WASHINGTON, DC – Here’s a bit of advice for parents and teachers. Next time your kids say history class is boring, tell them they have a right to be bored—it’s guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Better yet, perhaps you could use the very last weekend of summer to convey the message. After all, we celebrate Constitution Day 2017 on Sunday, the 17th of September.
In 1940 “I am an American Day” was established by Congress to be observed on the third Sunday in May each year. Meanwhile, a patriotic Ohio woman, Olga T. Weber, was advancing her own notions about how best to disseminate the word about what it means to be an American. By 1952 she was in the midst of a crusade to set aside a day to honor the country’s heritage. A year later, she convinced Congress and President Dwight D. Eisenhower to tag September 17th as Citizenship Day; the document was signed by the Founding Fathers on the same date in 1787.
Later, another patriot, Louise Leigh-–already immersed in the study of the U.S. Constitution—founded a 1997 non-profit organization called Constitution Day Inc. Her aim was to shift the focus of Citizenship Day to the U.S. Constitution.
In an interview with the journal, Education World, soon after President George W. Bush signed a law in 2004 declaring September 17th to be known as Constitution Day, she explained her purpose:
“I became acutely aware of the uniqueness, the greatness, and the miracle of our Constitution. Until the 1800s, every American child could recite all the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, which is not done today. We celebrate Independence Day on July 4 with gusto. The Revolutionary War gave us independence from England, but the Constitution is the document that gave us freedom, which has made us the greatest and mightiest nation in history,” Ms. Leigh said.
Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, agrees. As he put it: “If the Declaration of Independence is our country’s creed, then the Constitution is its road map. Knowledge of it is essential for an understanding of our history, of our government, of our laws, and of what makes us a free people. The transmission of that knowledge is vital for the survival of our democracy. To make that happen, rising generations must learn, and celebrate, this great bequest of liberty.”
Cole is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, an award dedicated to reigniting broad-based interest in the study of history by encouraging authors and publishers to produce more historically accurate and engaging fiction and non-fiction for school children.
He also serves on the panel of judges for the Prize along with Douglas Bradburn, Ph.D., founding director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, VA. The library is devoted to scholarly research about George Washington and the Founding Era.
Dr. Bradburn believes “every American citizen should take some time to reflect on the grand experiment in Democracy of which we are all stewards. They should celebrate the accomplishment of the creation of the Constitution and recognize that we are part of an ongoing story. Each young American needs to study its creation and its purpose, as they will be the ones governing themselves when they come of age. The celebration of the great achievement of the Constitution is not blind worship, but a mature appreciation of the special responsibility we all have to attempt to build a country where the people are sovereign and enjoy their freedoms under a peaceful system which requires accommodation as well as encouraging dissent. The Constitution of the United States is both our birthright and our legacy.”
As for those so-called boring history classes our kids must endure, the founders of the Grateful American Book Prize, suggest they read engaging works that tell America’s stories. “Books like these can make them curious, and wanting to know more,” says education advocate David Bruce Smith, who along with Dr. Cole, founded the Book Prize. And, Smith recommends five books suitable for children in elementary, middle, and high school, which might just do the trick for this year’s Constitution Day festivities:
- If You Were There When They Signed The Constitution by Elizabeth Levy
- The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution by Dennis Brindell Fradin with illustrations by Michael McCurdy
- Constitution Translated for Kids by Cathy Travis
- In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights by Russell Freedman
- The Constitution of the United States by Sam Fink
The winner of the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize will be revealed at an October 12th reception at The National Archives in Washington, DC .The author will receive $13,000, and a medallion created by American artist, Clarice Smith.
Submissions for 2018 will be accepted January 1st through July 31st.