It slips the memory at the moment as to where and when, but as a child growing up this writer heard that terminology used to describe an individual. As the adults were talking they said, “He is a boy of strong constitution.” The word was new in my vocabulary, or at least as used in that context. But, the meaning was immediately understood. They were referring to the individual’s health, stamina, and demeanor. But, more importantly, their words spoke of his character. By use of that phrase they were actually speaking to the very make-up or nature of the individual, his overall being, and what made him who he was. Some things the boy could change, such as his attire, his favorite flavor of ice cream, or perhaps his hobbies. But, who he was—his inmost character—no, that would not change. He had a recognizably strong constitution.
Our nation, the United States of America, has a strong Constitution. The Constitution has weathered 227 years, but remains strong. It has had a few amendments, but not any that shook its core to change who this nation is. That speaks volumes to the founders of our nation. Some would argue that the U.S. Constitution is the longest surviving single document constitution in the world1. It does us all well to ensure we know what it says, so we know why it is so strong. To that end, legislation was enacted to establish “Constitution Day” to help with that goal.
Constitution Day Law, Regulation, and Resources
Constitution Day is soon upon us again. September 17th of each year is designated as Constitution Day. As required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005 (Pub. L. 108–447, signed into law on December 8, 2004), schools that receive Federal funding in a Federal fiscal year (e.g., Title IV Federal Student Aid) are required to “hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.’’ The regulation pertaining to this requirement is in the Federal Register dated May 24, 2005.
While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) does not stipulate what the requirements of such a program should include on Constitution Day, it does offer some resources in the Federal Register. Some of these may include such sources2 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 ED’s Federal Registry for Educational Excellence (FREE) Web site to search for topics on Constitution Day, in addition to such organizations as the National Constitution Center (a non-profit, non-partisan organization), the Center for Civic Education, or the National History Education Clearinghouse to search for further program ideas.
Constitution Day and Institutional Responsibility
It is important to note that this requirement is not one that ED delegates to the financial aid offices on campuses. (For example, at some institutions there are other departments on campus that also receive Federal funding.) It is an institutional responsibility. The educational program may be simple or sophisticated, depending upon your institution. You may have a class on the Constitution, provide a link to the Constitution and have a quiz, or perhaps have the Constitution read aloud by faculty or staff and/or students in a common area. You may find a webinar through one of the resources mentioned above that you choose to distribute a link to or use in a class that will contribute to meeting the requirements of a Constitution Day program. Some schools perhaps will utilize their faculty, their academic departments, or student services offices to coordinate or assist with an appropriate program. However, with the creativity that financial aid professionals are known for, it is certain that schools will be able to get some helpful thoughts from their own ingenious staff in financial aid on how to make this year’s Constitution Day program interesting and successful.
Whatever the resources used, undoubtedly you will find many that contribute toward your students’ understanding of our Constitution…and the one we have is a strong Constitution. It is well able to withstand the tests of time.