As a part of its ongoing focus on online learning resources, the National Constitution Center will host a free online interactive course for high school and college students on “The Constitution during the American Crisis” on April 3 at 1 p.m.
The course, which will feature president and CEO of the National Constitution Center Jeffrey Rosen and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, will discuss the Constitution in times of crisis. They will talk about moments in American history during which constitutional battles emerged amidst moments of crisis including the American Revolution, Civil War, World War II, and the Great Depression, as well as what constitutional issues may arise out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As part of our expanded opportunities for remote learning, I’m thrilled to have Ken Burns join us for a conversation about constitutional battles in moments of crisis,” Rosen said in a statement. “For over 40 years, Ken has served as America’s preeminent historical storyteller, exploring the essential questions of the American experience. This is an exciting chance for students to learn from one of our most inspiring historical thinkers.”
The online interactive course is just the latest installment of the National Constitution Center’s series of free daily online courses for middle school, high school, and college students, engaging them in lively conversations about the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution while they are home as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
The courses are offered via Zoom, with over 4,000 students across the country participating in five sessions so far in the last few weeks. Zoom is a remote conferencing service that can be used with video and/or audio.
“The beauty of this program is that any kid anywhere with a phone, laptop or tablet can join the conversations,” said chief learning officer of the Constitution Center Kerry Sautner. “We try to keep it as open as possible. The programs on Fridays are geared toward high school and college students, but we’re welcoming learners of all ages.
“All of our topics are always around The Constitution. We launched this program with the idea of what are the tools in our wheelhouse that align with what kids in middle and high school should be learning at this point in time during the school year. They do work on the second half of American History from the Reconstruction Civil War time period to present day.
“We were originally going to do the program for eight weeks, but we decided that we wanted to continue to do this for kids across the country so that they can get the knowledge they need to build in middle and high school and college during this time,” she added. “ It’s been great for us to talk to the kids and have this kind of engagement with the kids directly. They have been asking really good questions that are clarifying that adults don’t tend to ask. It’s been fantastic to see their questions and interactions with this program.”
To help assist students with the online course discussions, clips from Burn’s films related to the discussion subject were made to students in advance on Burn’s digital platform UNUM.
A UNUM playlist called “The Constitution in Times of Crisis,” which was specifically created for this webinar, contains clips of Ken Burns on a Divided Nation, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness from Thomas Jefferson (1997), The Declaration of Independence from Thomas Jefferson (1997), A House Divided from The Civil War (1990), The Reconstruction Amendments from The Civil War (1990), The New Deal from The Roosevelts (2014), and Packing the Court from The Roosevelts (2014).
“This is a troubling, tumultuous time for our country — and for young people, in particular. It’s more important now than ever that students have meaningful opportunities to grapple with America’s complicated history,” Burns said in a statement. “I’m excited to partner with Jeff and the NCC for this discussion about our country’s founding documents. I firmly believe that we cannot fully understand our present moment without engaging with the past. I hope this conversation helps students and teachers explore how we got here and how history itself is contested.”
In addition to the webinar, PBS Learning Media will have “Ken Burns in the Classroom” putting together educational resources from all of Burns’ films, which include “Jackie Robinson,” “The Central Park Five,” “Unforgivable Blackness” and “Jazz” among many others.
The National Constitution Center plans to name other historians, scholars and experts who will be a part of its weekly “Friday Fun Day” exchanges for high school and college students.
“The best part about learning about The Constitution is to hear the people’s story; that’s how you learn,” Sautner said. “One of the biggest things that historians are great at is being storytellers.
“We’re really lucky that we’re able to kick this off with an amazing storyteller in Ken Burns. He’s been fantastic with us as an institution and has helped us out with our student programs in the past, so it was a no-brainer to start with him.
“Through this program, I overall just want students to understand that the Constitution Center is fun and that they can connect with it directly,” she added. “I want them to be able to see that The Constitution is in their everyday life.”
For more information on the interactive learning program, including weekly schedules and topics, registration and information on program structure, go to constitutioncenter.org