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Boston University School of Law




This Essay argues that civic education is crucial to remedying what Jack Balkin, in The Cycles of Constitutional Time, diagnoses as “constitutional rot” in the United States. A twenty-first century civic education must meet challenges of polarization and growing diversity and inequality and equip people for forms of democratic participation necessary to the health of constitutional democracy. Some commentators have called the insurrection on January 6, 2021, a “Sputnik moment for teaching civics”—seeing a link between the whitesupremacist/conspiracy-theory mob’s actions and the failure to instill civic virtue in “We the People.” To be capable of spurring national reconciliation and renewal, civic education must reckon with systemic racism and with how to strive to overcome it. This Essay critiques the model of “patriotic education” set out in The 1776 Report as a signal of, rather than a cure for, constitutional rot. The Report’s attacks on “identity politics” and critical race theory as incompatible with “authentic” civics education echo in recent proposed or enacted state and local laws prescribing whether and how teachers may teach students about racism and sexism. A better model of civic education, we argue, is the call for “reflective patriotism” set out in the Educating for American Democracy Initiative. This model combines “love of country with clear-eyed wisdom about our successes and failures in order to chart our path forward.” It helps students to engage with “hard histories” of inclusion and exclusion and to understand how the constitutional order has become more democratic because of the efforts of social movements. It seeks to educate young people “to participate in and sustain our constitutional democracy.” This model offers hope for addressing constitutional rot and preparing students to face present-day challenges



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