Today is Constitution Day—the anniversary of Sept. 17, 1787, the day the Constitution was ratified.
For many immigrants to the United States, it’s the day when they will be sworn is as naturalized citizens. For many teachers and schools, it’s an opportunity to read, analyze, and discuss the Constitution and American history.
But the National Constitutional Literacy Campaign, a new coalition of groups focused on civics education and literacy, has bigger ambitions. Its ambitious motto: “Every Day is Constitution Day.”
The campaign, which launched last week, is comprised of about 20 groups, most of which were already focusing on the Constitution and civics education. They include the Joe Foss Institute, which, as we’ve previously reported, is in the midst of lobbying to require high schoolers in more states to take or pass a citizenship test in order to graduate.
The effort started with a splash last week, with a spread in the Washington Times and an event at the National Press Club.
The campaign’s, constitutiondays.org, has links to primary sources and lesson plans, a calendar of Constitution-related events, and a page that collects states’ civics and history-related standards and requirements. There’s also a list of Constitution- and civics-related competitions.
Chuck Stetson, the CEO of Essentials in Education and one of the leaders of the new campaign, said the organization aims to fill a growing gap between what young people need to know about their government and what they learn in school. He said it also will connect a number of foundations and groups that were already working on these issues.
The group frames its mission around a series of statistics about Americans’ lack of knowledge of their own government. Its website cites a survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in which a third of respondents couldn’t name a branch of the U.S. government.
But Stetson says shaming people into more knowledge isn’t an effective approach. Thus, the competitions and the celebrations. “We’d like to challenge them.”
Stetson himself has strong opinions on how the Constitution should be interpreted. “There are some people who say the Constitution’s old, we need to update it. ... How do you have a nation of laws when your constitution’s constantly changing?”
But, he said, the National Constitutional Literacy Campaign is strictly nonpartisan. “I want students to be able to take any kind of [court] decision, ... to know both sides and say, which are the constitutional arguments and which are made up?”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.