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Ken Burns joins Constitution Center for online education

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Filmmaker Ken Burns (WHYY, file)

Filmmaker Ken Burns (WHYY, file)

PBS documentary filmmaker Ken Burns will join Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center this Friday for an online lesson about history and the American Constitution. The live-streamed session is part of a special home-schooling program developed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week the Constitution Center quickly cobbled together resources to launch an eight-week series of educational livestream sessions for children and adults, every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, taking on different aspects of the Constitution.

The center’s president and CEO Jeffrey Rosen co-hosts the series, hopscotching through the document.

“The first week was the free speech clauses of the First Amendment, the next week will be the religious clauses,” he said. Subsequent lessons will focus on Fourth Amendment rights regarding search and seizure, which also address rights to privacy; and the 14th Amendment which enshrined rights of citizenship and the dismantling of slavery.

The first week drew more than 4,000 people, most watching on a YouTube stream and hundreds of others interacting through the Zoom conference platform.

An extra session this Friday will feature Burns, well-known for his multi-part documentaries on PBS about the Civil War, Prohibition, the Vietnam War, and many other topics.

“He is a teacher, and a teacher of the Constitution,” said Rosen. “He once said he chooses all of his topics because they have constitutional lessons.”

Burns will join Rosen virtually through Zoom. In deference with social distancing norms, neither will be physically at the Constitution Center. Rosen will be at his home in Washington D.C. but appear to be at the Center.

Burns is lining up video clips and photographs for the online presentation, to better illustrate history.

The two will discuss the constitutional lesson in three transformative moments in American history: the American Revolution, the Civil War and the New Deal.

“Each of those great periods had tremendous constitutional change,” Rosen said.

The Constitution Center is now lining up guests for future weeks of the education series. Rosen said they already have Emily Bazelon, a writer for New York Times Magazine, who is also a researcher at Yale Law School. They will also hear from Eric Foner, an historian of the Reconstruction era from Columbia University.

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