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We, the People… Knowing who we are on Constitution Day, and Every Day.

August 31, 2017
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We, the People…
Knowing who we are on Constitution Day, and Every Day.

A question came to mind a number of years back.  “Why do I believe what I believe?”  And, perhaps just as importantly, “what do I believe?”  As citizens of the United States of America, we have certain rights that are foundational in our beliefs and way of life, that make us distinct from any other country in the world.  In our unique system of government, our Constitution guides the federal government in matters of interstate commerce, revenue generation for limited purposes (e.g., finance a war effort if necessary), and resolution of disputes between states.  These limited powers of the federal government are fundamental to our existence as a united country of independent states which all have their own varying interests and laws.  For our United States of America to continue to grow and thrive, it is critical for each citizen to know and understand the Constitution.  The importance of such knowledge was perceived and expressed in more recent years by Congress initiating Constitution Day.

Simple Concept—Understanding

The simplicity of the concept is perhaps the beauty of it.  While it may be hoped that all citizens have learned of the Constitution’s story, content, and importance as a child from his or her parents and other respected mentors, as well as throughout the individual’s educational career, that is not always the case.  As a result, Congress established Constitution Day through legislation in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005 (Pub. L. 108–447, signed into law on December 8, 2004).  The statement was clear:

“Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.”

Same Time.  Same Place?

Constitution Day 2017 will quickly arrive.  As legislated, September 17th of each year is designated as our Constitution Day.  This is the historic anniversary date of the signing of our Constitution in 1787—a full 230 years ago this year!  Therefore, in accordance with law, schools that receive federal funding (e.g., Title IV Federal Student Aid) in a federal fiscal year are required to “hold an educational program on the United States Constitution” on September 17 each year for the students served by the educational institution.  The regulation pertaining to this requirement is in the Federal Register[1] dated May 24, 2005.  In years, such as this one, when September 17 falls on a weekend, the school may elect to conduct its Constitution Day program the week preceding September 17, or the week following that actual date.  No additional flexibility is allowed in the law or regulations.

But, where will you conduct your program?  Will it be the same place as last year?  Will it be in a classroom?  In a student commons area?  Online?

While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) does not stipulate the requirements of what such a program should include on Constitution Day, it does offer some resources in the Federal Register.  Some of these may include such sources[2] as the Library of Congress’ Constitution Day Teacher Resources Web page, as well as the National Archives for information on the Constitution, (for example a scanned copy of the Constitution), etc.  Other resources that one may use could include the National Endowment for the Humanities’ EDSITEment! Web site to search for topics on the Constitution or Constitution Day.  Additionally, organizations such as the National Constitution Center (a non-profit, non-partisan organization; it currently has a “countdown clock” to Constitution Day), the Center for Civic Education, or the National History Education Clearinghouse may yield further program ideas.

Stipulated to be Institutional Responsibility

Since ED does not mandate or state that this “educational program” is a “financial aid” responsibility, institutions may well be served to have others involved than the Financial Aid Office alone doing it, or being responsible for it.  (It is important to note that at some postsecondary institutions, other departments may also receive federal funding for academic programs and/or research, etc.)  Again, it is an institutional responsibility, and may actually be more suited to another office’s or department’s portfolio on campus than the Financial Aid Office.  In some cases, an institution may find that a team effort is more apt to ensure appropriate and successful accomplishment of this requirement.  Perhaps the “educational program” would be done by another office or department in conjunction with assistance from Financial Aid, (i.e., not “just” the Financial Aid Office).

ED does not specify what the educational program must be like.  A school can choose the program delivery method, modality, structure, and specific content.  Some institutions will have more sophisticated programs than others whose program is simple.  Some examples may include:

  • having a “class” on the Constitution.
  • providing a link to the Constitution and having a quiz.
  • enlisting faculty or staff and/or students to read the Constitution aloud in a common area on your campus.
  • finding a Webinar through one of the resources mentioned above to which you choose to distribute a link and use in a class that will contribute toward meeting the requirements of a Constitution Day
  • utilizing your faculty, academic departments, or student services offices to coordinate or assist with an appropriate program, etc.

Although the Financial Aid Office is not identified as having responsibility to provide input to the Constitution Day program—and it may very well be that your institution chooses to have another department or office in charge of the program—it is quite likely that the excellent staff in your Financial Aid Office may offer some outstanding ideas and suggestions for making such a program worthwhile and appealing to students.

Whatever the resources used, undoubtedly you will find many that contribute toward your students’ understanding of our Constitution.  The Constitution we have continues as a fresh and living document, still relevant and applicable, assisting us even today with current issues.  To have the Constitution to rely upon is a tool that is enlightening, encouraging, and enduring.  We are fortunate to have the longest lasting written constitution in history.  We must give credit to our founders for being so insightful.  Yet, it does behoove us today to understand the Constitution’s story, content, and purpose.  It helps to know what we believe, and why!

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[1]Notice of Implementation of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on September 17 of Each Year,” 70 Federal Register 99 (May 24, 2005), page 29727.

[2] Some of these resources were developed by the U.S. Government or one of its departments or agencies (e.g., ED, Library of Congress, etc.) or developed under a grant from ED.  Other sites are independently developed resources by various organizations.  Researchers should review the information about the individual Web sites to determine the source of the information and/or source of funding for the Web resources, if interested.  All hyperlinks to the sample resources were active and accurate as of the date of writing this FAME Regulatory Bulletin.  The reference to a particular Web site or organization does not imply FAME’s endorsement of any non-U.S. Government site or resource.  The resources are simply listed for an institution’s own research purposes.

 

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