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Schools snub Constitution Day

Schools snub Constitution Day
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When your children arrive home from school on Sept. 17, I encourage you to ask them, “How was Constitution Day?” Just three years ago, when I was still in high school, I had no clue that Constitution Day existed. Many people and students still don’t know it does.

 

In fact, it wasn’t until I began college that I experienced my first school-sponsored Constitution Day lecture for the federal observance day that recognizes the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

 

While I’d like to think that my university would always be eager to fund an event commemorating the adoption of our Constitution, there is another motivation at play called Public Law 108-447 . This law requires that “each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year … hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.” So why is it that so many students are entirely unaware of Constitution Day despite this law’s passage in 2004?



For starters, the law was written intentionally vaguely so it would not be an overreach of power by the federal government. The Department of Education’s website itself reads that “it is States and communities … that develop curricula.” So, in response to the law’s ambiguity, many school systems have seemingly dismissed the law altogether by failing to provide any Constitution Day educational programming, or they have greatly fallen short by providing meaningless programming that hasn’t reached the majority of students at all grade levels.

 

While it could be argued that local schools were simply unaware of this law and did not purposely disobey it, this is not likely the case, despite the law’s obscurity. For example, in Georgia, where I’ve attended school all my life, the state’s Department of Education website recognizes the law and tells educators to “please remember to recognize September 17th, Constitution Day, in your system/school.” Based on this clear messaging, it is more likely that schools intentionally disregard the holiday because hosting an additional educational program each year can be seen as an interruption to the daily curriculum and a nuisance to implement.

 

While some justifications explain the lack of adequate Constitution Day programming, there are no valid excuses. In a 2017 poll from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, a mere 26% of people could name all three branches of government, and a whopping 37% couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. This is why it is crucial that schools properly follow the law and implement Constitution Day educational programming as they have been instructed to.

 

Our education system has an obligation to turn the next generation into decent citizens. Of course, understanding our Constitution and how it affects us daily is a part of making that happen.

 

More than 15 years since the law’s passage, it is evident that the “honor system” of enforcement is not working. As Al Frascella of the National Council for the Social Studies noted back in 2005, some schools “are taking it seriously and some aren’t.” He added, “The key, of course, is enforcement, and there isn’t any.”



Now is the time to begin enforcement.

 

This can be as simple as the federal government asking for a Constitution Day lesson plan that the schools intend to implement. There would be no need for overbearing and expensive site visits to schools. The federal government only needs to make sure that Constitution Day does not become an afterthought. Once schools have demonstrated that they have a plan to carry out the educational program effectively, there is no more need for oversight, as much of the labor that goes into making Constitution Day a success has already taken place.

 

To be clear, local school systems do not currently deserve the entirety of the blame. The federal government’s vague language has made it difficult for schools to know what is required of them and if their programming complies with the law. To fix this, the federal government should set clear expectations and guidelines, empowering school districts to succeed every Sept. 17. It’s time to stop failing our students and bring Constitution Day to its full potential.

 

Alex Blecker, is a student at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.

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