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Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Constitution’

SIRS Discoverer: Celebrate the Constitution

We celebrate the U.S. Constitution each year during the week of September 17, in honor of its signing on September 17, 1787. The Constitution’s significance on U.S. government and laws is momentous and central to our rights and responsibilities as citizens.

Do today’s young students understand the importance of the U.S. Constitution? Do they know where and when it was written? Can they name a few of its creators and signers? Can they name and define any of the constitutional amendments? Would they understand how the Constitution and its amendments impact our daily lives?

In honor of Constitution Week, SIRS Discoverer’s September Spotlight of the Month highlights the product’s constitutional content and provides students an easy way to research the Constitution and its amendments. Perhaps you and your students could celebrate Constitution Week with a fun research assignment. There are several amendments out of the 27 that seem to be cited most often. How about asking your students to choose one and learn more about it?

By Constitutional Convention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Constitutional Convention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The 1st amendment establishes our right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. What does this mean for us? We can worship as we choose, we can express new and different ideas with no repercussions, and news outlets can report on what is happening in our country and our world. Question: Before the Revolutionary War, did colonial America have freedom of the press?

The 2nd amendment, which protects the right to own guns and use them for self-defense, may be the most debated of all of the constitutional amendments. Question: Where did the concept of “the right to bear arms” originate?

Following the Civil War, the 14th amendment was ratified. It legally protects the citizenship rights all Americans, regardless of race, and details those who are entitled to U.S. citizenship. Question: What “codes” did some Southern states create in response to the 14th amendment?

The 15th amendment guarantees people of all races the right to vote. It was the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments, which were adopted after the Civil War. Question: What state first ratified the 15th amendment?

The 19th amendment gives women the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, helped to draft the amendment. Question: What two women pioneered the women’s suffrage movement by organizing a meeting in Seneca Falls?

Visit SIRS Discoverer during the month of September. Your students will definitely learn some facts about the Constitution. Who knows, you may learn something, too!

150 Years Ago: The 13th Amendment Abolishes Slavery

13th Amendment to the Constitution National Archives of the United States [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by the National Archives of the United States [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

With these words, the Congress of the United States formally abolished slavery — the Senate on April 8, 1864 and the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865.  President Abraham Lincoln’s approval of the joint congressional resolution paved the way for the proposed constitutional amendment to go to the states for ratification.  In swift manner, with Georgia’s passage on December 6, three-fourths of the states (27 of 36) had ratified what would become the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Once and for all, slavery was dead.

Almost three years prior on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed into law the Emancipation Proclamation.  Despite outlawing slavery in the rebellious states, it would take political maneuvering by the Lincoln administration to see the full effects of the president’s order recognized.  Interestingly, the 13th Amendment would not see full ratification until 148 years later in 2013 when Mississippi became the last of the 36 states to certify the abolition of slavery.

The Constitution in the Classroom: Petitioning for Change

Happy Constitution Day!

The day definitely deserves some celebration. The Constitution of the United States is the bedrock of the nation’s government, the defense of our rights as citizens, and the guide to our growth and evolution as a nation. It is at the core of many historical and contemporary debates, and its words are cited countless times a day.

When I consider the significance of this document to the United States, the First Amendment always comes to mind:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

How cool is that? Brilliant in its simplicity.

But this year, I realized that I had never given much thought on how to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” So, in honor of Constitution Day, I checked it out. It turns out that if I observe constitutional wrongdoing by the government, I have recourse. I can formally protest by petitioning the government. I must identify the issue, consider the appropriate person or group to petition, draft a letter, collect signatures of peers who are in agreement, and submit the letter and signatures. Under the First Amendment, the government is obligated to respond to this collective expression of a “grievance.”

I learned something on Constitution Day, and I’m pretty pleased about it.

Petition from the MI State Federation of Women's Clubs recommending a study of child labor, March 1906.

An example of petitioning: Petition from the Michigan State Federation of Women’s Clubs
Recommending a Study of Child Labor, March 1906. [Public Domain] via National Archives

Petition Activity

This type of exercise would be a great way to introduce the First Amendment to students. It would also be a fantastic way to demonstrate the power that they have as citizens of their school and community. See a problem? Then they can follow these steps to draft a petition and start a change!

Step 1: Identify an Issue

First, ask students to identify an issue, problem, injustice, or complaint. Too much homework? Too few computers in the classroom? Not enough healthy options in the school cafeteria? Too early of a curfew? Not enough swings at the neighborhood playground? Stop sign necessary at the corner of First and Main?

Step 2: Select the Audience

Next, they should consider who or what group or organization would be the best audience for their petition. Teacher? Principal? School board? Parents? Parks and Recreation Department? Mayor?

Step 3: Write the Letter

The body of the letter will describe their issue, address why it is important, and explain how changing it will be beneficial. Support statements with facts: Homework issue: “We have very little time to spend with our families.” Computer issue: “There are twenty students in the class but only three computers.” Cafeteria issue: “Fruit is very healthy for the body and mind, but there are not fruit choices every day.” Curfew issue: “I’m not tired at 9 p.m.” Playground issue: “There are usually sad kids at the playground who never get to swing on the swings.” Stop sign issue: “There were two fender benders at the corner of First and Main in August.”

End the letter with a call to action!

Step 4: Collect Signatures

At the bottom of the letter, collect signatures of people who support the petition. Add extra pages to the letter, if necessary.

Dear Principal Ronatta,
We are Ms. Jones 4th grade class, room 372.
We want three extra computers in our classroom.
We feel this would help us by allowing more of our class to use the computers at one time. There are only three computers in the classroom right now, and lots of students want to use them during class time. This makes it difficult to work on research projects and Fast Math.
We ask you, Principal Ronatta, to make a difference in our classroom by putting three more computers in our classroom.
Signed by,
(Signatures of each student in the class who supports the petition. And maybe even the teacher’s signature!)

Step 5: Submit Petition

Then have the students mail, e-mail or submit in-person their petition and await a response.

Petitioning for change is an act of contemplation, courage, and power. Even if the results are not what the student petitioner wanted, she/he now knows that she/he has a voice and, when expressed the right way, it will be heard.

Join ProQuest in celebrating the U.S. Constitution. Check out the September Spotlights of the Month on SIRS Discoverer and SIRS Knowledge Source for articles, Web sites, photos, quizzes, quotes, and more on this landmark document and its impact on our nation and rights as citizens.

Constitution Week: Debates for the Classroom

Research has shown that students involved in debating programs are more likely to graduate from high school. Learning and participating in the art of debating helps to develop students’ critical-thinking skills and can even improve academic performance.

Imagine the debates that took place during the Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1787. The debates centered around the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, which was completed and signed on September 17 of that year. We honor this document each year by celebrating Constitution Week, which falls during the week of September 17. Students across the country delve into the history of the U.S. Constitution, study the lives of the people responsible for its creation, examine the 27 constitutional amendments, and explore the debates surrounding them at the time of their ratification.

There’s another way students can explore the Constitution and its amendments. Countless interpretations of constitutional amendments are debated today in living rooms, in political demonstrations, on Capitol Hill, and in the Supreme Court.

Why not bring these contemporary debates into the classroom?

Contents of a lockbox are secured to help prevent possible injury to family members. <br \> Office of Training and Development/U.S. Customs and Border Protection, via ProQuest SIRS Government Reporter [Public Domain]

Contents of a lockbox are secured to help prevent possible injury to family members.
Office of Training and Development/U.S. Customs and Border Protection, via ProQuest SIRS Government Reporter [Public Domain]

The 2nd amendment, which protects U.S. citizens’ right to bear arms, is a leading issue worthy of discussion. Some people are staunch advocates of this civil liberty, citing its magnitude in self-protection and self-defense. Others propose stricter gun-control laws, believing that the types and number of firearms should be regulated. This amendment is hotly debated, and is often cited in Supreme Court cases. What would this debate look like in your classroom?

Citizenship and privacy rights, among other liberties, are outlined in the 14th amendment, which was ratified following the Civil War. How is this amendment interpreted today, and how do those interpretations present themselves in the Supreme Court? In the highly controversial issue of abortion, for example, interpretation of this amendment’s clause on privacy is often debated. The 14th amendment is also cited in court cases involving same-sex marriage. Is this an amendment that your class could research, discuss, and debate?

Whatever the constitutional amendment or resulting controversy, SKS provides the information necessary for research, illumination, and understanding. Visit September’s SKS Spotlight of the Month on Constitution Week to glimpse the product’s varied material on the U.S. Constitution and its amendments, including Leading Issues coverage, news and magazine articles, reference works, court cases, and Web sites. Your students will start their research here, and then plunge deeper, fueling their minds with facts and opinions for exciting classroom debates.

 

Discoverer Spotlight: Celebrate the Constitution

U.S. Constitution <br \> by Library of Congress, via ProQuest SIRS Discoverer [Public Domain]

U.S. Constitution
by Library of Congress, via ProQuest SIRS Discoverer [Public Domain]

The Constitution of the United States is the foundation of the nation’s government and civil rights. Did you know that it is more than 200 years old? It was signed by 39 delegates from 12 states on September 17, 1787.  That is why we celebrate Constitution Week every September! In town squares, civic centers, and government buildings around the country, people gather to take part in Constitution fairs,  clinics, lectures, and treasure hunts. You may even celebrate Constitution Week at school! Perhaps you’ll learn about the men who signed the Constitution, or read about the day the Constitution became “the Law of the Land” on June 21, 1788, or hear about how the Constitution has changed over the years.

Learn more about Benjamin Franklin–at age 81, he was the oldest delegate to sign the Constitution! Do you know about the First Amendment to the Constitution? Check out the rights it gives to you as a U.S. citizen!  Visit SIRS Discoverer and prepare yourself for Constitution Week…you just may impress your friends and teachers!