Best-selling author Jill Lepore discusses teaching the U.S. Constitution during an era of constitutional crisis

September 28, 2021
Ruger, Lepore, and Grossman in the Q & A

Modern interpretation of the U.S. Constitution should include opinions of those who were disenfranchised at the time, including women, African Americans, and immigrants, said best-selling author Jill Lepore, a Harvard University history professor and staff writer at The New Yorker, during a guest lecture at Penn.

Lepore, the guest speaker at the Steven S. Goldberg and Jolley Bruce Christman Lecture in Education Law, spoke to an audience both live and live-streamed in her talk, “Amend: Teaching the U.S. Constitution in an Era of Constitutional Crisis,” and in a Q & A with Penn’s Graduate School of Education Dean Pam Grossman and Carey Law School Dean Theodore Ruger.

“I do really believe that we are at an urgent moment in thinking about education and, in particular, the intersections between education and the law,” said Lepore, who received an honorary degree from Penn in 2020. “I think the nation as a whole right now really is suffering from an impoverished political imagination and from the underdevelopment of our Constitution.”

Lepore’s new long-term research project is focused on collecting and building an online archive of the texts of thousands of proposed constitutional amendments from 1787 to today, especially by those who were excluded from the official discourse.

Grossman asked Lepore about the possibility of an amendment guaranteeing children a high-quality education. A nationwide campaign for such an education-rights amendment would not get through Congress, Lepore said, but “would nevertheless be a good driver of the other actual actionable initiatives and also have a deliberation about what constitutes high quality education.”

For more of the conversation’s highlights, visit Penn Today.