William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


Tom Donnelly


Popular constitutionalism scholarship has often left out the American people. Sure, ordinary citizens make cameo appearances—often through the actions of elected officials and elite movement leaders. However, focusing on high politics among elite actors—even if those actors are not judges—simply is not enough. If popular constitutional views do, indeed, matter, then we can expect constitutional partisans to try to manipulate the processes through which these views emerge. Some constitutional scholars have made a start, reflecting on the importance of the constitutional canon. However, these scholars focus mostly on the legal canon and often ignore its popular analog. At the same time, other scholars have worked to bring the American people back into constitutional theory by studying the constitutional views of ordinary Americans and explaining the ways in which key social movements shape constitutional doctrine. These scholars, however, have largely ignored the pathways of constitutional socialization—the ways in which citizens learn about the Constitution. An important part of this neglected project is tending to the set of stock stories transmitted by key institutions to ordinary citizens—in other words, tending to the popular constitutional canon. In this Article, I turn to one site of constitutional socialization—American public schools. This visit to our Nation’s classrooms highlights the various ways in which the lessons that we are teaching our schoolchildren undermine popular sovereignty, through mythologizing the Supreme Court, promoting “Founder worship,” and downplaying the constitutional achievements of successive generations. In the end, if public opinion matters to constitutional doctrine and reform, as many scholars argue, then these sites of constitutional socialization are worth studying.