Teaching the Constitution in school used to be one of the most critical parts of the standard civics curriculum. Today, with politics seemingly involved in nearly every aspect of every person’s professional and personal life, the need for quality education about the nation’s founding document is acuter than ever.
What is remarkable about the Constitution is its simplicity. It is only six pages long. It contains seven articles and 27 amendments. Even its most verbose portions are positively sparse compared to the United States Code, which runs to hundreds of books and thousands of pages. What is also remarkable about the Constitution how vital it is to the proper functioning of a nation.
The activities of the federal government of the United States are continually published on the front pages of every news site daily. Each initiative can be examined in light of the Constitution’s purpose, which is to restrain the federal government and to prevent it from becoming an instrument of tyranny. Students should consider the rarely cited provisions of the Bill of Rights like the Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Amendments, and discuss how those amendments might influence both state and federal governments in the event of a dispute.
If there is a dispute about the proper role of government, it will play out before a federal judge, an appellate court or the Supreme Court of the United States. These cases are generally well publicized on various news sites. What is at issue in each case? Does the Constitution address the dispute? If so, how? How should the judges in the case rule and why? These questions can lead to lively debates over a variety of concepts and demonstrate to students how governments can work their way through problems while adhering to the provisions of the law.
Students could run for office in a mock election. As they prepare their platforms and present their candidacies to the other students, they could be required to justify every one of their campaign promises on the basis of its adherence to the Constitution. They should be required to explain to the “voters” in the rest of the class how they will live up to their oath to support and defend the Constitution. The class can then vote and explain why they voted for each candidate.
A wise man once said, “America is advanced citizenship.” There can be no doubt the Constitution, which is the people’s document, is the key foundation in building advanced citizens, and it starts in the classroom.