September 17th is Constitution Day, observed to commemorate the historic signing of the United States Constitution in 1787. This election year, as we mark the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed American women the right to vote, Constitution Day is more significant than ever.
An Opportunity To Connect To Contemporary Issues
Constitution Day, also known as Citizenship Day, provides educators with a vital moment to create learning experiences that focus on how our founding document has shaped issues of race, equality, suffrage, and citizenship. In 2008, then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke at the National Constitution Center. In his remarks, Senator Obama acknowledged the incredible feat of launching a nation and the continued, collective work necessary to ensure that the promises of liberty and justice present in our Constitution would be realized by all Americans:
“And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.” – Barack Obama
Highlighting the historic moments when American citizens protested, marched, boycotted, sat in, and spoke out against injustice not only informs our students about the long and often difficult road to equality but also provides an inspiring blueprint for the next generation of citizen leaders. These monumental events and the brave Americans who led and participated in them is something we can all be mindful of this Constitution Day.
Students can be given the opportunity to critically examine and discuss the Reconstruction Amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments) as well as explore their far-reaching impact on contemporary issues like mass incarceration, educational equity, voting rights and access, and civil liberties. Events that took place in hallowed places like Selma, Alabama, The Stonewall Inn, and California’s Central Valley can be studied and celebrated, and the legacy of activists like John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Marsha Johnson, Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta can be included within the context and study of Constitutional history.
The 100th Anniversary
Constitution Day 2020 provides the opportunity to honor the ratification of the 19th Amendment and elevate the stories and experiences of courageous suffragists like Susan B. Antony, Ida B. Wells, and Alice Paul. A critical examination of the “protests and struggle” cited by President Obama in his 2008 speech can include study and analysis of the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed but unratified amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Instruction can focus on trailblazers such as Shirley Chisholm, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Jill Ruckelshaus, as well as the economic, political, and societal challenges that women still face.
Constitution Day 2020 provides an opportunity to engage students in the meaningful study of our country’s most vital document. This learning process can allow for exploration of the Constitution’s relevance to their lives and our nation’s continued struggles to create a more perfect union.
Project Imagine for US History provides fully immersive activities (360° Virtual Reality, Role-Play Activities, Decision Trees, Opinion Polls) and compelling primary sources that enable students to experience key time periods from United States history.
The National Constitution Center also provides educators with tools and resources for teaching Constitutional history.
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Free Lesson – Essay Activity from myWorld Interactive American History: Beginnings to 1877:
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