The National Constitution Center is hosting a series of online constitutional classes this fall for students and learners of all ages. Last Friday, Center President Jeffrey Rosen and Chief Learning Officer Kerry Sautner were joined by David Coleman, CEO of the College Board. They discussed the founders, their flaws, and whether they still matter today. They also dove into the ideas of classical philosophers like Aristotle and Plato—and how their ideas influence the continual pursuit of a more perfect union.
Our schedule of constitutional classes for the 2020-2021 school year is available here: https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/online-civic-learning-opportunities. Check out all of our online educational resources: https://constitutioncenter.org/learn.
Jeffrey Rosen is the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization devoted to educating the public about the U.S. Constitution. Rosen is also professor of law at The George Washington University Law School and a contributing editor of The Atlantic.
Dr. Kerry Sautner, Ed.D. is the chief learning officer at the National Constitution Center. In her current role, she oversees all aspects of the public’s on-site experience and leads the Center’s national education efforts. Through various platforms, Sautner drives the development and distribution of programs and online offerings that make the Center the nation’s leading constitutional education resource. Sautner also leads the development of interactive programs for students, teachers, and the public; theatrical productions; educational videos; and standards-based classroom materials available on-site and online.
David Coleman is Chief Executive Officer of the College Board where he guides the overall direction and strategic priorities of the organization, with the goal of ensuring all students in our care are prepared to successfully complete college and career training. With a team of educators, David founded the Grow Network, an organization committed to making assessment results truly useful for teachers, parents and students. McGraw-Hill acquired the Grow Network in 2005. In 2007, David left McGraw-Hill and cofounded Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit that assembles educators and researchers to design actions based on evidence to improve student outcomes. David left Student Achievement Partners in the fall of 2012 to become president of the College Board. David was named to the 2013 Time 100, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He has been recognized as one of Time magazine’s “11 Education Activists for 2011” and was one of the NewSchools Venture Fund Change Agents of the Year for 2012.
This episode was engineered by Greg Scheckler and produced by Jackie McDermott, Scott Bomboy, Kerry Sautner, and Tanaya Tauber.
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This transcript may not be in its final form, accuracy may vary, and it may be updated or revised in the future.
Jackie McDermott: [00:00:00] Welcome to Live at the National Constitution Center, the podcast sharing live constitutional conversations hosted by the National Constitution Center. I'm Jackie McDermott, the show's producer. The NCC is hosting a series of online constitutional classes this fall for students and learners of all ages. Last Friday, NCC President Jeffrey Rosen and Chief Learning Officer Kerry Sautner were joined by David Coleman, CEO of the College Board. They discussed the founders, their flaws, and whether they still matter today. They also dove into the ideas of classical philosophers, like Aristotle and Plato, and how their ideas influenced the pursuit of a more perfect union today. Here's Jeff to get the conversation started.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:00:45] Welcome, friends, and hi, David. Thank you so much for joining today.
David Coleman: [00:00:49] Thank you.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:00:50] Friends, I am so looking forward to our conversation with David Coleman. we are going to talk about why it's important and exciting to study the founding documents and the conversations they inspired. We're gonna talk about the value of dissent, and we're gonna talk about what we can learn from the Ancient Greeks and Romans. And these are all topics that David has thought so deeply about, so let's just plunge right in. David, this is something we both care a whole lot about. Why is it important to study the founding documents and the conversations they inspire?
David Coleman: [00:01:21] There are a few things in life... As a CEO of the College Board, we oversee, for example, the entirety of the AP program which is 38 different courses and subjects ranging from chemistry and physics to the arts to the humanities and history and literature, and are responsible as well for- for the- for the SAT and similar exams. And that can sound like a lot, but there are certain things, that if you learn them very well, repay almost everywhere.
An example of this would be a core of mathematics, like data analysis, that allows you to do so many things throughout the disciplines, such as chemistry and biology, but also in social sciences, giving you enormous power. There are things that, if you become masters of them, open up extraordinary possibilities in your life.
And I think, in the literary field, in the- in the field of the humanities, as law is part of it, the founding documents and the conversation they inspire is remarkably powerful and efficient mastery to gain. They are few. They are relatively brief in their- in their- in their, expression, but if you gain command of both of those original documents, but then also get a chance to see how they're talked about throughout the centuries of American history, and globally how they are responded to and inspired in part by another global conversation, you become part of a dialog, so by mastering what is, in- in a sense, a set of short books, it opens up worlds to you. And that's true throughout the College Board courses. It's also true throughout our nation's civic and cultural life.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:02:53] So beautifully put, and I think that's a really good answer to a very important question the country is having today, which is why do the founders still matter? And, of course, we are rightly coming to understand that they were not perfect, that, there are some monuments and statues that need to be rethought, and that some of the greatest founders themselves, were tainted by the original sin of slavery, and yet, at the same time, the ideals they embraced were invoked by [inaudible 00:03:23] heroes, as you say, like Frederick Douglass, like Harriet Tubman, like the he- heroes and, of the abolitionist and women's suffrage movement to ensure that the promise of the founders embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was extended to subsequent groups and became ever more "embracive," to use Justice Ginsberg's beautiful word.
So, David, say a few more words about this topic that we both really care about, e- especially now and at this contested time, why do the founders still matter?
David Coleman: [00:03:50] I think what's amazing about this area of study is even if you're the most critical of the founding of this country, and feel, as some do, it was founded in slavery and very cruel ideas, rather than beautiful ones of liberty a- for all, which is always been competing narrative about our country's founding. And- And no matter what side of that debate on, if you see some combination, whatever you are, if you're furious at the founders, you must still know them. That is, what is indisputable is the remarkable and disproportionate influence on how this nation is now constructed. And if you think parts of that construction are suspicious or cruel, it is your business to know them well, so as best to dismantle them. If you think their beauty's unfulfilled, if you think the unfinished promise of this country is a guide to our future, you must know that promise and its statement.
Also, while founders is one word, I think as we look back in history, one thing that makes it dead is the variety and craziness of them is obscured with this regal language of founders. They were nutty individuals, with barely control over their personal lives, much less their ideas which changed and developed. It's quite wonderful to see as remarkable a personality as Ben Franklin come early to the understanding of the cost of slavery. In our... So it's like there was the founders' position on slavery, as you, of course, so well know, Jeff. This is a diverse, combative, complex group of people. But the most important thing is to study the founders is not to admire them, necessarily. We must not conflate those two things. We can also study them and master them to explore the consequences of the limits of their ideas and act upon them.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:05:32] That's so very true. The particularity of history and the variety, and I've just been learning now, about the remarkable debate between Thomas Jefferson and Phillis Wheatley, who was the first African-American poet published in America. She was an enslaved person. she took seriously the promise of Jefferson's declaration, and starting at the age of 14, wrote incredible poems about virtue, which she derived from the classical sources that she studied and that she and Jefferson believed would accord to the idea of the pursuit of happiness. Jefferson, appallingly, said that no African-American could write great poetry, and in fact, there was a trial... I just learned this recently, David, to confirm your point about how the fact that we're always learning. It's surprising. The city of Boston held a trial about whether Phillis Wheatley could've written her own poetry. John Hancock presided. He signed the Declaration. And they concluded she had, indeed, written it 'cause she was a genius, but Jefferson dismissed her and said that, it was second-rate. And subsequent figures like David Walker, invoked Phillis Wheatley's poetry as an example of the genius of African-Americans and how the promise of the Declaration transcended Jefferson's racism. it's-
David Coleman: [00:06:46] And it-
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:06:46] ... it's [crosstalk 00:06:51] learn about this.
David Coleman: [00:06:47] And it- it's a devastating thing, Jeff, to try to hold in your mind. Is it possible for someone to be good in certain levels, but so cruel and blind in others? These are deep questions about each of us, and our own limitations. And- And- And they're profound. I think, though, another aspect of- of- of this study is even if you reject a founder, that does not mean you cannot use your knowledge of the founding to gain power and advocacy in this world.
As an example, Barbara Jordan, in an in- immensely powerful to me a rhetorical moment, she is largely, forgive me. But as a- as a black woman, congresswoman from Texas, she does not command the immediate respect of the colleagues around her despite her immense intelligence and oratorical power. But a moment comes during the impeachment proceedings where she famously begins, "I am an inquisitor." And she begins to give an expert account of the founding documents, [inaudible 00:07:51] for the Federalist papers' testimony on what impeachment means and does not mean. And to watch the white men around her begin to sit down and realize they have something to learn from this woman. I, whatever your position, it is important to know that the language of power, the understanding it, that having command over it, can only make you smarter, but make you more powerful as well.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:08:10] Such a great example. That, Vision, it's a film of Barbara Jordan saying, "The original Constitution did not include me," is a central part of the Constitution Center's Freedom Rising show, which inspiringly greets you when you come in. And Barbara Jordan, like, understood the power of knowledge. The power of kn- knowledge alone can empower us so very well.
David, speaking of knowledge, you are a scholar of the Ancient Greeks. You have written about Aristotle, and I have a question about Aristotle because I now understand that the founders, from Thomas Jefferson to Phillis Wheatley, looked to Aristotle in their definition of the pursuit of happiness. And I understand they did not mean by happiness pursuing our immediate pleasures, feeling good in the short-term. they had in mind something else. Aristotle called it eudemonia, but I think you can help me define it better than I can. So what did Aristotle mean by eudemonia?
David Coleman: [00:09:05] Well, maybe on a personal note because I've talked- I've said something about knowing a short set of books that gives you a lot of power, I found the Greeks were similar to me. The corpus we have, the books we have remaining of Ancient Greece are very f- are very few. But I found study of them disproportionately illuminating. And, one reason for that is for the Greeks, spheres that we kept separate are deeply intermingled. Let me give you an example.
If you go to Delphi, the, temple at Delphi, and notice I say the temple at Delphi, you will find at that exact place a theater for drama. You'll find right next to it the gymnasium, which meant, in that sense, a place to run and a place to workout. But imagine, how separate our modern society has the world of sports, the world of faith, the world of drama, where for the Greeks, these worlds interpenetrated one another. They were part of a vibrant whole, and to live fully was to participate seamlessly and interactively between these, rather than say the nerd, the jock, and the priest as separate concepts.
and so, what- what I- that's what drew me to the Greeks, and I think- I think there are probably possibilities that in African history and in different cultures, the Confucius legacy in China, there are often cases where relatively short book, a relatively powerful cornerstone text or set of texts, can open up a conversation that's very broad.
But to answer your question quite specifically, in a kind of fun way, Aristotle writes a book about what it is to live a good or happy life. He calls it The Nicomachean Ethics. And the key word is, as you said, eudemonia, and other... That's made of two words. Eu, which means good, like utopia, a good place, or, euphoria, a good feeling. So that's what eu means.
And daimo, which is the more surprising part of it, like demon, is to have a good spirit over you. So precisely what the word means is to be ruled over by a good spirit. I say this because for the Greeks to be happy included ideas of luck, included ideas of good fortune. i- there's a humility in that. That is, as you would no doubt note, Jeff, you're a great attendant of words, the Constitution says "the pursuit of happiness," but no one on this earth can promise happiness itself, but we can try to make its pursuit possible.
So the Greeks recognized that eudemonia was a blessed state, but happiness for Aristotle, I think, is best translated... If you had one English word, I would choose flourishing-
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:11:34] Hm.
David Coleman: [00:11:35] ... which is a pleasure in the full realization of your life. It is pleasure. It is delight. It is felt now. It is a kind of pleasure from intense conversation, from food well-made, from doing the right thing and feeling good about it while you do it. It is the pleasure of an athlete in working at the height of his or her field and showing their skill. It's the hard-won pleasure of devoting yourself to activities you love, and gradually becoming better at them. That's kind of what eudemonia looks like.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:12:08] Beautiful. Friends, did you hear that inspiring definition? The pleasure of devoting yourself to a- a calling that you love, and slowly becoming better at it. And that crucial idea of self-mastery, self-governance, was so crucial, for Aristotle, of course, and then for subsequent Greek and Roman philosophers, like the Stoics and the Epicureans, who influenced the founders, and for the Enlightenment thinkers influenced the founders. And there's a central idea of mastering our own reasonable passions with our reason. Aristotle talked about our duty to connect to the reason that unites all things in the universe, and he said we could only do that by mastering unreasonable passions like anger, jealousy, and fear.
Just before the class started, we were talking about the four classical virtues of temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. They come from, Plato. Aristotle, glossed them in the- in the Nicomachean Ethics. But all of those, to achieve temperance, prudence, courage, and justice, we have to master our ego-based impulses, like anger or, jealousy, and fear.
David, what I wanna ask you next, is the connection between those personal forms of self-governance, mastering reason with passion, with the political, or democratic, virtues of mastering passion with reason. The American framers thought that only if we slow down deliberation, if we don't make laws based on our immediate impulses, but instead listen to our fellow citizens, thoughtfully, can we be guided as a country and a Constitution by reason rather than passion. So what can Athenian and Roman democratic thinking have to teach us in America today?
David Coleman: [00:13:55] Well, tell you thing funny, Jeff. just like the founders are very different people and should not be lumped together, so, too, the Greeks. So, actually, you sounded a lot more like Plato than Aristotle, if you don't mind. The notion of reason governing the unruly passions is much more from him.
Aristotle, I think, has a slightly more daring idea. He argues that reason- that our ability to think should change our pleasures, not govern them. So temperance, to be clear in Aristotle, is not merely the virtue of not eating too much, not doing too much of something. It is also taking deep pleasure in food by not doing it to excess, but also finding the specific pleasures that's in it. It's finding great pleasure in [inaudible 00:14:53].
Aristotle distinguishes the temperate person from the person who can't feel and can't touch and experience those pleasures. So for Aristotle, interestingly, he thinks in the full realization of pleasure, it's a very, it's very warmth, the notion of living a happy life.
To give you another example of anger, he actually thinks anger expresses judgment and reason. And what's critical in understanding your anger is to understand the why of your anger, to understand that it's not just an emotion, but it's a judgment. And, so in other words, you should use anger as a source of insight, never action. But you should understand the reason it expresses. So for Aristotle, you can't just say there's the mind separated from anger. It rather is a notion that we must unify our ability to think and feel and infuse our feelings and be thoughtful about how thought and emotion blend together, ah, I think is his great contribution to this conversation and different than the Plato picture of reason ruling the desires, where they seem separate things.
And I only did all that because that has helped me live my life. When I became a CEO and began supervising people, as all of you may do, whether you're working in student groups or as you grow up in this life, I found anger one of the great threats to my goodness and happiness as a human being. I got mad. I... You know, you're mad. You're disappointed in other people. You're under pressure. And I went back to Aristotle to think about how could I acknowledge my anger as having a foundation, but not let it rule me.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:16:12] Hm.
David Coleman: [00:16:12] Ah, and just holding it down was not a good answer for me. I had to instead study it, understand what was behind it, and then choose not to act on it. So forgive me for that, but I'm trying to say that these forms of study... When Jeff and I tell you to spend a lot of time reading, or to really pay attention when you're reading, to read with love and devotion. The more love and devotion you read with, the more it helps you at hard moments in your life, at moments of decision, or moments that are fateful for you. And, for myself as a leader and as a man in my marriage, with my husband, and with my children, I find self- self-conquering of anger one of the great challenges of life.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:16:54] Yeah.
David Coleman: [00:16:54] and I know that may sounds strange in this context, but I- I got a little more personal. You then asked about the Athenians and kind of what is the private happiness that I'm describing have to do with public well-being and the- and the- and the well-being of the state? And, I have a riddle for you, Jeff, as a way of putting this to you. Whadda you think is the reason that Athens is both the birthplace of drama, which I know you're a fan of-
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:17:21] Yeah.
David Coleman: [00:17:22] ... at least in your private life, including musical theater. I hope I didn't embarrass you with this.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:17:26] Not at all.
David Coleman: [00:17:26] And, that you're a fan of drama but also democracy.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:17:29] Yes. [crosstalk 00:17:47].
David Coleman: [00:17:30] Why- Why did one place seem to give rise to that?
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:17:34] I don't know the answer, but did they both meet in public in, in, in Agora, in- in theaters, or...?
David Coleman: [00:17:40] Yeah. Could be right. So one thing is they're both outside.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:17:43] Yeah.
David Coleman: [00:17:43] You're quite right. But so is a lot, so is the gymnasium.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:17:46] Yeah.
David Coleman: [00:17:46] Everything's outside. The Agora means the, the area we gather, and, so m- so that wouldn't quite distinguish them. I did not have any idea as to the answer to my own question until I saw a brilliant man who is the director of, of, the art program at the Public Theater, the Joseph Powell Public Theater, spoke about this. He's the one who helped Hamilton become Hamilton. So everything aligns, right? So he's the one who helped Hamilton come alive. and a great friend and artistic collaborator with Lin-Manuel Miranda. What he said is this. "Before drama really began in Greece, it was just speeches. One person on stage speaking. Drama began in Greece when you began to have instead of one person on stage, two or three or other characters, which meant there was no single authority but a debate. You went from a single ruler to a conversation, and the daimos, and the democracy. So the democracy onstage, and the democracy in the public sphere."
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:18:43] Wow. That's fascinating. And how did the Greeks come from that understanding to the fear that large assemblies, as Madison said, "In any large assembly of any number composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter for reason, even if every Athenian had been Socrates, Athens would still have been a mob." The framers take from the example of Athenian democracy the danger of unregulated discussion among large groups, and they wanna temper that with representative democracy to slow down deliberation and avoid mob rule. What was... How fre- then was- were Athens and, Rome a negative example?
David Coleman: [00:19:28] I- If you ever wonder whether old thinkers are relevant to current life, I would point you towards Plato's ability to see the future. Of the great Greek minds, Plato... Everything we have about Socrates was killed by the Athenians comes from Plato. And if Plato, in The Apology and other writings about Socrates, shows the viciousness of the Athenian state, and Athens and... Excuse me, So- A- Aristotle will later flee Athens lest Athens sin twice against philosophy, in fear for himself. So, again, when we talk about Athens as the foundation of the Western World, it's so ridiculous. It was- It was a place where these ideals were in great danger even then. That's a great mistake to make, that we reify Greece. No. Athens was combative and often prone to tyrannical episodes, and often threatening to the very philosophy that was brought to birth there. So it reminds us of ourselves with all our hungers and colors and failures.
And Plato, to me... Aristotle's a beautiful mind to describe the world. Plato is the greatest mind of how it can go wrong, of the forces of corruption. There's an absolutely terrifying portion in Plato's Republic, his great text, where he describes how the young philosopher king gets corrupted. He describes why someone with so much promise becomes a tyrant, rather than a beneficial ruler. And he describes how this person realizes suddenly that they can speak words that draw upon the darkest parts of their listeners. The- The- This bright young person can sense the hatreds and cruelties inside of people, and by saying them out loud, they get a sudden rush of power and excitement.
And, you know, one of the most fateful moments of my young life, I happened to have next to me a diary of Hitler when he gave an early speech in a beer hall. And he said, "I said increasingly cruel and outlandish things and got more and more applause." And it was so similar as to Plato saw it all coming. He saw the danger that there are within us, and we must not avoid this, immense desires for cruelty and hurting one another, and in- and- and- and that sometimes someone that says them at first look strange, at first looked far beyond what we think is public dialog, and says shockingly cruel things and gets immense resonance. So Plato saw a very great danger that big ideas, like oratory and engaging the public mind in art, could in the wrong hands, be tools of remarkable cruelty.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:22:06] What a powerful example. And the framers were so haunted by those stories that fram- that Plato foretold, that Madison had, a trunk full of books that Jefferson had sent from Paris about the failure of ancient democracies. And, of course, they were applying that to the dramas in their own time, in particular Shay's Rebellion, where debtors in Massachusetts were rising up against their creditors, and the whole Constitution was formed to create a government strong enough to avoid that kind of mob-based unrest, but restrained enough to protect liberty.
If you had to tell a story of the founding from our, that would inspire our friends to learn more, Shay's Rebellion is one story, but it's a- you know, it's a- it's a complicated one. What- What- What- What story, from the founding or from Reconstruction or, would you tell to- to- to inspire our friends to learn more about the Constitution and the American history?
David Coleman: [00:23:07] I would ask them to look at the building behind you, but not be misled by it. We show the Constitution the founders in these grand, big buildings, the Lincoln Memorial. They look immovable. The building behind you looks enduring. But I wanna emphasize its fragility. The birthplace of democracy, lost democracy, in Athens succumbed to tyranny. These documents were never designed by the founders as an insurance policy or stay. They tried their best to make them somewhat resistant to the cruelties we are possible of, but they are not walls, they're just guides. They're just an attempt to begin to mute their forces. But it requires all of us to be remarkably vigilant and active. If we learn anything from one another, if we think a Constitution is enough to stop the cruelties of racism at their most savage, is it enough to prevent inequality, is it enough to prevent us from harming one another each and every day or submitting each other to pain. We're sadly mistaken if we think the Constitution and its wonderful design guarantees and safeguards our democracy like a magic spirit absent our daily activity.
Aristotle says beautifully that, "Virtue and excellence are extremely rare, and everything to either side of them is danger." So I think the reason for the renewed study of these documents is not to merely hallow them and admire them, but to witness at the same time their limitations and their reliance on us to do all we can as vigorously as possible to refresh the tree of liberty.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:24:53] That's beautifully said, and it's so important to emphasize, virtue is rare and we have to work at it, and you've been sharing some very personal ways that these classical sources have affected your life, and I can share, too, that I- I discovered them recently because I knew the founders had read the classics, but I had not read them myself, although I have the great blessing of an incredible education, and I find myself both so humbled by all there is to learn, and also so struck by how it's a daily challenge.
David, you put it so well. Overcoming our anger, jealousy, and fear is difficult. It requires-
David Coleman: [00:25:29] Exactly.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:25:29] ... attentiveness and mindfulness every hour of every day. And you and I are much further along in our careers than our friends who are- are, just starting off, but it's a- it's a task that never stops, and it involves self-mastery. It involves deep reading, 'cause you're always learning and growing and reexamining your ideas. And it involves conversation. And the reason I'm so grateful for our friendship and for the fact that we're able to share our conversation with our friends today, is that I always learn from you. You've taught me so much about the difference between Aristotle and Plato, their different conceptions of virtue, the different implications for the founding, and the need to be always alert. So the ability both to read deeply on your own and to talk to others, that con- that conversation is the definition of meaningful friendship, and is also core to democratic dialog as well.
We- We need to wrap up, soon, 'cause we- we wan- 'cause we wanna keep things tight, but I- I guess I'll- I- I want your closing thoughts, but i- i- i- among them, I'd love you to give us all some- some book recommendations for more reading. You've t- You- You'd talked about Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Maybe tell us which books of Plato have moved you, and m- maybe give us a couple other, things that we can read and grow from.
David Coleman: [00:26:38] If you don't mind, I'm gonna make a shameless plug, and that is to begin with the Constitution itself, and the amendments that are part of it. And, in particular, I would advise you to read closely the amendments and the interactive Constitution that expresses how those very- 'cause they're very short. I- I... One danger of the way Jeff and I have talked is we've talked about a lifetime of reading, but I wanna give you a place to begin, and that is with the very Constitution of this- of the United States because the amendments are really short. You can take them in in a- in a few minutes and a few hours, but then to look at the interactive Constitution freely given by the National Constitution Center, and see that- how that same notion the First Amendment plays internationally, how it developed over time, you begin to feel the force of each and every word.
So rather than feeling that to have a profound experience, you need to read this whole tier of demanding books, I'd actually ask you to shove aside a set of books for a minute, and pull out a couple of sheets of paper that have- that have the- the Bill of Rights on them. Or, you know, it could be one, probably. And then to begin to look more deeply, one at a time. Think about how they interact. Think about even how within the First Amendment, it is not- it is at once the freedom to the free expression of religion and ideas, and how can those go together? Are there tensions between them in the freedom of the press? How do all these five things that it cites exist at once? Slow down. Take it word by word. Learning the power of each word in those amendments, in [inaudible 00:28:35] the Constitution itself, opens up worlds alone.
My next short book for you, if you're interested in what Jeff and I've talked about, is Plato's Apology. It is the story of Socrates' defense of himself at the trial after which he was found guilty and put to death. But it is a focused, open expression of some of the things that Greeks cared about.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:28:34] So beautiful. thank you for the recommendation of The Apology. Thank you for, and now I'll just screen sure to show the plug. The Constitution itself, the interactive Constitution. Start exploring. What a wonderful invitation to the text which David has called us to. And we can pick any amendment.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or bridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances." Friends, those are f- five freedoms... We could- we could spend a lifetime parsing each clause, and in this class together we will spend, our semester, tho- in the fall and the spring, parsing each of the Amendments and the structural Constitution. And David is so right. Begin with the text and then dig deep. Dig into the history, the stories that inspired the text. The Supreme Court cases that interpreted them, and the philosophical principles that gave meaning to them. It's just a thrilling lifetime of learning, all of which we begin with the words.
And one thing David and I share is that we, are- love literature and no- and love, the humanities, and we believe that learning about the Constitution will inspire you to pay close attention to words and s- the- the placement of single words can shape the destiny of nations. So this kind of close reading and this kind of inspiration of the learning of the past and its application to the present is something... It's a- It's a gift that we were given by our great teachers, and that we're hoping to share with you. And that's what the point of these classes are, and that's why Kerry and I, and Tom and Nick and our Constitution Center colleagues are just... Three times a week we're just going online because we wanna excite you about learning and inspire you to learn about the Constitution.
David, I'm so grateful to you for teaching me and our friends about the Greeks, about the philosophical principles of the Constitution, and about the importance of words. Thank you for all you do, the College Board. And here's to a lifetime of learning together.
David Coleman: [00:30:40] Thank you so much, Jeff. Thanks for your friendship.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:30:42] [crosstalk 00:31:08].
David Coleman: [00:30:42] Take care.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:30:43] [crosstalk 00:31:09]. See ya next week.
David Coleman: [00:30:45] See ya soon. Yeah.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:30:51] Bye now.
Kerry Sautner: [00:30:52] As always a really, fun class, and don't worry. I know we listed a gr- a bunch of great readings during that class. We will send you an email with all the readings that you can dive into, over the course of the year, as well as the recording, as well as all the classes you can sign up for.
Again, you can join us weekly to have these discussions and go from the practical realities of how we see the Constitution every day, to the founding documents, to Ancient Greece and Rome. We span the entire world. I think the big idea that we're walking away with today that is th- so, so important is we look to history to learn all of history, the whole history, and understanding the past with its beauty and imperfections.
So I wanna thank Jeff so much. I wanna thank David Coleman. Jeff, as we pause and kind of wrap up, do you wanna do a real quick Q & A with a few questions in the cha- in the, Q & A box?
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:31:43] Of course.
Kerry Sautner: [00:31:44] Awesome. Okay. So, number one, Victoria's question from earlier. She wants to start her children young. I love this question. So what would you suggest for a two-year-old? What would be some of the things that you could do for a two-year-old to get them excited about the solid foundation in democracy? you know, I believe two-year-olds actually probably understand democracy and republics better than most adults.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:32:08] [laughs]
Kerry Sautner: [00:32:09] [laughs] But I, you know, I worked with l- kindergarten kids, so I've seen them in action. But you- Can you think of any great books to read, or to them, on this topic?
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:32:19] I think that telling stories about history is the way to get excited, and to... there- there are wonderful books about founding stories for all ages, and just start telling the stories of heroes like, Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass and, George Washington and- and then, duh, take it from there.
But b- I really believe you could tell from the conversation with David, it's really just the love of reading and- and learning and- and attention to words, so literature is just wonderful for kids, too. And- And starting with, the fairy tales, and- and- and- and, great, myths and stories. The Greek myths are superb for engaging kids. Just beginning, from a very young age, becoming lovers of- of reading, which means a lot of reading out loud. So that's the most important thing you can do is just read as much as possible, and then literature and history and then politics later on.
John Adams said something really striking. He was, of course, so learned in all the classics and was a founder, and was president. He said, "I study history and the Constitution so that, my sons can study poetry and literature." So he thought, in fact, it was the- almost the greater gift to have the leisure, ability, to study literature, but he had to establish the foundations to make that possible.
Kerry Sautner: [00:33:41] And I, as, you know, teaching, small children reading, I totally echo that so reading out loud we all know is huge. But those classic children's books is you can always find a civics theme. So when you're looking at, you know, the idea of, the three little pigs, and the- the big, bad wolf, and I, you know, everybody loves that story. But think about it from different perspectives. what's the- the wolf's perspective? What is the perspective of the building at- what a- oh, what are the other pieces? So think about all these stories, all these classic pieces, and then kinda build the whole story around it. And your children are so creative, so give them the- the latitude to think differently and from different perspectives, and that brings you into a community and conversation around civics.
Another great question was, is Aristotle offering a particular way to achieve these goals, or is he setting the goal and having us discover how to reach it ourselves? That was from [Carrie 00:35:10] Willis, so I wanted to share that one. Good one, right? [laughs]
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:34:38] Grea- Great one. So, of course, David, knows far more about Aristotle than I do, but I do know that the Nicomachean Ethics has a chart of, which counsels us to take the middle way. One of Aristotle's big ideas is there's always a virtue that has an excess and a defect. Oh, man, I can't do them from memory, but temperance would be the middle way, and the excess might be, excessive, zeal, and the defect would be indifference, and he has a whole bunch of these. So, generally, his counsel is to avoid extremes, to master our, passions enough to be able to be moderate, and that central idea of the golden mean, as Pythagoras puts it, is so simple to Greek and Roman thought. And far from being some kind of boring, you know, plain vanilla, Kumbaya kind of standard, it's really difficult to achieve. As we were talkin' about it, it takes daily attention to master our passions and- and avoid either too much or too little. Just right, you know, in the Goldilocks way.
But that's Aristotle's counsel, and in the No- Nicomachean Ethics, you'll see the whole list of the middle, virtue, and each of its extremes.
Kerry Sautner: [00:35:45] Wait, one more question real quick 'cause I love it too much, and then we'll end, I promise. [laugh] so, Lois asked, "Does the way democracy developed in cities like Athens, with all of its gatherings, out in public places, does it preclude a country this size, this size, from being able to do- maintain this type of democracy?" It's a great classic question. I love it. Thank you for asking it. Jeff, I figured it's a good ending question for you. [laughs]
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:36:11] Well, it is a great question 'cause it was the central question that the founders were worried about when they came to Philadelphia. Classic political theory had said you could only have a democracy in a small state because you had- people had to know each other in order to deliberate face to face. The Athenian model is 6,000 people in the Agora deliberating together. The problem with that is Madison fears that w- people could be misled by silver-tongued demagogues who would lead them to be governed by passion rather than reason and start the Peloponnesian War.
So, Madison came up with a brilliant solution. Representation. If you have people represented in deliberative bodies, then you can- you don't have to bring everyone face to face.
But then Madison had a second brilliant insight. This could happen in a large republic. "In fact, it would be even better," Madison said, "to have a big republic, like the United States, rather than a small one, 'cause in a really big territory, passionate factions, or mobs, couldn't discover each other. And by the time they did they would either get tired and go home, or they would calm down."
So these two brilliant innovations, Madison thought, representative democracy in a large or extended republic, would ensure that the dangers of faction would be avoided. Now, here's a discussion for future classes.
Kerry Sautner: [00:37:30] [laughs]
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:37:30] Wh- Wh- Wh- Madison did not anticipate Twitter and Facebook, and in the world of social media where factions, or really enthusiastic groups, can discover each other immediately and start making really hasty decisions and can, do their, passionate, business, before they have time for second thoughts. A- Many of the b- virtues of the extended republic are obviated, and the fact it would be really hard to organize all goes away.
So, here's, really important follow up question for all of us to talk about throughout the term. Was Madison too optimistic that the large size of America would allow passions to cool and reason to prevail?
Kerry Sautner: [00:38:04] That's a great wrap-up. I have one thing to add from [Jacquelyn 00:38:54] because I thought it was the best statement so far this week. but before we wrap up, remember, everybody, these programs are live every single week. We also send them to YouTube, so if you can't come through the Zoom, come through the YouTube, and we keep them posted every week 'cause we know schools and classes are using them in lots of different ways. Monday and Wednesday sessions are for middle school and high school. Friday is our all-in session, which I love to mix the age groups.
So here's Jacquelyn's closing thoughts. Jacquelyn stated, "I came for the dialog. I stayed for the emotional regulation. Who knew? But thank you." [laughs]
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:38:43] [laughs] Bravo.
Kerry Sautner: [00:38:44] I know. Bravo, Jacquelyn. Thank you so much everybody. We will see you next week when we dive deeply into the ideas around popular sovereignty, rule of law, and, not my favorite, my favorite, natural rights. So, we'll see you next week. Everybody have a great, weekend, as well. Great Labor Day weekend. Thank you.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:39:01] Have a great weekend, everyone. Thanks. See ya next week.
Kerry Sautner: [00:39:08] Bye-bye.
Jeffrey Rosen: [00:39:08] Bye.
Jackie McDermott: [00:39:09] This episode was engineered by the National Constitution Center's AV team and produced by me, Jackie McDermott, along with Scott Bomboy, Kerry Sautner, Lana Ulrich, and Tanaya Tauber. If you enjoyed this constitutional conversation, visit constitutioncenter.org/learn to check out more of our free online educational resources and sign up for our constitutional classes. As always, please rate, review, and subscribe to Live at the National Constitution Center on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and join us back here next week. On behalf of the National Constitution Center, I'm Jackie McDermott.