Center launches interactive effort on the Constitution

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Members of the Philadelphia Continental Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution grab a bite to eat before a preamble reading at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 2015. (DAVID MAIALETTI/Staff Photographer)

The National Constitution Center launched an educational revolution Thursday - a new, digital way of teaching the founding document on the 228th anniversary of its signing in Philadelphia.

The center worked with the College Board - the nonprofit organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement courses in high schools - to develop an online interactive Constitution, allowing students to explore the history of amendments as well as the contemporary debates about constitutional issues. The College Board did not participate in the development of the project, but is working to make it widely available.

"It's obviously a polarized time," said Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, who cited the project as a way for citizens and students to engage thoughtfully in constitutional debate - and to see how much common ground there is, as demonstrated by the experts who contributed to the project from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

Some of the nation's foremost scholars of constitutional law contributed to the project, including Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law; Akhil Amar, a distinguished professor at Yale Law School; and Gordon Wood, a history professor at Brown University. Scholars were chosen by the conservative Federalist Society and the progressive American Constitution Society.

Rosen said he had been struck by how readily citizens and scholars respond "when you bring both sides together. . . . It's striking to see how much they agreed about."

The tool, which Rosen demonstrated in a presentation Thursday, could be "transformative," he said.

The College Board is integrating the project into the course material for AP classes, including U.S. history, U.S. government and politics, and comparative government and politics. Students who take AP classes can receive college credit for those classes in some cases.

"America's founding documents, and the Constitution in particular, have inspired a great conversation about freedom, justice, and human dignity that continues to this day. It is a conversation that we need more students to be prepared to join through the careful study of these remarkable documents," College Board president David Coleman said in a statement.

Coleman spoke at the event about integrating founding documents into the SAT and other standardized tests, stressing the importance of having students engage with them.

"It's easy to say to students that each word matters. But you can show students that each word matters with the Constitution," Coleman said.

The project, which has been in the works for about a year, will continue to add new features, according to a spokesperson for the Constitution Center.

Funding for the project was provided by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The interactive Constitution can be found online at constitutioncenter.org/constitution

mnussbaum@philly.com

215-854-4521 @MatthewNussbaum

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