The history of Constitution Day is not nearly as impressive as the Constitution itself. It began, and became a federal requirement for schools to celebrate, in 2004, a mere 12 years ago. It also came to be what we would call pork – an amendment to a massive appropriations bill doling out federal largess to local and particular interests, not at all what the Constitution contemplated as “the general welfare.”
While we love Constitution Day, it is unfortunate that the celebration does not have a more hallowed history. Alas, we may set aside these curmudgeonly observations and simply enjoy the great opportunity to teach students about the Constitution and limited government. Our celebration consists of a wide variety of conversations and lectures across the grades. The range is surprising. In 4th Grade, for instance, students learned about pirates, as one of the legislature’s enumerated powers as outlined in Article I, Section 8, is “To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations.” In 6th Grade, as part of their unit on electricity, students studied the same Article and learned about the legislature’s power to protect patents for a limited time, securing to authors and inventors the fair fruits of their labor. There are, it turns out, quite interesting tales animating the less-studied nooks and crannies of the Constitution. In the High School, students discussed the influence of Roman and Greek laws on American institutions, and other classes considered the nature of American citizenship or what makes a society free.
Our overall approach to Constitution Day at Golden View Classical is one of gratitude. Too often, we focus on those three beautiful, largely-written words that grace the Preamble – “We the People.” But we often forget, or are never taught, that the Preamble speaks of “ourselves and our Posterity,” and that we today are most clearly, and should understand ourselves first as, posterity. The Constitution is a gift, the value of which is beyond reckoning, and it behooves us to study its interesting structure and complexity before we claim that great responsibility of We the People. Those words, perhaps, are less a statement of fact than a title to be earned. Perhaps it makes more sense, and better secures constitutional and limited government, if we bring to it a sense of our obligations to be responsible citizens. At the very least, such a view will save the Constitution in our own minds from its current assignment to a forgotten Subsection, buried in a lost Title, at the end of an omnibus spending bill.