“September 17, 1787 is one of the most important, yet ironically one of the least known, dates in American history” That’s what President Bill Clinton wrote, in a 1993 Presidential Proclamation, declaring September 17 “Constitution Day,” and the entire week, “Constitution week.” Did you know that September 17 is “Constitution Day”? Me neither.
Opinion: Three Stooges and Three Branches of Government – Who Knows?
Here are 12 quick questions about contemporary America and the Constitution, taken from a national survey of 600 students in 1998. You might want to take it, and give it to youngsters in your house or classroom. The survey is on the National Constitution Center website.
1. What are the names of the 3 branches of Government, as described in the Constitution?
2. What are the names of the “3 Stooges”?
3. Who generally is described as “the father of the Constitution?
4. Who generally is described as the “father of Microsoft”?
5. What are the first three words in the Constitution?
6. What are the first three letters in most internet addresses?
7. In what city was the Constitution written?
8. What city is associated with the zip code 90210?
9. What’s the name of the vice president of the United States?
10. What’s the name of the male star of the movie “Titanic”?
11. What rights are protected by the 5th Amendment?
12. What does “the Club” protect?
(For answers, go to the Constitution Center.)
The survey found that:
• 41.2% of respondents knew the names of the three branches of government; 59.2%
knew names of the “Three Stooges.”
* 35.5% of respondents knew the first three words of the Constitution compared to 71.2% who know that www is the first three letters of most Web site addresses.
• 25.5% of respondents know that Philadelphia is the city where the Constitution was written; 75.2% who know what city the zip code 90210 is attributed to.
* 1.8% of respondents know that James Madison is considered the father of the U.S. Constitution compared to 58.3% who know that Bill Gates is the father of Microsoft
* 90% knew the Titanic movie male star’s name; 74% who knew the VP.
* 63.7% knew “the Club” protects cars; 25% who knew what rights are guaranteed by the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.
Here are a few of the best websites about the Constitution:
National Constitution Center, www.constitutioncenter.org – based in Philadelphia, but with extensive outreach, games and materials for families and educators.
Bill of Rights Institute, www.billofrightsinstitute.org (Also running a national student essay contest with more than $60,000 in prizes)
Constitution Day, www.constitutionday.org
Incidentally, the Constitution’s first three words are “We the People.” Here’s the Constitution’s Preamble: “We The People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Not yet a complete reality, but a magnificent vision that we need to understand, and work for.
Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota.