Article

September 16th, 2021

Educator Voice: My love-hate relationship with Constitution Day

EducationEducator VoicePoliticsSocial StudiesU.S.U.S. history
A wall stating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is seen on the recently closed Newseum, in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2021. REUTERS/Al Drago

 

by Ryan Werenka, social studies teacher, Troy High School, Troy, Michigan

Flashback to 2005. I was a young, impressionable government teacher who had just been informed by my school district that we were required to teach about the Constitution on September 17, because of a new federal law requiring any school that receives federal funding to do so.

To be honest, I was annoyed. I had just spent the summer redesigning my school district’s government and civics curriculum with the Constitution as the central focus. Needless to say, I thought the law was unnecessary, because our students were already about to be immersed in the Constitution. Ultimately, I complied but used the opportunity to teach a lesson on the 10th Amendment. I challenged my students to discuss whether Constitution Day law was even constitutional. I’m sure you’re impressed by my nerdy form of protest.

I thought the law was unnecessary, because our students were already about to be immersed in the Constitution.

Flash forward to 2021. I am now a grizzled veteran government teacher, and Constitution Day is one of my favorite days of the school year. Why the change of heart? I began to realize that with all of the emphasis on STEM in schools, we had to make the most of our opportunity to put social studies front and center for our students and community.

The growing civic literacy gap in our country, the increasing amount of misinformation about the Constitution found online and the grip of political polarization all need to be combatted, and September 17 is the perfect day to learn about the different ways to fight those battles.

I am now a grizzled veteran government teacher, and Constitution Day is one of my favorite days of the school year.

Chief Justice John Roberts warned in his 2019 State of the Judiciary address that “we have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside.” Constitution Day presents schools with an opportunity to engage students with a document of the utmost importance that far too few people read.

Civic education organizations such as the National Constitution Center, the Bill of Rights Institute, iCivics, C-SPAN Classroom and the Center for Civic Education have created a treasure trove of lesson materials and special events for Constitution Day. I’m also pleased to say that I contributed a Constitution Day lesson plan that can be found on NewsHour EXTRA’s website.

So we’ve got our students covered on Constitution Day. The question that my students and I discussed today is how do we keep people engaged and learning about the Constitution after leaving high school? WDET, the NPR station in Detroit, Michigan, chose the United States Constitution for their summer book club and has been discussing the Constitution during radio shows and engaging with readers and listeners on Facebook. WDET has come up with a creative model to engage people, but we need more ideas to keep people learning and discussing the Constitution.

…my assignment to you is to think of ways to encourage constructive civic and constitutional engagement in your schools and community…

President Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

My students and I have started kicking around ideas for civic and constitutional engagement that will benefit young people and adults alike, but we need more of us to hold these discussions. So dear reader, my assignment to you is to think of ways to encourage constructive civic and constitutional engagement in your schools and community. Let’s enrich our country and preserve our freedom.


Ryan Werenka has taught social studies at Troy High School in Troy, Michigan, for over 20 years. Ryan teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, AP Comparative Government and Politics, and Government and Civics. Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in history and social sciences from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in the Art of Teaching from Marygrove College.

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