Our early days as a nation endured a bumpy start. As the original states were floundering in the New World, the need to live up to the name, “United States of America,” was beginning to become evident. There was a need for unity. Each of the states had their own interests they wanted to satisfy, but the confederation of independent states, established as a “league of friendship,” was not organized to fully meet those needs. The Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781, lacked in the areas of authority and ability to govern the states in matters of commerce, issues of revenue, and resolution of disputes between states. Those “simple” matters—interstate commerce, ability to generate revenue to finance a war effort, if necessary, and harmony among the states—were the key elements that spawned the drive for the Constitutional Convention. After months of disagreements, deliberations and decisive resolutions, a distinctively unique constitution was defined!
Our nation’s Constitution has weathered close to 230 years, and still remains strong. As a testament to its enduring effectiveness, although it has had a few amendments, the Constitution remains effective and provides a guiding light for decisions affecting our daily lives today. That speaks volumes to the founders of our nation. In spite of the limited number of amendments to the original document, the U.S. Constitution is considered to be the longest surviving written constitution in the world. It does us all well to ensure we know what it says, so we know why it is so strong and can shine such bright light on our direction today. To that end, legislation was enacted to establish “Constitution Day” to help meet 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 sources 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), the Center for Civic Education, or the National History Education Clearinghouse may yield 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 continues to light our way through the challenges a nation faces. Thankfully, our Constitution was designed to withstand the tests of time, so that it shines brightly through the ages.