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Constitution Day with real life lessons

A teacher offers a list of lesson ideas for the federally mandated day of observance, Sept. 17.

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Teachers cherish summers off. But Sept. 17 is gaining on us. Sept. 17? That's the day in 1787 that the US Constitution was unveiled. Because I teach at an institution that receives federal funding, my college – and all public K-12 schools and colleges – must celebrate it this year as Constitution Day.

The requirement, a long-cherished hope of Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia, was slipped into a spending bill in 2004. Never before has the federal government mandated teaching a particular topic on a particular day. The law makes no demands as to content or format, but many educators, especially in higher education, find it duplicative, patronizing, maybe even unconstitutional. But I can't resist a teachable moment. So to quote President Bush, "Bring it on."

For the occasion, the National Archives offers, among other resources, videos of Supreme Court justices, a taped discussion about technology's effects on deliberative democracy, and a game about delegates' feelings in 1787. We must do better. I propose that educators – and citizens – use a more relevant resource come September: our present constitutional crisis.

This administration and Congress have severely tested the Constitution on executive authority, checks and balances, separation of powers, individual rights – and it's all in play as never before. How real, how important, how suitable, the following lesson ideas are. In the best free-speech tradition, I submit to a candid world:

1. Upholding the law. In more than 750 cases since becoming president, Mr. Bush has signed laws passed by Congress and then issued "signing statements," reserving for himself the right not to enforce parts of those laws.

2. Watching our phone calls, library records, and bank accounts. A string of disclosures indicate that this administration will sacrifice Fourth Amendment guarantees in the search for terrorists. Or is it pornographers they're looking for? Or drug dealers?

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