Constitution Day is a federal observance that recognizes the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. James Wilson, one of the signers of the United States Constitution, famously wrote that “[l]aw and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.” And, yet, countless reports tell us how little American citizens of all ages know about the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
Recent reports reflect a troubling decline in basic constitutional literacy and civic knowledge. In 2015, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania released a study that found that Americans know surprisingly little about their government. The survey found:
- Only one in three Americans (31 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, while just as many (32 percent) could not identify even one.
- More than one in four Americans (28 percent) incorrectly thinks a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling is sent back either to Congress for reconsideration or to the lower courts for a decision.
- About one in 10 Americans (12 percent) says the Bill of Rights includes the right to own a pet. It does not.
These statistics underscore the need for high quality civics education. The Civics Renewal Network is an alliance of 29 organizations that are working together to raise the visibility of civics education, improve the quality of classroom resources and strengthen civic life in the United States. Its website, CivicsRenewalNetwork.org, makes it easy for teachers, students and citizens of all ages to identify a wide array of resources for young citizens.
As elected leaders, you, too, can become involved in the movement to promote constitutional and civic literacy:
- Get your young constituents involved in the Civic Renewal Network’s Preamble Challenge, where they will have the opportunity to join with other young citizens from across the nation in reciting the preamble to the Constitution.
- Attend a local naturalization ceremony hosted on September 16 and encourage your constituents to do the same.
- Reach out to your local schools, and help them fulfill the Byrd Amendment’s requirement that educational institutions that receive federal funding teach about the Constitution on or around September 17, the official date of the signing of the Constitution in 1787.
- Connect the schools to the standards-aligned resources on the Civics Renewal Network website, or even select a timely lesson plan and assume the role of instructor and teach your young constituents about the Constitution!
There are a number of meaningful ways to celebrate Constitution Day and to promote civic and constitutional literacy not only on and around September 17, but also year round. 2016 is also a special anniversary year – it is the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights – so please mark your calendars on December 15 for Bill of Rights Day! The Civics Renewal Network also has a wealth of materials and activities to mark that important civic holiday!