A constitution, if you can keep it

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. —Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

The Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement announces that, pursuant to legislation passed by Congress, educational institutions receiving Federal funding are required to hold an educational program pertaining to the United States Constitution on September 17 of each year. This notice implements this provision as it applies to educational institutions receiving Federal funding from the Department [of Education].—Federal Register: May 24, 2005

There is nothing inherently wrong with observing the day the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in 1787, but the devil is often in the details.

To some, Constitution Day represents yet another intrusion by the federal government into the affairs of the states, in this case, education. The federal Department of Education has only been in existence since 1980, yet by the Tenth Amendment, the federal Constitution leaves this vital function to the various states. The Constitution Day provision is another in an unending list of federal mandates imposed on the states.

While few would argue against "an educational program pertaining to the United States Constitution," is a federal law mandating it really necessary? Even if there are schools that are not teaching anything about the Constitution, is a one-day program really going to make a difference?

The mandate's lack of specificity is what's good and bad at the same time. Leaving the specifics about the "educational program" to the states and local school districts is a good thing, if you accept the mandate's legitimacy in the first place. Yet as with the rest of your local school's curriculum and state graduation standards, the Constitutional curriculum must be monitored and vetted by parents and the community:
  • Does it teach that the Constitution to be taken as written and amended by the people, or does the Supreme Court have the power to unilaterally create provisions and invalidate existing provisions (the so-called "living Constitution")?
  • Does it teach the importance of our founding principles as stated in the Declaration of Independence?
  • Does it really teach the Constitution, or attempt to redefine it?
On exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what sort of government they had created. "A republic, if you can keep it," said Franklin. As Irish orator John Philpot Curran observed in 1790, "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance."