As school districts around the country announce their plans for fall instruction, students' access to high-quality learning resources will be a significant factor in the decisions.
Whatever a school's learning environment is at the start of the new school year, a curriculum that is expensive, inflexible, or hard to navigate won't get used. Just ask a teacher about how they use their instructional tools in the time of COVID-19. You'll learn a lot about entrepreneurship.
Teachers' entrepreneurial ways long precede the coronavirus. As Newsela reported in October 2019, administrators in social studies said that teachers used their prescribed textbook half the time. In that same national survey, however, teachers revealed that they use the assigned textbook only one-fifth of the time.
The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) supports secondary school teachers of civics and history with free, online resources and professional development learning opportunities. As a leading national provider of free educational materials for classroom instruction, BRI has partnered with OpenStax, at Rice University, to launch Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the American Experiment.
As the first free, open resource published in alignment with the new College Board standards in Advanced Placement U.S. History, Life, Liberty promises to meet the learning needs not only of AP classrooms but for all high school, early college, and dual-enrolled students. Authored by some 100 historians from leading institutions, the resource has more than 500 components, including primary source documents, narratives, lesson plans, and point-counterpoints. Its unique, personalized approach to inquiry-based history instruction means that educators have a complete, easy-to-use Learning Management System for their students, including some 2,000 questions that help students retain their knowledge.
As one educator from Arizona said upon test-driving the resource, "The first thing that jumped out to me was how each topic could be implemented in class without the teacher having to make adjustments. It's one of the most user-friendly resources I have come across in my teaching." Another educator wrote, "I can't believe it is free since it is better organized than textbooks that cost $200, and that is not including the online extras…"
Teachers care about their students having access to the best materials. And often, their districts think that they need huge budgets in order to afford the best. Life, Liberty demonstrates that free does not mean inferior. As an educator in Pennsylvania wrote about the resource being made available at no cost to educators, "This is hugely important in redressing the economic inequities in our current educational system."
Another teacher, in Minnesota, spoke for many others when she reported, "Even though I don't teach AP classes, it is possible that I could, and the district is more likely to offer an AP class if there is a curriculum already aligned that is free."
As our nation reckons with our past and contemplates our future, the topics that are covered in Life, Liberty are meant to challenge students. Difficult questions of history—and civics—are at its core. Its goal is for students, guided by their teachers, to meet these questions head-on and understand their role in helping the nation live up to its founding ideals.
By emphasizing the skills and disposition that leads to respect of other viewpoints, Life, Liberty promotes not just the theory but the practice of civil discourse. This long-term investment in our future is exactly what our nation needs now. No matter where the students physically meet, today's history and civics classroom is tomorrow's America.
David Bobb, Ph.D. is the President of the Bill of Rights Institute, and a nationally-recognized proponent of U.S. history and civic education that engages the hearts and minds of students.