Tag Archives: 2012 Humanities Texas Teacher of the Year Award

The Incomplete Constitution

by Charles Cooper

The Constitution is the greatest protector of rights ever penned by man’s hands. Simply by being a written Constitution, the document professes to be a touch-stone of liberty. Like a rule book, if you want to know if someone is cheating in the game of government, you simply read the rule book. Further, the genius that the American Founders invested into the U.S. Constitution becomes more and more apparent the closer it is scrutinized. The executive is the only nationally elected office, the Senate originally represented the states, and the House represents the communities within the states. Each level of the American experience is represented in our national government. The staggered elections of two, four, and six years keep emotion from seeping into the machinery too quickly. The list of wonderful mechanisms literally goes on and on: checks and balances, federalism, the amendment process, etc. incomplete constitution

There is a glaring and often overlooked weakness or absence, however. Even before the attachment of the Bill of Rights and certainly after its inclusion, the U.S. Constitution claims/ed to protect individual rights. At the core of this venerable document the most important term, “right”, remains undefined. In other words, the U.S. Constitution claims to protect “rights”, but does not define the term. So, one can ask, what exactly is the Constitution protecting?

To answer this question we must return to its inspiration; its spirit.

The Declaration of Independence does outline and establish an understanding of the term “Right”, but it will take more than a simple pedestrian effort to fully understand what Thomas Jefferson and, by extension, the Founding generation meant. The Declaration has embedded within it a deep, complex teleological argument thousands of years in the making.

As Jefferson states in his May 8th, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, the Declaration’s authority rests on such things as the conversations of the day as well as the teachings of philosophic figures such as Aristotle1 . To flesh this out, let’s unpack one seemingly simple part of the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The Declaration states that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” A useful “trick” I use when unpacking text I am familiar with is to walk, roughly, in reverse through the sentence or argument. So, in this case, we notice that our list of rights is categorized as “unalienable Rights” and that is prefaced by the word “among.” This denotes that there are more Rights that we are born with, but for some reason Jefferson (and by extension, the Founders…it was a unanimous vote to approve the document after all) have decided to rest on these three. There is a larger pool of other rights out there, but these three are crucial2. We must excavate via questions.

First, “Why these three?” These three rights, taken as a whole, define what it is to be a human being. To clarify what I am getting at, let us make a list of things that possess the first attribute “life”: broccoli, dogs, trees, humans, and squid. All of these things are alive. Now let us throw in the next right that is mentioned: liberty. Life mixed with liberty strikes broccoli and trees from our list since they do not have locomotion. So far, dogs, humans and squid have made the cut. Add to this list, finally, the right to pursue one’s Happiness. Do dogs, humans, and squid all have the ability to pursue their happiness? In what way is “Happiness” used in this document? Further excavation is necessary.

John Adams writes “Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all Divines and moral Philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man.” The Virginia Declaration of Rights states that when men enter into a social compact they cannot give up certain rights. The last few rights mentioned are Happiness, property, and safety. “Happiness”, contextually speaking, cannot simply be dismissed as feeling safe or the acquisition of property. Finally, we find “Happiness” mentioned in George Washington’s First Inaugural Address when he says “there is nothing more certain in the economy of the universe that there exists an indissoluble union between Virtue and Happiness.” Virtue is the highest goal a human can pursue. The highest good is the right use of reason and that entails the pursuit of the good life. The pursuit of morality, then, is the pursuit of the highest happiness. Of course, there is a material aspect to this pursuit. But the pursuit of happiness does not end with the purchasing of a house or collecting a pile of apples3Declartion and Constitution

To put it another way, the use of reason establishes a hierarchy of Happiness and shows that material happiness necessarily fades. The pursuit of Happiness is the pursuit of the most permanent and highest of “happinesses”. In short, the pursuit of Happiness is pursuit of the Summum Bonum, the Highest Good. As such, it must be a lifelong pursuit that quite possibly never is achieved. As a pursuit, it is not a guarantee of happiness, but an allowance for the ability to chase after goals established by your interest in perfecting Virtue. It is the chasing after of the ultimate perfection of the human project. Since the use of the word “pursuit” admits, at the very least, a difficulty in the attainment of the goal then perhaps the pursuit of the Good may be the next best thing to the actual attainment of the Good. In an Aristotelian4 sense, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”5 defines the proper human life.

Finally, squids and dogs fall off of our list.

So, as we understand the definition of Happiness we come to understand the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and, by extension, the American Political Project begun by the Founders.

Man is the only animal created to use his life in pursuit of a moral/virtuous end. Government’s job is to get out of the way and allow man to “find himself”, as it were. Government’s duty is not to establish the Happiness of mankind, but to let man establish this for himself as much as this is possible within civil society.

Tying all this back together, Natural Rights are a reflection of the self-evident truths we find in a Nature that was Created by Nature’s God and ruled over by the Supreme Judge of the World. The “rights” that the U.S. Constitution claims to protect are not all social agreements or local/regional wants. The fundamental ones are aspects or characteristics of human beings that, if absent, would reduce man to animal and give credence to the Machiavellian formulation of government.

The denial of a “Natural Right” is the denial of man as man. By extension, it is the denial of the right order of the universe. This is why slavery (or any other denial of Natural Right) is such a horrendous act6.

A more perfect union is possible when the Declaration is allowed to inform and make more complete the original intention of the U.S. Constitution7.


[1] For a full search into this topic visit The Founder’s Constitution at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders and search “Happiness and Virtue” or “Aristotle”.

[2] Compare this to the purpose of the 9th Amendment as well as the first paragraph of the 14th amendment which was loosely based on Bushrod Washington’s list of rights in Corfield v. Coryell.  Corfield v. Coryell was, in part, a brief attempt by Washington to make a list of some of the many Natural Rights “out there.”

[3] Read John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 5 Section 46: John Locke states that man can use his labor plus what he finds in nature to satisfy his needs and establish private property.  Private property ends, though, when he acquires too much material to be used effectively and puts others at a disadvantage.  However, in “the state of nature” there is no government to regulate this greed and, so, this pile of rotting apples is, effectively, ill used private property.  To see a different take, read Plato’s Republic and Socrates’ claim that only those who can effectively use property should be allowed to “own” it.  Socrates might say that the pile of rotting apples should have been distributed by someone to those who did not have apples.  The point here being, “Happiness” is not simply acquiring property as some assume simply because Jefferson borrows from Locke’s “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of property.”

[4] Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Book I

[5] Compare this ordering of Rights with the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence to see how a reordering of fundamental rights can undermine the sanctity of the individual.

[6] For a further example, take a look at Jefferson’s use of the word “Men.”  He means the Declaration to apply to ALL HUMANS.  Look further in the document and you’ll see “governments are instituted among MEN”.  Unless you’re willing to claim that only white males lives under governments, contextually, at least,  you’ll need to admit that all human beings and “MEN” are the same thing.  Further, take a look at the paragraph where he complained about the keeping open “a market where MEN are bought and sold”.  Again, women and children were sold into slavery, not just males.  “Men” have rights, which is to say, all human beings are born with rights.  Bad government and bad laws take these rights away, not Nature or God.  There are no classes of men.

[7] Finally, the U.S. Constitution is dated from the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  The Constitution can be seen as a fleshing out of the Declaration in this respect.

*Charles Cooper (@Thrasymachus) works at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas.  He teaches college and regular ed. government and was awarded the 2012 Humanities Texas Teacher of the Year Award.


Filed under history education

Augmented Reality In The Classroom: Aurasma

Submission by Charles Cooper and Jill Compher

The simplest and most fundamental of elements in any sphere of knowledge seem to be the most difficult to explain.  The fundamental may be basic, but it is also the foundation upon which more complex things rest upon.  The atomic is difficult to qualify or quantify because qualities and quantities are based on those essentials.  Most of us can’t imagine, for example, our classrooms without certain crucial tools like electricity, our computers, or that bottle of Tylenol taped to the bottom of our desks. We would like to introduce you to your next crucial tool…Enter: Aurasma (key dramatic music).

Aurasma BB

Aurasma is a game changing app for Apple and Droid products that we absolutely LOVE.  Once you see it in action, ideas will fly out of you so quickly you may want to stop reading now and get something to write with.  The complexity of its application is completely up to how much you want to integrate this app in your lessons.  It is simple to use, but adds so much to your classroom experience.

Originally, Aurasma was developed as an advertising app to add POP to boring paper media advertisements.  If you go to their “campaign” site you’ll see the various companies involved with this project.  Because it was developed first in England, Aurasma is hitting its stride in Europe.  Organizations like the Tottenham Hotspur and Mercedes are using this app to really hook customers.   It has slowly been making its way into the United States.  Recently, Marvel Comics, GQ, HP, and the Rolling Stones have incorporated this augmented reality app into their arsenal of marketing efforts.

Aurasma is a free app that allows the user to tag an image with additional layers of information.  These additional layers can consist of audio, video, or image files. Just like the advertising efforts mentioned above, this app can really draw students into any upcoming or current lesson.  For example, a poster of Abraham Lincoln can be brought to life by layering audio of the reading of the Gettysburg Address, a scene from a Civil War documentary, or a still image related to the Lincoln Presidency.  At this point you may be thinking isn’t that what a “QR Code” does?  Nope!

QR codes are disembodied portals to a destination.  A QR code usually distracts from the image it is layered upon.  Aurasma, however, IS the image.  It allows the operator to use a picture, already useful and full of information, as the portal itself.  This picture then leads to additional information, examples, or interactive documents (via Google Docs, to name one source) that continue the lesson or open it up to higher level prompts or assignments.  A QR code is essentially limited to a single destination point.  With an Aurasma “studio” account (free) you can layer a video on top of ol’ Honest Abe.  Double tap the screen of your device while the video is playing to make it full screen.  Then, with a single tap to the screen the app can send you to a second destination like another video, a website, or an educational platform like Moodle, Angel, or Blackboard (or your very own blog).

Watch this video to see the process in action.

There is only one minor limitation to this app from our experience.  You must establish a “channel” and have other users follow you in order for outsider to have access to your “auras”.  If you tag a political party’s logo with a video of how off-base their political views are, Aurasma will pull up only the tagged video you uploaded.  This delivery system is similar to Twitter in the sense that you only get the messages from people you follow on Twitter.  If multiple people or companies layer a video on that same image, only the videos of the channels you are following will appear.  We’re not sure what happens when multiple channels tag a single image with their own videos, but up to this point, this has not been an issue.

We have incorporated the many uses of Aurasma into a bulletin board that demonstrates its power.  We used Bloom’s Taxonomy as our frame and attached multiple examples from various disciplines.  So, if you are a newcomer to technology in the classroom use Aurasma on Bloom’s Knowledge Level, but if you’re a pro looking to put some pop in your lessons you may want to use Aurasma to target Bloom’s Synthesis Level.

There are two options when creating auras via Aurasma.  You can create and store them in the “private” section or the “public” section.  You will find below instructions for making a “public” aura.  Auras must be public and connected to a channel students are subscribed to for classroom use.

  1. Once you download Aurasma (for free) and register it.  You will press the “A” icon at the bottom of the screen.
  2. You will see a “+” icon at the bottom of this screen.  Press this to create a new aura.
  3. There is a library of preloaded 3-d images and videos you can use or you can create your own.  Let’s assume you want to create your own.  So, next press “device”.
  4. In the upper left hand corner you’ll see a large purple “+”.  Press that.
  5. You can take a new video or image by choosing “Camera”, you can upload a previously taken image or video by choosing “photo album”, or you can upload images or videos from the internet by choosing “blinkx”.  Just for brevities sake, let’s choose a still image you already have on your device.  Press “photo album”.
  6. Once you pick your image or video, you will be given the option to name it.
  7. You will then be prompted with the question “Would you like to create an Aura?”  Choose “ok”.
  8. The “Aura” screen will appear.  The next image you capture will be your “trigger image”.  When Aurasma sees this image, your overlay will appear.  So find something around you that has enough detail for the spectrum indicator at the bottom to move to the “green” side.  This lets you know that Aurasma can “see” it.
  9. Take the picture and Aurasma will give you a preview of your final product.  Push the “>” button to move on.
  10. Name your project.  You have the choice to make it public or private here as well as whether you want to add it to a channel or not.  Remember, channels are how your followers will access your “Auras”, otherwise these are accessible only to you on your device.  For classroom use, choose “public” and add to your classroom channel.
  11. Finally, Aurasma will let you know when your “Aura” is ready to go!  All that is left is to try out your new Aura.
  12. Follow our pre-established channels to see some examples of this in action.  First, in Aurasma, search for and follow Northwest High School, #CoopGovt, and Compher Social Sciences channels.  Next, follow this link to our list of images that will then trigger the overlays (don’t forget; double tap the screen to make the video larger and single tap to go to the next part of the assignment).


Aurasma Trigger Images

  1. Or, if you already have Aurasma loaded onto your device, focus on the above “Aurasma Trigger Images” to immediately be sent directly to the multiple other Aurasma examples.

*Charles Cooper (@Thrasymachus) works at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas.  He teaches college and regular ed. government and was awarded the 2012 Humanities Texas Teacher of the Year Award.

*Jill Compher (@JillCompher) works at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas.  She teaches AP Psychology and Sociology.  Jill is an AP Psychology reader for College Board.


Filed under Education Technology, Professional Development