Since it was published in September 2017, Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today has gotten quite a lot of attention from teachers, librarians, and even students. My favorite question-from-a-kid was lobbed at us (“us” consists of my co-author/husband Sandy Levinson and me) at a bookstore event. Even before we spoke, she asked, “How do you know enough about the Constitution to write a book?” In other words, “Why should I believe you?”
I love that she was questioning authority from the outset. Her teachers have probably taught her to check her sources and make sure they’re credible. Great! Fortunately, she was convinced we’re legit when I told her that Sandy teaches Constitutional Law at the University of Texas and Harvard Law Schools and has written multiple books on the subject.
“It’s good for discussing fairness,” Jones said, adding that teens love to debate. “The book has lots of areas that are hotly contested.”
We witnessed just such a disagreement among teachers while they talked about the book at a gathering for law students and community members. Dan Carpenter, a professor at Harvard, supported the idea of national-level referendums—the ability of citizens to adopt or veto laws without going through Congress—which is discussed in Chapter 7. If the State of Ohio allows it, he asked, why not the federal government?
Shep Melnick, on the other hand, a professor at Boston College, argued that the Constitution should not allow for referendums. Direct democracy “takes power away from elected politicians, who are supposed to balance” the views of their constituents, he said.
These two profs spontaneously demonstrated that Fault Lines promotes what Melnick called “civil political discourse,” which is not common these days. Carpenter said the book is filled with such “teachable moments.”
Jones predicted that students would get into meaningful arguments about the Preamble—how well do we “establish justice,” for example?—if they were asked to grade the Constitution both before they read Fault Lines and then again afterward. We give the Constitution a grade at the end of the book, based on how well we think it meets the goals set out in the Preamble. Teachers often give pre-tests and post-tests. What do you think: Would the Constitution get a better or worse grade after it’s taught?
Teachers can use these and other ideas by looking at Peachtree’s Discussion Guide.
Teachers, librarians, and students can join the conversation right now by registering for our blog at https://faultlinesintheconstitution.com/. One of our posts focuses on three teenagers who are running for governor in Kansas and a thirteen-year-old who is running for the same office in Vermont.
They can also enter our Blog-a-Fault-Line Contest.
First, students should read Fault Lines in the Constitution (Peachtree Publishers/Listening Library) and the authors’ blog (www.faultlinesintheconstitution.com). Then, they write a blog post relating a current event or issue to a topic in the book or to a flaw they see in the US Constitution.
Entries can take a stand, propose alternatives, or raise questions for discussion. They should not be politically partisan.
Two winning blog posts will be featured on www.faultlinesintheconstitution.com, and each winner’s school will receive a free 20-minute Skype visit with co-authors Cynthia and Sanford Levinson!
How to enter
- Teachers or librarians must subscribe to www.faultlinesintheconstitution.com. (Students can subscribe, too.)
- Then, submit student- and teacher-written blog posts for each class that is reading Fault Lines in the Constitution.
- Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 16, 2018.
- Contest is open to students ages 10-18.
- Each blog post should be a maximum of 550 words.
- Winning entries may be edited by Cynthia and Sanford Levinson and by Peachtree Publishers, with edits approved by the student, before publication.
- Two sets of prizes will be awarded—one for students ages 10-13 and one for students ages 14-18.
- Each winner’s school will receive a free 20-minute Skype visit with the book’s co-authors.
- The winners’ blogs will be posted on www.faultlinesintheconstitution.com.