The Irony of Constitution Day


A painting depicting the scene at the signing of the U.S. Constitution (Library of Congress)

Today is Constitution Day. This is the day we celebrate our U.S. Constitution. On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates in Philadelphia.

In 2004, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia included provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2005 designating September 17th of each year as Constitution Day. This provision requires public schools and governmental offices to provide educational programs on the Constitution.

Those who have read the Constitution realize the irony of this federal mandate. If we really valued the Constitution, we would make sure that we are not violating it when we introduce and pass laws. The Tenth Amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Education is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution therefore, the power to decide what is taught in the public schools is left to the individual states, not to the federal government. Therefore, the federal law which seeks to protect the Constitution by mandating the Constitution be studied on Constitution Day is actually an example of a violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.

As someone who appreciates the protections that the U.S. Constitution provides its citizens, I want our children to learn about this important document so the next generation will help preserve it and all for which it stands. However, I also believe that the federal government has no place in education and as such, it would be hypocritical of me to ask schools to enforce one aspect of federal over-reach in education while asking them to back off in other areas. We can’t have it both ways. In a constitutional republic, parents and local districts would naturally want to make sure that students understand the U.S. Constitution and they would be involved in local decision making in their schools. Asking schools to study a given topic on a given day is not always conducive to the school schedule. It should be incorporated into the curriculum in a meaningful way that makes the most sense for each school and each classroom’s yearly schedule. Children typically love to celebrate holidays and special days on the calendar and I encourage that, however a federal mandate is not necessary nor welcome.

Just a few of the many online resources which can be used any day of the year to study the U.S. Constitution, either in the classroom or at home:

National Constitution Center

Read It! Save It!

Schoolhouse Rock – Constitution Video

If you have other favorite resources for the Constitution, please post in comments.

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