A Constitution Day Reminder

Today is Constitution Day, a federal observance of the delegates signing of the Constitution. This is a great time to first remind people that students need a solid civics education, one that focuses on the Constitution, not civic engagement. 

Looking at Annenberg Public Policy Center’s annual Constitution Day survey is depressing. 

  • In 2017, only 37 percent could name one right in the First Amendment. 
  • In 2018, only 32 percent could name all three branches of government. This is an improvement from 2016 and 2017 when only 26 percent could do so.
  • In 2015, 34 percent said that the “right to own a home” is in the Bill of Rights, while 12 percent believed to right a pet was in the Bill of Rights.

A Knight Foundation poll in March found that a majority of college students believe that “hate speech” does not deserve First Amendment protection. 

In 2014, only 23 percent of 8th graders were proficient on the NAEP Civics Assessment.

Sadie Adams at Fox News notes:

Whether that’s due to heightened cynicism about America’s role in the world, a general increase in moral relativism, or other factors is a different issue. But now that a problem of practice has been diagnosed, specifically the lack of training in the fundamentals of governance, we can do something about it.

Let’s begin as a nation by celebrating Constitution Day. Most Americans have no idea that September 17 is a federal observance, one founded in the early-20th century to mark the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the founding document in Philadelphia. And each educational institution that receives federal funds for a fiscal year is required to hold an educational program about the U.S. Constitution for its students.

I don’t have data on Constitution Day itself – nor am I sure that such data exists – but I can tell you that in my own experience, it’s just an afterthought in most public high schools. When I was a first year teacher in Florida, I suddenly found that I had to teach about the Constitution in the middle of my first period when I had prepared completely different lesson plans. That’s how little emphasis my department put on the observance. Of course, in the following years, I did better on my own accord.

Constitution Day is the only day of the year that most public high school students will ever have the opportunity to focus on the centerpiece of our nation’s founding. That means perhaps six hours in their entire secondary education tenure, the formative years before they’re granted their right to vote.

There is a lot of work to do.

A reminder for legislators as well. I just checked Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Interestingly enough, education is still not included in that list.