Teaching Constitution Day


Editor’s note: This post was written by the museum’s Summer Teacher Associate. Each year, we bring one teacher to work with our education team for the summer, to develop new activities and provide input on education projects and products in development.

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A discussion about teaching on Constitution Day from Verizon Thinkfinity’s online community.

On any given day in late August, our social studies department chair will announce that Constitution Day is approaching (observed on September 16 this year) and we teachers need to be thinking about what we are going to do in honor of this event. Unfortunately, teachers are on a strict schedule—in several Georgia counties, teachers have 177 days to get through an entire course curriculum to make sure students are prepared for statewide exit exams, AP tests, and countless other benchmarks. It is difficult to stop with what you are teaching, talk about the Constitution, and then pick up with where you left off without confusing the majority of your students.

In some cases, it isn’t too hard for a teacher to include Constitution Day activities in class. For example, if one is teaching U.S. history or government, Constitution Day falls during a convenient time of year: the curriculum is paced in such a way that most U.S. history instructors will be teaching the development of our country around that time, so everything naturally falls into place. But what about those of us teaching world history, geography, economics, psychology, or sociology? It’s not so easy to take a day out of your unit on Ancient India to discuss the U.S. Constitution. Many teachers can creatively make a leap that “makes sense” to us, but most students are left wondering what that was all about.

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The "A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution"  website traces the history of Japanese American confinement during World War II.

Many teachers (including myself) are bombarded with resources for teaching Constitution Day, most of which are wonderful and very engaging for students. However, it would be great to see some cross-curricular resources for Constitution Day that include lessons for those of us teaching the various other social studies courses. As I discussed this issue during the summer with members of the History Explorer team at the National Museum of American History, they were able to offer me valuable insight and perspective on my dilemma. If teaching about Hinduism, why not include, for example, the concept of freedom of religion in my lesson? I appreciated the input and fresh ideas and it led me to thinking more and more about how this important day could be incorporated in every class despite the subject.

As Constitution Day is now quickly approaching, I find that I will once again be in a rather inconvenient place in time during my world history classes. However, I find that a different way of thinking about the mandated lessons might actually turn into “teaching gold,” allowing me to make connections and build relevancy in ways that I had never thought possible. I hope that at the next social studies team meeting, I am able to impart a new way of thinking about our Constitution, and all the different avenues available that make the Constitution applicable to all subjects and all students.

What great ideas do you have for Constitution Day?

Kacie Kratzert is a teacher at Milton High School in Alpharetta, Georgia and was the National Museum of American History’s 2011 Summer Teacher Associate. To find resources for teaching Constitution Day, visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer or theThinkfinity Community.