Constitutional Literacy

A Core Curriculum for a Mulitcultural Nation

Constitutional Literacy

Constitutional Conflicts

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Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: Published: October 1993

Law, Pedagogy and Higher Education

Americans agree that education needs reforming in this country--but after that, agreement ceases. The forces of diversity square off against those pushing cultural unity. The call for a national curriculum clashes with a call to decentralize school authority. This book brings a measured voice and fresh perspective to the educational maelstrom. Considering the debate from the perspective of constitutional law, Toni Marie Massaro offers a remarkably fair and lucid account of both sides, of their historical antagonism, and of what is at stake in the contest over the soul of America's schools. At the same time, she moves to break through the current impasse by offering the first principles of a curriculum mindful of all concerns.
Constitutional Literacy plumbs the most powerful arguments for and against national standards to reveal that these curricular battles reflect a broader, culture-wrenching struggle over whether official recognition of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or other differences causes more hostility and divisiveness than tolerance. Central to both conflicts is the tension between our desire for a shared national culture--the melting pot ideal--and our fervent belief in our right to dissent. Thus, Massaro shows, the American constitutional commitment to equality, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion is intensely relevant to the curriculum controversy. Constitutional history and practice reveal a crucial paradox: What binds Americans is their common faith in the right to break away from cultural consensus. As such, a call to a national curriculum is inherently a call to conflict and dissent.
Constitutional principles, past education reform efforts, multicultural critiques of American education, modern studies of students' knowledge of American history and government, and ten years of experience teaching law all come into play in Massaro's analysis, and she concludes that shoring up our store of shared knowledge is a proper national objective. But this common store, she insists, must reflect our cultural and ideological differences lest it distort the reality of American life, past and present. Massaro thus proposes that constitutional principles form the basis of a core curriculum for a multicultural nation.
In a debate often characterized by polemics and polls, this eloquent book presses for a different, more nuanced and responsive public vocabulary about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion. Constitutional literacy, as Massaro defines it here, may be a necessary first step toward this goal.


"A thoughtful and accurate work of scholarship that eschews ideology in discussing pressing needs of American education." — E. D. Hirsch

"Any national curriculum proposal that fails to recognize our pluralism and conflicts along with our common commitments surely will be rejected by many Americans as a distorted portrayal of the national character and experience. That is, public education must repsond both to E. D. Hirsch's sensible claim that we need a common knowledge base in order to communicate and to Stanley Fish's critical observation that "it is difference all the way down." This book outlines the first principles of a national curriculum mindful of both insights." — Toni Marie Massaro, from the introduction

"At last an analysis of educational policy and reform that does not begin with a polarizing and caricaturing polemic. This landmark study illustrates with marvelous concision and admirable clarity the intractable complexity of issues that others have reduced to soundbites." — Stanley Fish


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Toni Marie Massaro is Professor of Law at the University of Arizona College of Law.

Table of Contents Back to Top

1. Introduction

Part I Formal Schooling and the American Paideia

2. The Rise of Formal Schooling and the American Paideia

3. The Modern Call for a National Core Curriculum

4. Critiques of the Call for Coherence

Part II The Constitution and the American Paideia

5. Constitutional Commitments and Conflicts

6. Toward Constitutional Literacy


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Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1364-9
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