In 2005, the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement announced that schools receiving federal funding must recognize the Constitution on September 17th.
Constitution Day is an opportunity for schools to help students increase awareness of and appreciation for the United States Constitution. While the goals of Constitution Day are admirable, it is an unusual holiday because schools are required to have activities on a specific date, which can be tricky to do in smaller districts that share resources such as guest speakers and assembly centers.
History of Constitution Day
West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd helped change Citizenship Day to Constitution Day in 2004. In 2005, the Department of Education required that all educational institutions receiving federal funding commemorate September 17, 1787, which is the date of the signing of the United States Constitution. If September 17 falls on a weekend or holiday, schools must hold Constitution Day programs the preceding or following week.
Constitution Day Programming
While Congress legislated Constitution Day, there is not funding for Constitution Day activities. According to its notice, the Department of Education, "is aware that there may be other public and private resources available that may be helpful to educational institutions in implementing Constitution Day." Whatever activities schools decide on, they need to be done on September 17th.
Constitution Day Activities
The federal government has Constitution Day activities that provides Constitution Day resources, and even if districts do not use these activities, they may help answer the potentially overwhelming question, "What do we do if we can't get a guest speaker?".
Based on the government website, schools may want to provide activities that allow students to:
Communities have a number of guest speakers that may be available to discuss how the Constitution impacts them professionally. Professionals involved in the legal system may be of particular interest to middle school, junior high, and high school students.
For schools that are not able to host guest speakers, Constitution Center has excellent resources that schools can purchase for their students, including pocket Constitutions, but be advised that they do not accept purchase orders, so it may be more difficult to order materials. As Constitution Day becomes more popular, more classroom resources will sprout up online and be available to schools.
Despite the difficulties presented by having to hold Constitution Day on a specific date, honoring the Constitution is a valuable experience for students. They recognize Independence Day, President's Day, and Memorial Day, so it makes sense that they should learn about and appreciate the document that started it all.
Originally posted on Suite101 on September 6th, 2008
Ally Sharp is a teacher, writer and editor, and technology trainer.