goes on. Each of these events both relate to and involve average citizens and thus, our ability to navigate our nation’s founding document directly relates to our ability to properly navigate our current circumstances. It is with this in mind that Thinking Nation integrates Constitutional literacy into all of our DBQs. This way, students can not only think critically about the past, but can be more informed and engaged citizens in our democracy.

Knowing the Constitution and internalizing its principles affects us far more than we realize. When we feel like Congress is at a stand still, where can we go to better understand the origins of this gridlock? The Constitution. When the President takes legislative matters into his own hands, how can we challenge it? Cite the Constitution. When voting rights are infringed upon, what is cited to defend the votes of all Americans? The Constitution. When we feel like free speech or the freedom of the press is being suppressed, where do we turn? The Constitution. We probably even quote or paraphrase the Constitution (unfortunately sometimes out of context) more than we even realize it. It is not only the nation’s founding document, it is a document that guides the political and public lives of that nation’s citizens.

In short, the Constitution is the foundation of American democracy and American citizenship. Therefore, we believe that part of making students engaged and informed citizens is familiarizing them with the Constitution. However, since our historical thinking curriculum stems far beyond the history of the United States, connecting it to the Constitution happens in two distinct ways. 

First, for United States History DBQs, we want to demonstrate that the Constitution is tied to all facets of U.S. History. As soon as an event enters the public realm, the Constitution can be invoked, even if it “does not expressly say” as President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged in his famous First Inaugural Address.

Second, for World History DBQs, we want to demonstrate that the Constitution was not created in a vacuum. It is attached to a much longer history than itself, inspired by the past in what it should and should not be as a governing document. 

In sum, the Constitution is connected to each of the DBQ tasks within this curriculum: as a product of the past, a contextualizing document for U.S. History, and a guide for how to ensure the success of the American experiment. In this way, we hope to simultaneously equip students with a Constitutional literacy as we equip students to think historically. In the end, we hope to cultivate thinking citizens who can reflect on the past, navigate the present, and better our future.