America’s schools and universities recently marked the birth of the U.S. Constitution by complying with a federal mandate to teach about America’s most important document. But the congressionally-directed celebration may turn out to be a lesson in irony-at least in one Nebraska high school.
Congress created Constitution Day in 2004 when Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) inserted a provision into an appropriations bill to require that all schools and universities receiving federal funding to celebrate “Constitution and Citizenship Day” by holding an educational program on the U.S. Constitution on September 17. (This year, the 17 falls on a Sunday, and so the government granted schools leeway to hold the lessons this week.)
Few would disagree that it is important for students and citizens to understand our founding principles and American history. But Senator Byrd’s amendment stands at odds with the Constitution, and one public school teacher in Lincoln, Nebraska, has picked up on this irony and is sharing it with his students.
David Nebel’s AP Politics and Government class will comply with the federal mandate by considering whether the federal mandate is constitutional, reports Margaret Reist in the Lincoln Journal Star. Students will review the Constitution and write papers arguing for or against the mandate’s constitutionality. In the spirit of “Citizenship Day,” students are encouraged to send letters and a copy of their essays to their Nebraska senators and Sen. Byrd.
Now that’s making the Constitution come alive, even if it’s not exactly what Sen. Byrd intended.
Congress itself could benefit from a similar exercise. The Constitution provides strong guidance on which powers are delegated to Congress and the federal government and which powers are left to the states and people. It does not grant Congress any explicit role in education. Indeed, the word “education” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution.