Although Constitution Day is observed on Tuesday, the signing of the U.S. Constitution gets little attention in many classrooms on the day of the federal holiday.
Schools that receive federal funding have been required to teach, in some way, about the Constitution on Sept. 17 every year since around 2004. But less than a month into the school year, that date isn’t the most convenient for teachers.
The district curriculum team at Tulsa Public Schools provides educators with suggested resources for teaching about what role the seminal document played in the creation of the U.S. government, said Danielle Neves, the district’s deputy chief of academics. These include primary source documents, videos and lesson activities.
Neves said teachers are encouraged to engage their students in reflection and discussion about the voices included in the Constitution, those that were omitted and how slavery was protected by it.
Teachers decide which lessons they want to use in their classrooms on Sept. 17 and draw connections to their grade’s social studies content. Students learn about the branches of government in the fourth grade, for example, while kindergartners study national symbols.
The problem is that students typically don’t begin learning about social studies until later in the school year. Third-graders study the geography of Oklahoma in September. Seventh-graders study European geography.
“For many teachers, less attention is drawn to Constitution Day because there is not a direct connection to their first unit of study, causing teachers to pause for a lesson that is not integrated into their current unit,” Neves said.
At the Union Public Schools Eighth Grade Center, students learn about U.S. history in chronological order. This week they’re learning about the French and Indian War, which occurred from 1754 to 1763.
The Constitution wasn’t signed until more than two decades after that war ended. Students aren’t ready to take a deep dive into the creation of a supreme law in America and why the Bill of Rights was needed, said Shelley Zevnik-Breece, a history teacher at the Union Eighth Grade Center.
“You cannot do the Constitution justice in a day,” Zevnik-Breece said. “So we recognize (Constitution Day) as a holiday. We talk to the kids about it, and then we let them know where we are in our curriculum and that we’re going to get to the point where we study the Constitution. They will learn why. They will learn how. They’ll learn the problems that were associated with getting it ratified and then the problems with it that we addressed with the Bill of Rights.”
Federal holidays with higher renown receive more attention at Jenks Public Schools, but the district still gives plenty of recognition to Constitution Day, said Rose Pixley, director of teaching and learning. Relevant programming is written into the curriculum, and lesson supports are provided to teachers.
“There’s not a large school-wide assembly because we usually reserve pooling that class time for Veteran’s Day and to celebrate Freedom Week,” Pixley said. “But teachers are recognizing and celebrating and having a program about the Constitution on this day.”
Classroom activities range from reading through pocket-size booklets of the Constitution to analyzing the Preamble as it relates to modern society. Pixley said the discussions range in sophistication depending on grade level.
“The goal for the teachers is that it’s very celebratory in nature, that it is grade-level appropriate and that it’s aligned through our Oklahoma academic standards for social studies,” she said.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.