Power to the People: Celebrate Constitution Day


Today is Constitution Day. Does this matter to your students? Do they know their rights? How informed are they about their liberties? On September 17th, 1787, attendees at the U.S. Constitutional Convention made history by signing the one of the most important documents in the world. Now, some 222 years later, America proudly recognizes the ratification of the United States Constitution (as well as all individuals who’ve become citizens by either coming of age or through the process of naturalization).

The Constitution of the United States of America is the supreme law of the United States. Even after more than two centuries, its effects on our nation are profound. This innovative document defines the three main branches of our government. Given the fact that upcoming debates on public issues center on interpretations of the Constitution (for example, disagreements over health care reform and the Tenth Amendment), educators should help pupils discover, explore, and respect its power.

Integrate a little technology: listen to a digital audio recitation of the Constitution as read by David P. Currie, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of University of Chicago Law School.

Essential questions related to this topic:

  • What’s the best/worst way in which the Constitution has been interpreted?
  • Is the Constitution the best means of resolving the struggle between security and liberty? Explain your answer.
  • What (if anything) is the most important reason to understand or support the continued use of the Constitution?
  • Is it possible to improve the Constitution or is such an idea preposterous? If not, why not? If yes, why and how?
  • What’s the best evidence of the power of the Constitution?
  • What is the most good the Constitution has done for any individual in the history of our nation?
  • Is any portion of the Constitution weak?
  • What is the single, most important right insured by the Constitution?
  • What is the most compelling reason to deny and/or suspend an individual’s or group’s rights as guaranteed by the Constitution? Should these rights ever be suspended?
  • Which individual is the epitome of the ideals expressed in the Constitution (i.e., who is a role model for the ideals expressed in the document)?
  • How can/could the Constitution be reworded so as to express the same (or even more noble) ideals for a larger audience?

Related links:

Give Peace a Chance

It’s likely that students and educators will make comments or ask questions about the events of September 11, 2001, at some point in the day. On this day in 2001, life in the United States of America was forever altered when terrorist attacks destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, a portion of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and resulted in the downing of a passenger airliner in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 were killed in the atrocity. Like the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy, this dreadful day in history left an indelible mark upon the memories of an entire generation. The events of 9-11 generated a number of political outcomes. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, dominated headlines and political leaders frantically drafted new legislation (such as the Patriot Act) that soon raised concerns about privacy.

What happened on 9/11 is still painful to discuss. Like a scar on the psyche of our nation, this day is tinged with sadness and fear. Indeed, the troubling emotions associated with the day may never dissipate. Still, when we look beyond petty differences, come together, and learn from from our experiences, the sorrowfully rich soil of tragedy becomes fertile ground where hope takes root and blossoms.

Consider talking about how people everywhere can gather the tools needed to break the cycle of violence and fear. Humans have unlimited capacity for doing good. Educators, students, people everywhere on our fragile planet can acknowledge, address, and overcome forces that lead to violence and terrorism:

  • separatism
  • racism
  • economic disadvantage/poverty
  • dehumanization
  • fanaticism

Peace is possible. We just have to be champions for it. Peace doesn’t magically happen. It must be cultivated over time. We must be vigilant to nurture its growth and help it spread.

toleranceThe good folks over at the Southern Poverty Law Center know what it means to fight for peace. They’ve been doing it since 1971. With close to three decades of experience, the SPLC has amassed very powerful tools for addressing the social inequalities that compromise peace.  The SPLC shares its ideas for promoting peace at a project site called Tolerance.org. The site has a number of excellent suggestions as well as teaching kits that are designed to teach, promote, and foster peace.

Start now. Decide to to care. Join with others and help make the world a better place. Be a champion for peace.

Since 2001, 9-11 has become synonymous with terrorism and tragedy. On September 11, 2001, life in the United States of America was forever altered when terrorist attacks destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, a portion of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and resulted in the downing of a passenger airliner in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 were killed in the atrocity. Like the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy, this dreadful day in history left an idelible mark upon the memories of an entire generation. The events of 9-11 generated a number of political outcomes. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, dominated headlines and political leaders frantically drafted new legislation (such as the Patriot Act) that soon raised concerns about privacy.

We’ve Come a Long Way and Still Have Far, Far To Go

Today’s timely post comes to us from SEGATech:

Reading, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, Music, and Art are all important when it comes to preparation for life in the real world, the world that awaits just beyond the wall of a classroom. Learners will eventually be called upon to put academic knowledge into action some day. In the current climate of high stakes, standardized testing, where policymakers give lip service to a phrase such as “No Child Left Behind,” where others argue that students are being left behind and steps should be taken to address the crisis, something important is being forgotten. As parents and education officials go about the task of education, they often neglect or forget to teach some of the most important concepts of all–tolerance, equality, and compassion for others. Why? Maybe it’s because tolerance, equality, and compassion for others are not easily measured on the standardized tests that seem to be driving education here in the United States. Maybe it’s because students are expected to come into the world neurally wired for such understanding. Maybe learners are just expected to pick up the qualities along the way…if they’re lucky.

Civil-Disobedience-Alabama

Fortunately for all of us, there have been unique individuals who have served as beacons in the darkness of social ignorance and inhumanity. If you believe that the hearts and minds of the youth that are entrusted to you deserve and need to be instilled with humane values, the lessons and the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. should not be forgotten or dismissed. We need to explore the life, death, and legacy of Dr. King. It’s not easy but it is extremely worthwhile. To appreciate civil rights, people have to be civil. We have to teach students how to develop and exercise character. Civility and other character education concepts (though vital) are difficult to teach, especially when the press and the public are more concerned with SAT scores and IQ rather than Emotional Intelligence; despite the obstacles, it can be done. Do what you can to keep the Dream alive.

Related links (with special thanks to educator, Joe Finkelstein, who shared the resources below years ago) :

Remembering Rosa

Americans have always had a dream for a better life, a better world. Following a dream can be a difficult endeavor. On this day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, an ordinary citizen with extraordinary courage challenged the status quo to persue a better life for all Americans. In a remarkable act of civil disobedience, a humble seamstress confronted a repressive code of behavior heretofore accepted by many Americans. Her actions made the nation examine its resolve to insure equal rights for its citizens. Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, a normally timid person, stood her ground. By refusing to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to make room for a white passenger, she effectively ignited the modern Civil Rights Movement. No matter what you teach, take some time today to use technology to help your students explore this important milestone in our nation’s history.

Essential questions (as described by Grant P. Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their book Understanding by Design) are the “big ideas” wrapped up in questions that humans continue to ponder over the course of a lifetime. Such questions lack easy answers. They can be used to engage students and encourage them to seriously ponder the core or the essence of a topic being studied. Essential questions are extremely useful in revealing what pupils think about a topic. A few such questions related to the topic of equality and challenging norms include:

  • What are the most important skills for understanding what’s right and what’s wrong?
  • How do we know when we should make a stand for a belief?
  • What are the most important rights, responsibilities, and privileges of citizenship?
  • What must happen in order for equality to become commonplace in our world?
  • Will equality ever become commonplace in our world? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • In what ways do prevailing conditions in society begin to give rise to change?
  • What is this most important role of leadership in bringing about an important change?

Related links:

Tools for exploring/explaining this topic: