When the Founding generation talked about the pursuit of happiness they had specific ideas in mind– a tranquility or contentment–the ability to look back on one’s life and feel satisfied with one’s decisions and behavior. To that generation, living a virtuous life was key to human happiness.
Kelley Brown, The Pursuit of Happiness:
The upcoming Emerging America course on teaching the US Constitution is for teachers at all grade levels, from Kindergarten through through 12th grade. This blog post is a brief dive into the power of teaching deep, big ideas to a range of ages, and to the value of inviting teachers from primary grades and upper grades to think together as they plan for their own classrooms.
Kelley Brown, the course architect and lead instructor wrote:
When the Founding generation talked about the pursuit of happiness they had specific ideas in mind–a tranquility or contentment–the ability to look back on one’s life and feel satisfied with one’s decisions and behavior. To that generation, living a virtuous life was key to human happiness. When the founding generation talked about happiness, they were talking about being good, not feeling good.
The foundations of virtue and civic dispositions are often left out of our teaching of the Constitution [...]. This course will seek to explore the idea of teaching civics and the US Constitution through the three foundational pillars of government: institutions, virtue, and civic dispositions.
At first reading, this historically informed introduction introduces a graduate level course that promises the teachers who enroll a nuanced, innovative exploration of both the meaning of the right to the Pursuit of Happiness and ways of engaging students in that same exploration.
Why it is this course intended not only to AP History and Government teachers, but for primary grade and middle school teachers of all students?
Kelley Brown is well known in Massachusetts, as each year she guides a fresh crop of high schoolers in developing a deep knowledge of the Constitution in preparation for the We the People competition. Her students respond with commitment and excitement as they rise to the challenge.
What is less widely known, at least so far, is that Kelley Brown is half of the writing team behind the iCivics “Private i History Detectives” elementary social studies curriculum. Together with elementary teacher and specialist Laurie Risler, Brown has developed engaging primary source-based lessons for Kindergarten through fifth grade that include topics for first-graders such as “What Makes a Good Leader?” and “How Do Communities Make Good Decisions?” with historically based primary sources. Risler and Brown’s lessons guide third graders through an exploration of the Declaration of Independence, and fourth graders to investigate “Why Do We Have So Many Governments?”
In short, Brown has been thinking about how to teach civic institutions, virtues, and dispositions throughout the K-12 grade span, not just at a superficial level, but in a way that brings students into full engagement with big ideas. The teaching ideas for Kindergarten have been used to warm up and focus discussions of high school (and college) classes, and taking the best of different grade level’s approaches has led to exciting teaching.
We are truly excited about this K-12 approach to the Constitution, and look forward to seeing the ideas that come from this year’s offering: The Constitution and the Pursuit of Happiness: Institutions, Virtue and Civic Dispositions.
Private i History Detectives was made possible by grants from the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program. It began at Emerging America as "History's Mysteries." Content created and featured in partnership with the TPS program does not indicate an endorsement by the Library of Congress.