- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2007

Learning about the founding of our nation, and especially the creation of our Constitution, usually is limited to reading a dry textbook. However, thanks to a spunky former home-schooler and a father who wanted to help his son with a special history project, a new Web site will bring the Constitution to life in a whole new way.

Lorianne Updike, a Utah home-schooler during her seventh- and eighth-grade years, was in law school having a frustrating time accessing original documents and sources for a paper she was researching on the issue of religious freedom and the “wall of separation between church and state,” as it has been termed. To examine the original sources she needed, it was necessary to travel long distances, because no law library in Utah contained the full set of transcribed or original materials.

A chance conversation with attorney Randy Guynn, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City, revealed that he and his son, Stephen, had made a special trip to scan many of the original archived documents on the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which they had stored on a CD.

Miss Updike’s goal of signing on with a top law firm took a big turn when a health crisis landed her in a wheelchair in her last semester of law school, and she felt that she needed to do something meaningful. Her quest took the form of wanting to create a resource that would allow people to explore and examine all the many documents and writings that led to what is now the U.S. Constitution.

“I couldn’t stop talking about this idea,” Miss Updike recounts, “and then a group of associates sat me down and told me to stop talking and start doing it.”

Within six months, the fledgling project had an office and, somehow, she had a salary as the executive director of the Constitutional Sources Project, creating the first-ever comprehensive collection of Constitution-related source materials available online. The tax-exempt nonprofit organization is fueled by donations of funds and professional services by a number of individuals and firms, including law, public relations, computer programming and Web design specialists.

For the first time, both the legal and educational communities will have full access to digitized images of many handwritten original documents and notes of the framers of the Constitution, as well as the transcribed versions of what they wrote, the published discussions, including the Federalist Papers, and many other documents in which the concerns of the people of the states were expressed.

Many of these documents are fragile, historical artifacts, so preservation and protection took precedence over widespread availability. Housed in 30 locations, you would have to travel 5,169 miles just to see them, not to mention take about 9,800 hours for the research on-site. Thanks to current technology, documents are being digitized, indexed and provided on a searchable Web site, consource.org. The opening of the site to the public is timed for Constitution Day, Sept. 17.

Parents and students can go online and view the original handwritten manuscripts, then go to the typed transcriptions and search for key clauses in a huge number of documents related to that issue. Diaries, letters, published articles, minutes of committee meetings and many other sources allow us to retrace the discussions of the time.

A pilot version of the Web site has been used by test groups ranging from sixth-graders to college classes, and teachers report a higher range of excitement and appreciation for the Constitution from this approach.

“They gained a greater appreciation for their country after realizing how much work the Founding Fathers had to put in,” said professor Erum Shaikh of Brookhaven College in Dallas. “Students were able to travel back in time and grasp the bigger picture.”

Home-schoolers who would like to be part of the Sept. 17 Web broadcast of the official launch are invited to register at www.consource.org.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.