Flower

Classroom Socratic Seminars: Teaching the Art of Dialogue

Statue of Socrates in Trinity College Library

Statue of Socrates in Trinity College Library (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International/(c) Bar Harel, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Information literacy skills are integral to today’s rising students for many reasons, including tendencies toward information overload and the trend of fake news.

The gathering of information begins with a need or desire for an answer to a question. Perhaps that question is posed by a teacher or by the student herself. The next course of action in schools these days is usually to consult a website, or perhaps a book. Information literacy skills support students in navigating this process of finding answers.

But once students are equipped with these vital research skills and find answers to questions, what is the next step toward understanding and integrating the information they find?

Another way to ask that question might be this: How can we turn information gathering into wisdom?

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”—Socrates

Socrates prized questioning over information gathering. He valued the qualities of critical thinking and engagement with a topic. He believed in creating a learning atmosphere of cooperation, dialogue, listening, and further questioning—cornerstones of the Socratic method, and foundations of the Socratic seminar.

Socrates believed that collecting and memorizing information provided little opportunity for true learning. And as learning was best nurtured in a social atmosphere, the lone activity of research provided little support for critical thinking and comprehension.

Navigating and bridging the educational essentials of research and the art of critical thinking may be a challenging journey.

The Socratic seminar is one way to help connect these two elements of a successful classroom.

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”—Socrates

The Socratic seminar provides students with a forum to ask questions and exchange ideas with their peers on a specific topic, event, or piece of literature. Students come prepared to engage in discussion with fellow students, having read assigned materials, conducted appropriate research, made personal connections, and formulated questions to bring to the seminar.

The teacher becomes the seminar’s facilitator, keeping the students on topic and asking open-ended questions when necessary. The goal is to allow students to practice the art of true dialogue. Emphasis is placed on the value of listening and respecting everyone’s questions and opinions. Socratic seminars are not debates; rather, they are cooperative conversations geared toward critical thinking and discovery.

Interested in learning more about this teaching and learning tool? Check out this Socratic Seminar Strategy Guide and this Seminar Discussion Rubric, and select from these Socratic seminar lesson plans on literary texts, immigration, and human gene editing.

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”—Socrates

Bring on the (Educational and Fun) Song Parodies!

Musical Notes

Musical Notes (License: Public Domain, PublicDomainPictures.Net)

Song parodies are quite popular these days. A search of “song parodies” on the Web returns more than 30,000 videos—and some of these song-parody creators have quite the following. Shows like Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Fallon Tonight, or the Academy Awards boldly use song parodies to get laughs and make statements. Weird Al Yankovich, who caused quite a musical stir in the 1980s with his song parodies and satirical music videos, is still the biggest name in the genre.

And then…there are the educational song parodies [insert students laughing and/or groaning—it’s usually a mixture of both].

I’ve been in classrooms and have watched students watching educational song parodies.

Coming from 1980s classroom culture, which embraced video watching as a fun and wasteful day, I was a bit skeptical.

But the classroom came alive, and I witnessed learning happening.

Each of the educational song-parody videos I saw in the classroom—or heard about from my daughter and watched with her later—was created by an educator somewhere in the world singing or rapping (sometimes pretty badly) about a topic. (And let me just say that any teacher willing to put time and effort into creating an educational song parody and accompanying video gets an “A” in my book.)

So…we are in the classroom, the lights are dimmed, the screen goes down, the music and video come on and…education begins. The students snicker, groan, laugh, and sing along. The song parody ends, discussion concludes the lesson. Class is over, and students leave the classroom singing the song.

As I said, learning happened. And it was fun.

If you check some out, I think you will understand why. My daughter’s favorite is “Ancient Mesopotamia Song By Mr. Nicky.”  Mr. Nicky has recorded other World History song parodies, but this one is particularly enjoyable (and quite catchy). Another favorite of hers is “Five Themes of Geography,” by James B White. He calls it “hip-hop-tabulous.”

Math facts have made their way into educational song parodies, as in the song-parody compilation “Multiplication Mash Up – A Fun Way to Learn Your Multiplication Facts!” by McCarthy Math Academy . And be sure to check out this charming performance of “Perfect Squares (Dark Horse Parody, Katy Perry) Songs For School” by Songs for School.

Want some more? Web sites catering to teachers, such as TeachHub and Mental Floss, have compiled lists of the best educational song parodies: Top 12 Educational Music Videos and 19 Videos That Make Learning Fun, respectively. TeacherTube provides a search engine to find more educator-approved educational song parodies.

And if you’re thinking of getting in to the song-parody business, you’ll need to know how to write one. How to Write a Song Parody, complete with graphics, should cover it.

Song parodies are so popular that teachers are incorporating them into their class curriculum. Curious about how that would work? Check out this Student Parody Assignment. Wondering how a song-parody project fits into educational standards? To give you an idea, I found this handy Civil War Song Parodies assignment page from the Pennsylvania Standards Aligned System site.

I’m going to end with a personal note–My daughter has written and performed two song parodies so far in her World History class. She was so proud of the finished work and loved the entire process. She and her partner called their second song parody “This Is Greece,” sung to the tune of “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. If you know the song and can carry a tune, try it out–I’ve included the first verse and chorus below:

The Greek world is on a peninsula
In the meditteranean sea
You dream about myths
About every single god
Just look at those city-states
With history, art, and drama
Such architecture around you
What more could you be wishin’ for

This is Greece
This is Greece
Oh my, it’s better
Down here we’re voting
Take it from me!
Up in Sparta they fight all day
Out in the mountains they train away
While we’re learning
Full-tme democracy
This is Greece!

Happy song-parodying!

 

Mindful Breathing in the Classroom

Woman Breathing and Meditating (by Joellepearson) gerokee
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Breathe in–I know I am breathing in. Breathe out–I know I am breathing out. Breathe in–I know I am breathing in. Breathe out–I know I am breathing out. Breathe in–I know I am breathing in. Breathe out–I know I am breathing out.

How many times a day are you aware of your breathing?

Our breath connects our bodies with our minds.

Try the above exercise for a minute and feel the truth of that statement.

Breathing is a physical action that occurs instinctively…over and over and over and over and over again. Our breath connects us to life. Without it, we do not bring oxygen into our lungs, our blood cells do not absorb it and transport this essential element to our organs and other cells, our bodies no longer sustain themselves and their animation.

Our breath connects us to each other.

Imagine the infinity sign: You breathe out, I breathe in. I breathe out, you breathe in.

Breathing is integral to many religious and spiritual practices. Beautiful philosophies about the spiritual impact of breathing abound. Some spiritual leaders, including Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn, believe that taking control of one’s breath will lead to healing and enlightenment. Proper breathing is part of a practice called “mindfulness” in the Buddhist tradition.

Mindful breathing is an integral part of mindfulness practice.

Imagine a classroom in which the teacher and all of the students are breathing together, aware of their breath. They are in control of their bodies and minds in a way that others, who not aware of their breathing, are not. Because they are in control of their bodies and minds, these students are calm, open, balanced, ready to engage, prepared to learn.

There have been many studies conducted to prove the beneficial impact of controlled breathing on students and in the classroom. Check out this one from the University of Ontario, which concluded that the classroom practice of mindful breathing improves academic success. Other studies show the same, and also document other favorable effects, such as reduced stress, improved social behavior, and even increased feelings of happiness.

So learning to breathe, or more accurately, learning to breathe properly, is a life skill that is taught with enormously successful results in classrooms. Deep belly breathing, paying attention to one’s breath, following the breath in and out, practicing movement (such as yoga) while breathing, incorporating guided meditations while breathing, using sound to punctuate the breath—these are all ways educators incorporate mindful breathing into their classrooms.

Try the super-simple breathing technique at the top of this post again. Breathe in–I know I am breathing in. Breathe out–I know I am breathing out. Breathe low into your lungs, exercising your diaphragm and expanding your belly. Can you feel the power in your breath? When I am anxious, stressed, feeling out of control, or generally not OK, I feel my breath turn shallow and somewhat erratic. Mindful breathing brings me back to myself, back to my center physically and emotionally.

I am not an educator, nor a yoga or breath-work practitioner. But I found a few very useful resources that can help any teacher—or anyone, really—get started with proper breathing techniques.

This five-minute guided breathing meditation from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center encourages listeners to sit, listen to and feel their bodies, and breathe. Five minutes can do a world of wonder for anxiety and other stress-related issues.

The Mindful Classroom is an educator’s blog about mindfulness in the classroom. This post on deep breathing discusses why this practice is so important to classroom efficacy. It provides a script for teachers to guide students in breathing and offers tips and techniques in leading healthy breathing exercises.

Teacher Meena Srinivasan’s book Teach, Breathe, Learn offers guidance to teachers on ways to bring mindfulness into the classroom. Breathing is one of the tools she utilizes to create a calm and compassionate classroom.

Let’s all learn to breathe. Not just for our students, but for ourselves.

SIRS Discoverer Spotlight of the Month: Winter Holidays Around the World

The winter season is here! For many people, the winter season means cold, wind, and snow. Trees may be bare and the ground could be icy. The sun may set sooner, delivering darkness to our late afternoons. Whether you live in a place that’s cold, hot, or somewhere in between, winter means lots of fun holidays and celebrations around the world.

Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree
Image by Susanne Nilsson via flickr is licensed under CCA-SA 2.0 Generic

These holidays may be associated with religious beliefs, spiritual customs, past events or cultural practices. This diversity makes each holiday very unique. Just think about all of the ways holidays are celebrated! Traditions may include festivals, lights, singing, decorations, parades, gift-giving, prayer, fairs, fasts or feasts. Each holiday has its own symbols, too, such as red lanterns for Chinese New Year, pine trees for Christmas, menorahs for Hanukkah, ears of corn for Kwanzaa, and Yule logs for the winter solstice.

Hanukkah Candles

Hanukkah Candles
Credit: Public Domain

Wonderful holidays full of light, warmth, family, and love have been created out of these cold, dark days. The Jewish holiday Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the miracle of light with family and communal rituals, including the lighting of a Menorah candle each night for eight nights. Christmas, a Christian holiday honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, is observed with family gatherings, songs, and trees decorated with lights representing the Star of Bethlehem. Some families take part in a Kwanzaa ceremony, which incorporates candles, music, food, and blessings. A beautiful luminary can be part of the Mexican observance of Las Posadas.

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa
Image by soulchristmas via flickr is licensed under CCA-SA 2.0 Generic

Visit SIRS Discoverer’s Spotlight of the Month and learn more about winter observances and holidays and the many ways that they light and warm our winter months.

It’s Native American Heritage Month: Standing Rock Sioux Reservation

Dakota Access Pipeline Native American protest site, on Highway 1806 near Cannonball, North Dakota.

Dakota Access Pipeline Native American protest site, on Highway 1806 near Cannonball, North Dakota, August 15th, 2016. (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

It is Native American Heritage Month.

What does this mean? How do we commemorate? I’ve seen signs in schools announcing this yearly celebration, and I’ve perused displays in libraries. I’ve noted local museums’ native-themed exhibits. Classrooms may spend time learning about the history of Native Americans. Young students may take part in creating a native-themed craft; older students may be tasked with researching an eminent Native American or the history of a Native American tribe. Adults may seek out drum circles, powwows, native chanting experiences, and herbal medicine discussions.

This year, perhaps above all else, we can honor Native American Heritage Month by learning about and discussing the current protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.

The tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, at the center of this controversy, came together at Standing Rock to oppose the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which would cut across the land of the Standing Rock Sioux and possibly threaten their water supply. Other Native American tribes and many of non-native descent joined in the protests. Large-scale demonstrations began a few months ago, in August, when activists blocked the pipeline’s construction sites at Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The protests have grown and have become increasingly violent. But the opposition remains strong.  In a September press release, Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman David Archambault II stated that the pipeline will “destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts.”

The Dakota Access pipeline, approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July, would tap into the Bakken Formation, an oil deposit that spans five U.S. states and into Canada. It could provide more than 7 billion barrels of oil to the United States, reducing the country’s reliance on foreign oil. Energy Transfer Partners, a Texas-based natural gas and propane company, claims that the pipeline would help the states that are impacted, providing up to 12,000 construction jobs and bringing more than $150 million in revenue.

As Americans, it is important that we acknowledge the events and people at Standing Rock. As researchers, teachers, and students, it is also important that we explore both sides of the issue. SIRS Knowledge Source and its Leading Issues feature, which includes such topics as Keystone Pipeline and Indigenous Peoples, explores the controversy.

For further research…

Check out this timeline of events prior to and since the first physical collision of interests in August.

Get an overview of the viewpoints of proponents and opponents.

Consider the implications of those who are funding the pipeline.

Read about the history the land of the Standing Rock Sioux.

Visit SIRS Knowledge Source’s and SIRS Discoverer’s Native American Heritage Month’s Spotlight features.

Adding an A to STEM…Full STEAM Ahead!

STEAM Quote

As professionals in the field of education, we all know the term STEM. This is a movement that exposes students to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It promotes the teaching of these disciplines’ theories and content with a hands-on learning approach. The goal is not only to provide students with a deep, multidisciplinary understanding but to foster understanding of STEM concepts in the real world.

If a letter were added to the STEM acronym, what would the best choice be? In this video, Harvard University education professor Howard Gardner has a definitive answer: “I have no hesitation in saying we need to add the letter A….An education devoid of arts…is an empty, half-brain kind of education.”

To the point.

In that same video, Yale Child Study Center lecturer Erika Christakis isolates perhaps the core reason that adding the Arts to STEM education is so important: “The arts hav[e] something really essential to say about the human condition, just as science does.”

Let’s First Look at STEM.

We are humans living in a rapidly developing society. In no point in recorded human history has there been as many innovative technologies bringing people together. The disciplines represented in STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—are integral to the technologies we use every day—and the tools we will use tomorrow. As stated in the State Idaho Department of Education’s What Is STEM Education?, “Math is the language; Science and Engineering are the processes for thinking; all this leads to Innovation.”

Young people—students—have known no other world. It is in all of our best interest to teach, encourage, and support them in a STEM environment.

So Why STEAM?: Arts and the Human Condition

Knowing and understanding the significance of STEM in our schools may not, at first glance, lead us to recognize the significance of adding an A to this multidisciplinary approach to education.

So we must ask: Exactly what do the arts add to our lives?

Consider what the arts encompass. Music, painting, sculpting, theater, literature, architecture, fashion, and so much more. Just as new technologies bring us together and help create our shared experiences, the arts span time to connect us with each other and ourselves. Consider briefly Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. How many people have viewed this painting across the centuries and have been moved by its beauty and brilliance? Across time and cultures, Mona Lisa created a shared, communal experience that impacted 16th-century viewers in much the same way is it does today.  An encounter that becomes both a personal and shared experience.

In fact, at the foundation of all artistic endeavors are creativity, personal experience, and shared experience. It is the same with newfound technologies. Why is this important? Consider what Mae Jemison—an astronaut, doctor, art collector, and dancer—had to say on the topic in this transcript of her 2009 TED Talk on teaching arts and science:

“The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin, even, or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather they’re manifestations of the same thing….The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity. It’s our attempt as humans to build an understanding of the universe, the world around us….[S]cience provides an understanding of a universal experience, and arts provides a universal understanding of a personal experience.”

STEAM in Action

Creativity, personal experience, and shared experience are evident in stories and videos of STEAM in action. When creative writing is incorporated as the A in this Science of Superheroes Lesson, students are able to make connections between the science of flight—which was the STEM component of the lesson—and creating a superhero character and story, which was the A component of the lesson. The video highlights the many layers of involvement and collaboration STEAM can engender.

Math concepts, such as number lines, counting, and fractions, are merged seamlessly with interactive theater play in Staging STEM, a video that also conveys the joy students attain when engaging in STEAM activities. The personal and shared experiences, generated by both personal and communal creativity, become essential to and integrated with the learning experience.

Education should be exciting, engaging, uplifting, and inspiring…and it should provide an outlet for creativity and both personal and shared experiences. The multidisciplinary STEAM educational model certainly is an approach worth exploring.

Explore more about STEM and STEAM in this infographic from the University of Florida:

STEAM, not just STEM Education Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Libraries Serving Spanish-Speaking Communities

A library sign in English with Spanish translation, in a Texas library (Un letrero en inglés y español en una biblioteca en Texas).. The city has a large number of Spanish speakers moving in so the public library now has Spanish books and also some Spanish signs. (Pete Unseth, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license) (via Wikimedia Commons)

A library sign in English with Spanish translation, in a Texas library (Un letrero en inglés y español en una biblioteca en Texas). The city is serving its large Spanish-speaking population. (Pete Unseth, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license) (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Spanish language is an integral part of the American experience.

According to the 2011 Pew Research Center’s American Community Survey, Spanish is the main language spoken in more than 37 million homes. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, Hispanic Americans comprised 17% of the country’s population–53 million people.

How do the more than 16,000 public libraries across the United States serve this culturally rich community?

There are numerous ways that public libraries can find the fiscal support, cultural materials, and language expertise necessary to successfully serve their diverse Spanish-language-speaking communities. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated each year in the U.S. from September 15 through October 15, let’s take a look at some.

Guidelines for Library Services to Spanish-Speaking Library Users

The American Library Association offers a comprehensive overview to librarians and media specialists who seek to initiate services to Spanish-language-speaking populations or to build upon their existing resources. Visit Guidelines for Library Services to Spanish-Speaking Library Users for an overview of collection development and selection; cultural programming and outreach; the value of personnel training and development; and the significance of collection placement.

REFORMA

The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking (REFORMA) was established in 1986 with the purpose of providing educational, charitable, and programming outreach to Hispanic American librarians and to libraries wanting to serve the Spanish-speaking population.

The REFORMA site provides extensive online resources for libraries, including a Spanish-English dictionary, Spanish-language brochures and flyers, and storytime materials. The organization offers awards and recognition to libraries and holds events and conferences on Spanish-language literature and in support of outreach to Spanish-language communities.

SOL

Spanish in Our Libraries (SOL), although no longer being published, is now an archive of valuable information. This electronic newsletter helped to connect librarians and media specialists serving their libraries’ Spanish-speaking communities.

PLUS

Public Libraries Using Spanish (PLUS) is a growing searchable database that provides libraries with documents necessary for any library to serve its Spanish-language communities. Find printable card applications, signs, programming information, and more, written in Spanish with English translations. The site’s owner is accessible by email and asks for users to share their comments, experiences, and document submissions.

WebJunction’s SLO Program

WebJunction is an online learning community for librarians. The organization offers knowledge and support in many areas of librarianship: leadership and communication, staff training, library services, technology, and programming.

One facet of WebJunction is its Spanish Language Outreach (SLO) Program. Case studies, webinars, and materials (such as an action plan template and checklists) assist libraries in creating, maintaining, and growing Spanish language collections, services and programming, and outreach. Text to the site’s Spanish Language Outreach Workshop Curriculum–including a PowerPoint presentation and a resource packet–offers in-depth instruction and support to librarians and media specialists.

These sites are only some of the resources available to public libraries serving, or looking to serve, their Spanish language communities–communities that are integral to the advancement of our nation and its libraries.

SIRS Knowledge Source and SIRS Discoverer commemorate National Hispanic Heritage Month each year by spotlighting the history of and the news, events, and issues affecting this vibrant and diverse population. Find articles, timelines, photos, and more.

Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month

We are in the midst of Hispanic American Heritage Month! There is so much to know about the Hispanic presence in the United States and its impact on the country’s development and its continued growth. Populations of Hispanic descent have thrived here since 1565, when Spanish explorers founded the Florida city of St. Augustine. That’s 42 years before English explorers arrived in Jamestown. America has always been Hispanic!

While it’s important to delve into the history of the Hispanic American community and meet prominent Hispanic Americans, it is also valuable to learn about from where Hispanic Americans have descended. For example, did you know that the beautiful South American country of Bolivia, ruled by the Inca Empire for centuries, was colonized by Spain in the 1500s? And that the mountainous Central American country of Honduras was once part of the Mayan civilization? Perhaps you can challenge your students to pick a country, research its history and cultures, and present their findings.

Mayan Altar in Honduras

Mayan Altar in Honduras
Image by Dennis Jarvis via flickr is licensed under CCA-SA 2.0 Generic

Or, direct their research with questions so that they can research for answers! Maybe you want to try a history question like “What Central American country was home to the Olmec civilization thousands of years ago? What other ancient civilizations lived in this country and what impact did they have?” Or a cultural question like “What is a quinceanera? It originates from the Spanish word quince, which means what?”

Quinceañera

Quinceañera
Image by Razi Machay via flickr is licensed under CCA-SA 2.0 Generic

This information and much more is available on SIRS Discoverer. During the month of October our Spotlight of the Month highlights Hispanic American Heritage Month. Not only can your students learn about the histories and cultures of Hispanic countries, but they can meet Hispanic American authors, poets, politicians, musicians, civil-rights activists, and more. There’s so much to learn about the United States and the amazing people who compose its beautiful diversity.

SIRS Discoverer: Celebrate the Constitution

We celebrate the U.S. Constitution each year during the week of September 17, in honor of its signing on September 17, 1787. The Constitution’s significance on U.S. government and laws is momentous and central to our rights and responsibilities as citizens.

Do today’s young students understand the importance of the U.S. Constitution? Do they know where and when it was written? Can they name a few of its creators and signers? Can they name and define any of the constitutional amendments? Would they understand how the Constitution and its amendments impact our daily lives?

In honor of Constitution Week, SIRS Discoverer’s September Spotlight of the Month highlights the product’s constitutional content and provides students an easy way to research the Constitution and its amendments. Perhaps you and your students could celebrate Constitution Week with a fun research assignment. There are several amendments out of the 27 that seem to be cited most often. How about asking your students to choose one and learn more about it?

By Constitutional Convention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Constitutional Convention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The 1st amendment establishes our right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. What does this mean for us? We can worship as we choose, we can express new and different ideas with no repercussions, and news outlets can report on what is happening in our country and our world. Question: Before the Revolutionary War, did colonial America have freedom of the press?

The 2nd amendment, which protects the right to own guns and use them for self-defense, may be the most debated of all of the constitutional amendments. Question: Where did the concept of “the right to bear arms” originate?

Following the Civil War, the 14th amendment was ratified. It legally protects the citizenship rights all Americans, regardless of race, and details those who are entitled to U.S. citizenship. Question: What “codes” did some Southern states create in response to the 14th amendment?

The 15th amendment guarantees people of all races the right to vote. It was the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments, which were adopted after the Civil War. Question: What state first ratified the 15th amendment?

The 19th amendment gives women the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, helped to draft the amendment. Question: What two women pioneered the women’s suffrage movement by organizing a meeting in Seneca Falls?

Visit SIRS Discoverer during the month of September. Your students will definitely learn some facts about the Constitution. Who knows, you may learn something, too!

Our Founding Fathers Said That?

Constitutional Convention (Granger Collecton, NY/courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy of SIRS Discoverer)

The United States Constitution is considered to be “the supreme law of the land.” And it has been for more than two centuries. No small feat for a document uniting the ideas of nationhood, independence, defense, general welfare, and all sorts of liberties.

This document certainly was not created alone.

Many people contributed to the development, shaping, and writing of the U.S. Constitution. Those who had the most significant impact on its outcome are considered to be the U.S. Founding Fathers (remember that this was the 18th century–women, such as Abigail Adams, influenced the Constitution, but through their husbands…a blog post for another day).

With all of the hullabaloo around the upcoming presidential election, and with all of the recent discussions on and controversies around gun rights and women’s rights and immigrants’ rights and LGBTQ rights and criminal rights and voting rights…, let’s take a listen to what some of our Founding Fathers have said about the U.S. Constitution.

First U.S. President George Washington (Gilbert Stuart/U.S. Dept. of the Interior/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy SKS)

 

“The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.”–George Washington (1732-1799)

George Washington is considered by many to be the “father of the country.” He was, after all, the nation’s first President. He served that office from 1789 to 1797. Prior to that, he was a general in the Revolutionary War and is considered to have played a pivotal role in leading the American Army to victory.

Our first president was known as a man of few and select words, as embodied by the above quote. He thoughtfully deemed the U.S. Constitution a “guide” to be followed, not the zenith or the ultimate truth.

Third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson (Rembrandt Peale/U.S. Dept. of the Interior/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy SKS)

 

“Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”–Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States (1801-1809), was a terrible speaker but a terrific writer. He wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, and his input was invaluable to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

Jefferson was a lawyer, diplomat, naturalist, architect, educator, statesman, musician, inventor, scientist, geographer…he was fluent in many languages…he supported women’s rights, free public education, and a free library system. All in all, a brilliant and cultured man. He knew government had to be kept in check, and that the general population was essential to maintaining this stability: “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government–lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”–Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

Patrick Henry was never president, but he certainly made a name for himself as an orator, lawyer, and politician. He served as first and sixth governor of Virginia, and was instrumental in opposing the Stamp Act of 1765. In fact, he may be most famous for saying, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

This guy liked freedom.

Henry’s political priorities always aligned with affirming the general population’s rights and well-being. He was consistently against the idea of a strong central government. He initially opposed the idea of a U.S. Constitution, fearing it would jeopardize individual freedoms and state sovereignty. He only became an ardent supporter of the Constitution once the Bill of Rights was added.

Henry wanted the U.S. Constitution to serve as an “instrument” for the people, providing them with the means necessary to maintain their freedoms and hold their government accountable.

Fourth U.S. President James Madison (John Vanderlyn/U.S. Dept. of the Interior/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy SKS)

 

“Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”–James Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison, fourth president of the United States (1809-1817), is considered to be the “father of the Constitution.” He had helped write Virginia’s State Constitution, the model for the U.S. Constitution. Both are grounded in his belief that the United States’ potential would be “derived from the superior power of the people.”

Madison predicted a national crisis if no Constitution was drafted. His advocacy for creating a U.S. Constitution paved the way for the Constitutional Congress.

He understood the importance of understanding and interpreting the context in which the document was written. As the context of the living documents changes, should the Constitution?

“It is every American’s right and obligation to read and interpret the Constitution for himself.”–Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Benjamin Franklin’s words could not be more timely.

Franklin–statesman, writer, scientist, philosopher, inventor, political theorist, printer–understood that true freedom in this nation began with freedom to choose for oneself.

Franklin’s highest political office was Minister to France. But as the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, he had participated in significant events in American history, such as the signing of the peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, and the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

As a participant in the signing of the Constitution, Franklin shared an observation that all hoped would be a symbol for the new country. Upon seeing the sun sitting atop George Washington’s chair at the closing of the Constitutional Convention, Franklin said: “I have the happiness to know it is a rising sun and not a setting sun.”

What are your students’ thoughts about the U.S. Constitution? Find resources in SKS and SIRS Discoverer and join us throughout the month of September as we celebrate National Constitution Month.