On Constitution Day

We’re featuring Brad Wilson’s excellent piece on Constitution Day from Academic Questions. He notes that colleges seemed taken aback, or positively dyspeptic, when faced with a 2005 federal requirement to make some sort of observation or commemoration for “Constitution Day” – September 17. Universities were widely alarmed at such an “intrusion” – even in very vaguely defined form. Many seemed to have no idea what might constitute such a commemoration, or actively regarded the thought of such an event as offensive. The author wonders:

Was the absence of a recognition of Constitution Day in our colleges (and no doubt our high schools) explicable in terms of a turning away, in a spirit of tolerance and inclusion, from prideful rituals of a broadly political nature – rituals that may make some alien, or alienated, group feel like it is not a full and respected member of the campus community? Perhaps that is what was meant by an emeritus professor of English in his letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education: “Such a [federal] mandate is deeply troubling and reflects a blind jingoism that should not be confused with patriotism.” But then how to account for the omnipresence of public campus celebrations of various “identities” that by their very nature are exclusive – to take one of countless examples, Princeton University’s annual celebration of National Coming Out Day, announced with great relish to faculty, staff, and students by the Dean of the College’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center? Political, to be sure, and bound to annoy or alienate some parts of the campus community.

Read Wilson’s full thoughts on the Universities’ path away from civic education.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

One thought on “On Constitution Day”

  1. Illinois had for decades a state requirement that all would-be teachers must pass a course on the national and state constitutions. For about twenty years I taught a very large introductory American government course that satisfied the US part (and in considerable detail, I should add). I also wrote the Illinois constitution test that permitted future teachers to satisfy the state constitution obligation. No one objected during this time. Nobody.
    I suspect that 99% of the faculty had no idea of this law. I also suspect that it is true elsewhere, perhaps a hangover of the patriotic 1950s.
    It hardly surprises me that “educated” professors object to government mandates without first checking the facts. I recall similar resistence to Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights when their university bylaws long included identical language.
    In other words, to paraphrase the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, protest first, inquiry afterwards. The orginal was “sentence first, verdict afterwards” as in the Duke case.

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