Constitution Day observances
Photo by Dan Addison
James Madison’s handiwork takes center stage at Thomas Jefferson’s university in mid-September, thanks to a provision tucked into a federal spending bill last fall.
The measure, backed by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., requires all educational institutions that receive federal funds “to hold an educational program” for students “pertaining to the U.S. Constitution on September 17th of each year.” When Sept. 17 falls on a weekend, as it does this year, schools may celebrate “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day” in the preceding or following weeks.
The U.Va. Center for Politics anticipated that K-12 educators would need curricular materials to meet the unfunded federal requirement, and worked through the spring and summer to develop and distribute free lesson plans through its Youth Leadership Initiative program. The institute mapped out lessons on nine topics related to the Constitution, differentiated for students at all learning levels, and sent them out accompanied by a Bill of Rights poster and a Constitution-themed academic planner.
“We’ve heard from many teachers and administrators who are anxious about this new legislation and want to be prepared,” said Lea Brown, the institute’s director of instruction. “The interest in these new materials is extremely high. In fact, we’ve never seen it as high as it is this year.”
Two U.Va. professors will make presentations in the week leading up to Constitution Day.
On Sept. 12, Richard Handler, associate professor of anthropology and associate dean of academic programs for the College of Arts & Sciences, will present “An Anthropologist Reads the Constitution: Text, Culture, History.” The lecture will be delivered at 2 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall South Meeting Room.
On Sept. 15, Paul Freedman, associate professor of politics, will speak on “Crowded Values: A Conversation About the First Amendment.” His presentation, billed as “an evening of conversation and debate,” will be held at 7 p.m. in the lounge at Webb House in the Alderman Road first-year dorms.
The University Library will host a presentation by Pauline Meier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at 3 p.m. on Sept. 16 in the Harrison/Small Auditorium. Meier’s talk, “Take This or Nothing: Rethinking the Debate Over the Constitution,” is the first of an annual lecture series sponsored by the McGregor Fund of Detroit, and also celebrates the completed restoration and reopening of Alderman Library’s McGregor Room.
The Miller Center of Public Affairs has designated two of its popular forums as Constitution Day observances.
On Sept. 19 at 11 a.m., Evan Thomas, assistant managing editor of Newsweek magazine and a graduate of the U.Va. School of Law, will give an overview of the constitutional process being followed in the nomination of a replacement for retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
On Sept. 21 at 11 a.m., John Harris, a national writer for the Washington Post, will comment on the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton and other constitutional issues and crises of the Clinton administration.