Surveys show that distressingly few people in America are able to answer basic questions about the U.S. Constitution, such as naming the three branches of government or listing their First Amendment rights.
In South Carolina, where many people claim to revere this founding document that our state ratified in 1788, there is a growing risk — particularly among younger generations — that the Constitution becomes a fossilized artifact valued only for academic reference.
At the ACLU of South Carolina, we often hear that “kids don’t care about privacy,” or “discrimination just isn’t an issue for children.”
The reality is quite different; young people do care, and should care even more.
The rights of students and recent graduates are particularly vulnerable when: cell phones are confiscated or improperly searched in schools; students are expelled for minor misbehavior or accidental infractions; schools refuse to permit students to form gay-straight support clubs; or prospective employers ask for passwords to applicants’ personal social media sites.
Even the youngest among us needs to know how the Constitution protects everyone’s rights.
To help save our Constitution from the dust heap of history, the ACLU is launching Constitution Day, Brought To You By The ACLU, a program to educate students about why the Constitution remains important in our daily lives.
This is an educational program that schools around the country can use to fulfill Congress’ 2004 mandate that all schools receiving federal funds teach something about the Constitution every year on Sept. 17.
Private or religious schools are also invited to use the program; all students should learn about the Constitution, individual freedom and civil liberties.
Many schools are unaware of this congressional mandate; others schools used dated materials that do not resonate with today’s youths and the challenges they face.
The “Constitution Day, Brought To You By The ACLU” program addresses these issues and makes learning about the Constitution fun, challenging, and relevant to modern-day students.
The program uses real-life examples, a mural contest that enables students to win cash prizes for their schools and a dynamic website with games and teacher resources to engage students.
Of course, understanding the Constitution isn’t a one-day endeavor, and our Constitution Day efforts will continue year-round.
We hope parents and teachers will reinforce that the Constitution is a living document, never more necessary than today.
For almost a century, the ACLU has fought to protect the individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution to “all persons” in America.
On this Constitution Day, we pause to reflect on iconic past victories with the understanding that the struggle for freedom never stays won.
Victoria Middleton is executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina.
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