A Day Set Aside for the Constitution

Robert Siegel talks to two teachers about how they dealt with bringing the spirit of Section 111 of Title I, Division J, of the Fiscal Year 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Pub. L. 108-447) into the classroom. The law was enacted on Dec. 8, 2004, and requires the head of each Federal agency or department each year to provide each new employee of the agency or department with educational and training materials concerning the U.S. Constitution as part of the orientation materials provided to the new employee; and provide educational and training materials concerning the Constitution to each employee of the agency or department each year.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Tomorrow is the 208th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. Last December, Congress passed a law meant to remind Americans about the content of that document. One part of it requires schools that get federal funds to hold programs about the Constitution. It leaves the details of those programs up to teachers. Today we asked two of them to tell us how they approach that mandate.

Mr. ROBERT RUCKMAN (Teacher, Arvin High School): My name is Robert Ruckman, and I teach government and economics in Arvin, California, at Arvin High School.

SIEGEL: And what have you done today for Constitution Day?

Mr. RUCKMAN: For Constitution Day today many of my students are engaging in a federalist/anti-federalist debate.

SIEGEL: Have they taken to this with enthusiasm, this...

Mr. RUCKMAN: Absolutely. For the past three days I've had 40-plus students staying after school for two to three hours on their own just simply to work on this assignment.

SIEGEL: Now this is novel, this Constitution Day. Yes?

Mr. RUCKMAN: Yes.

SIEGEL: So your reaction on balance as a teacher is it's a good idea or a bit coercive from on high?

Mr. RUCKMAN: I think that one day out of the year I don't feel is coercive as long as they leave it up to the teachers on how to present that.

SIEGEL: Mr. Ruckman, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. RUCKMAN: Thank you.

Ms. MARIE NEMES (Teacher, Allentown, Pennsylvania): I'm Marie Nemes in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and I'm a kindergarten teacher with the Allentown School District.

SIEGEL: And you're at Ritter Elementary School.

Ms. NEMES: Correct.

SIEGEL: Constitution Day?

Ms. NEMES: Yes.

SIEGEL: What did you do with your kindergartners?

Ms. NEMES: We discussed what classroom rules we had written on Monday and I asked them if grown-ups had rules to follow. And, of course, a few hands went up and a student had said, `Yes, they must keep hands to themselves.' And then I asked, `Where are these rules for grown-ups to follow found or written, or where do they come from?' So then I shared a picture of the Constitution and just described a little bit about how it was written and allowed them to look at a picture of the document. And they told me that it looked old and we just discussed that rules need to be followed and if we do not follow them, we can be punished. And they responded that grown-ups sometimes need to go to jail. And I talked about that kind of like being like our time-out chair.

SIEGEL: You kind of found the `works and plays well with others' dimension of the Constitution?

Ms. NEMES: Yes.

SIEGEL: That's Marie Nemes in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Today was the first year that schools had to mark Constitution Day.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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