The Good and the Beautiful’s U.S. Constitution and Government course for grades four to eight teaches through stories, discussion, the study of primary source documents, and activities. The goal of the course is for students to understand the principles that guided the formation of the United States. The Course Book also states:
This course was written to promote the original intent of the Framers of the Constitution and to combat the revisionist history that has overtaken many of the texts covering the Revolutionary Era. For this reason we rely heavily upon primary sources and original writings, letters, and speeches to present facts and promote meaningful discussion (Course Book, p. iv).
This means that the course presents a conservative point of view. It also assumes a Christian audience, as is evidenced by statements such as “Similarly, our Founding Fathers built a nation, inspired by God and protected by a constitution, to bless us with a place of beauty and freedom” (Course Book, p. 8).
The course components are the U.S. Constitution and Government Course Book, a novel titled Mystery on Constitution Island (available in print with a free audiobook with purchase), U.S. Constitution Student Journal, brief audio biographies (accessed online), and a downloadable answer key for some of the journal activities. The publisher highly recommends that each student has a set of erasable gel pens for writing and drawing in their journals. (A set of gel pens is available for purchase on the publisher's website.) Students will also need basic supplies such as glue, tape, paper clips, scissors, file folders, a dictionary, rubber bands, coins and dollar bills, small rocks, and brad fasteners.
Lessons are taught from the 184-page, full-color Course Book by following the complete lesson plans that explain when and how to use all of the resources. The Course Book also contains instructional information and pages to cut out and use for some activities. Much of the instructional information is to be read aloud by parents directly from the Course Book, but I expect that many older students will prefer to read the information on their own.
The course has 32 lessons that should each take about 45 minutes to complete. You can split the lessons in half if the 45-minute sessions are too long for younger students.
The course begins with a discussion about truth, teaching about the value of using primary source documents to determine historical truth. The Student Journal presents questions for students to consider under what they call “the 5 Ds: Distinguishing between types of sources, Digging up trusted sources, Determining author bias, Detecting hidden or underlying agendas, and Discovering context.” This is great for junior high students, but it might be somewhat abstract for younger students. To make it more concrete, the course has students examine the claim that “George Washington took teeth from his slaves, possibly by force, to use in his own dentures” (Course Book, p. 5). It has a facsimile of Washington’s ledger that refers to the purchase of teeth from negroes [sic], the evidence that has been used to assert this claim. The course discusses the evidence and the various ways it might be interpreted, explains the historical context about the creation of dentures in that era, and then presents “The Verdict,” an explanation of what can be proven and what remains conjecture. The verdict concludes that there isn’t enough evidence to either support the claim or totally disprove it. For example, the teeth were paid for, but we don’t know from which negroes they were obtained. It is possible that the teeth were taken forcibly, and slaveowners were paid rather than slaves. But if so, we don’t know whose slaves. It’s also possible that slaves sold their own teeth to earn money. This sort of very specific historical investigation, which is used periodically in the course, is fascinating as well as thought provoking.
The 85-page, black-and-white Student Journal has many notebooking-style pages where students will fill in sentence blanks, color, draw, complete graphic organizers with information, and cut out and construct items. It also contains the text of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and all amendments to the Constitution. These documents are presented bit by bit with questions and activities.
The novel, Mystery on Constitution Island, uses a story about a family from Maine to relate the history of the Constitution indirectly.
Like most courses from The Good and the Beautiful, a wide variety of activities are used to address varied learning styles and to keep things interesting. So, students might listen to a biography through a link on the publisher’s website, discuss a lesson with their parent or teacher, complete a graphic organizer with answers to questions and coloring, read a chapter from the novel, memorize the Preamble to the Constitution, play the Articles of the Constitution Memory Game, create a mini book on the Capitol Building, etc. The variety of learning activities makes it easier to engage students with the content of this course, which is challenging at times.
The content includes much more information than one might expect. For example, there’s an entire lesson on Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which explains the powers granted to Congress. It also teaches about historical events, people, and ideas to provide context for much of the information about the founding documents and amendments. The course includes balanced discussions of slavery, the rights of indigenous people, women’s rights, and other such issues. The lessons acknowledge the errors and imperfections of both our Founding Fathers and their successors while emphasizing their positive accomplishments.
I would judge that both the amount of content and the sometimes controversial ideas presented make this course ideal for students in grades six through eight—students who already have learned some U.S. history and have some context for interpreting some of the information.
Because of the variety, parents should prepare briefly in advance of each lesson to make sure they have the necessary resources on hand and plan their time appropriately.
Note that The Good and the Beautiful publishes a US Constitution and Government Activity Book for students in third grade and below. This book does not correlate with this course, but might be used to occupy younger children with activities that are loosely related.
The Good and the Beautiful’s U.S. Constitution and Government course will require more work and deeper thinking than most Constitution and government resources for students below the high-school level, but it should definitely be worth it. And many parents will appreciate the course’s generally positive view regarding the wisdom and principles that underlie our founding documents.