Teaching Legal History Through Primary Sources

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Teaching Legal History Through Primary Sources

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Street Law is launching an exciting new curricular project supported by a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) grant. Over the next year, Street Law will develop new classroom resources to educate middle and high school students about the historical evolution of U.S. laws on important contemporary legal issues.

The new materials will be structured around timelines of important historical events and learning activities based on primary sources from the Library of Congress’ collection. The legal timelines and accompanying materials will provide teachers with proven resources to teach via historical inquiry, prompting students to weigh multiple perspectives and build empathy for experiences different from their own—all while building other important civic and legal knowledge and skills.

“We appreciate the contributions that Street Law will make to the educational programs and materials available through the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program,” said Vivian Awumey, TPS Program Manager at the Library of Congress. “In particular, Street Law will help learners use primary sources from the Library of Congress to investigate the history of voting, First Amendment rights, and presidential power.”

The materials developed under this project will be made widely and freely available to teachers nationwide in August 2022 through a new website.

The Need: Social Studies Education is Failing Students

According to the 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress, students are falling short of proficiency standards in both U.S. history and civics. Additionally, only 52% of young Americans believe that democracy serves the people.i We need a stronger foundation in social studies education, particularly U.S. history and civics, to turn this tide.

To improve the student knowledge and skills measured by these assessments—and ultimately to strengthen American democracy—teachers need high-quality instructional materials and support to teach the materials effectively. More than two-thirds of teachers spend four or more hours per week creating instructional resources, according to a 2016 report from Scholastic.ii The materials created as a part of this project will be high-quality, flexible, and easy to use, alleviating teachers from some of the challenges of building their own resources from scratch.

The Project: Legal Timelines in American History

The Legal Timelines in American History project aims to address both teacher and student needs by 1) developing high-quality, classroom-ready materials that build student knowledge about history and civics and develop important skills for civic engagement and 2) preparing teachers to deliver the materials using interactive, student-centered methods.

The project kicked off in October with a teacher survey to inform the selection of legal topics—potential topics include religious freedom, students’ rights, the evolution of the 14th Amendment, and more. With finalized topics in hand, Street Law will draft instructional materials using sources from the Library of Congress and adhering to quality standards that include review by school administrators, content experts, and a DEI consultant.

Equipped with training and support from Street Law, a pilot teacher cohort will field test the resources in their classrooms, providing feedback and opportunities for Street Law to observe the learning activities in action.

After undergoing an improvement phase to incorporate teacher feedback, the final website and materials will be disseminated widely to introduce teachers and state and district-level administrators to the materials.

The Goals: Prepared Teachers and Engaged Students

This project will equip and encourage social studies teachers to use more student-centered, interactive resources and strategies to teach about legal history. It will also build teacher confidence to teach about legal history and its present-day implications, while integrating primary source materials into their instruction.

In the long term, the Legal Timelines in American History project will help improve the way young people learn about legal history and its present-day implications, so that they are better equipped with the content, skills, and attitudes to be civically engaged and uphold democratic society.

“To live together in a democratic society, we must be able to critically engage with information, talk about it, and make collaborative decisions based on it,” said Street Law’s Executive Director Ashok Regmi. This project will provide teachers with resources and strategies so that they can help their students do just that.

Content created and featured in partnership with the TPS program does not indicate an endorsement by the Library of Congress. 


i Ladd, Jonathan M., Joshua A. Tucker, and Sean Kates. “American institutional confidence poll.” Georgetown University Baker Center McCourt School of Public Policy (2018). 

ii Market Data Retrieval, “Classroom Trends: Teachers as Buyers of Instructional Materials and Users of Technology.” (2016). 

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