September 17 is the day set aside for schools and all Americans to honor and study the U.S. Constitution. Louise Leigh, the founder of Constitution Day, hopes lessons give students a new appreciation for their heritage and freedoms. Included: Suggestions for teaching about the U.S. Constitution.
Constitution Day marks the day the last of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787. And Louise Leigh wants everyone to celebrate that.
In 1997, Leigh created a non-profit organization Constitution Day, Inc. to commemorate the Constitution She had taken a course on the Constitution, and it gave her a new appreciation for the document that guides the nation.
2005 was the first federally-recognized Constitution Day celebration. In December 2004, President Bush signed a law declaring September 17 Constitution Day, which requires all schools receiving federal funds and all federal agencies to provide material and teach about the Constitution.
Leigh spoke with Education World about her passion for studying and honoring the Constitution, and suggested ways schools could engage students in the study of the nation's charter.
"How can a nation preserve the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution if the people are unaware of what they are?" Louise Leigh, founder of Constitution Day.
Education World: What was your motivation for initiating Constitution Day?
Louise Leigh: After taking a Constitutional course with the National Center for Constitutional Studies, I became acutely aware of the uniqueness, the greatness, and the miracle of our Constitution. Until the 1800s, every American child could recite all the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, which is not done today. We celebrate Independence Day on July 4 with gusto. The Revolutionary War gave us independence from England, but the Constitution is the document that gave us freedom, which has made us the greatest and mightiest nation in history. I looked for Constitution Day (September 17) on calendars, but it was not there. Since Constitution Day is far more important than Independence Day, I began the national celebration in 1997.
EW: Why is it important to set aside a day to honor the Constitution?
Leigh: The importance of setting a day aside to honor the Constitution is that it perpetuates the knowledge of and importance of the Constitution. How can a nation preserve the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution if the people are unaware of what they are? The Constitution gives the ultimate governmental power to the people and our republic form of government is the most difficult to maintain. People must be knowledgeable.
EW: What are some activities teachers can use to mark Constitution Day?
Leigh: Of course, I would hope they would join in the national simultaneous recitation of the preamble to the Constitution every September 17 sponsored by Constitution Day, Inc. [Teachers can] have a quiz for fun, a play, a reenactment of the meeting in Independence Hall, a lecture, music, or history lessons. And most important of all, they need to study the Constitution itself. The Federalist Papers [essays encouraging states to ratify the Constitution] are marvelous to study the original intent of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution.
EW: What can teachers do the increase students' interest in the Constitution and American history as well?
Leigh: Unless teachers love our American history, know the miracle of our Constitution, and can hardly wait to teach their students in an interesting way, it could become a chore rather than an exciting class. I urge teachers to make it a fun, interesting, and exciting experience.
EW: What do you most hope students gain from the Constitution Day experience?
Leigh: I would hope students take away from the Constitution Day experience a feeling of patriotism and that it is very special to be an American. We live in the greatest nation on Earth, of which they are a part of, and have a responsibility as our future to perpetuate our Constitution for our posterity.
This e-interview with Louise Leigh is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Ellen R. Delisio
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