Why Bother Remembering Our Constitution?


Why Bother Remembering Our Constitution?

Every September 17, on Constitution Day, I am required, as a public school teacher, to present a lesson to my fourth grade students about this important document. By the time most students reach the fourth grade, they already know a few things about American history. They understand we have a president, as opposed to a king. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Donald Trump are the presidents’ names they recall most easily.  

They know something about the Civil War, WWII, and Vietnam, but not necessarily in that order. When I ask them what they know about the constitution one of them tells me, “It is a list of rules that tell us how to be nice to each other.”

Executive Judicial Legislative

I began my lesson by reading a story, A More Perfect Union, by Betsy Maestro. The book tells about our new republic’s journey and how the people established the document that became the Constitution. Next, I displayed a slide show showing them the three branches of the government and the duties each branch carries. The words executive, judicial and legislative are not easy for any nine or ten year old to pronounce, so during our lesson, they practiced repeating the three words over and over again. 

I wanted them to have something to take home to “ show and tell” their parents, so we created a booklet. It required cutting, folding and stapling paper. Even these tasks prove difficult for fourth graders to coordinate. Their booklet consisted of four rectangles. The first one was their cover page; Three branches of the Government. The next three pages were titled; Executive Branch, Judicial Branch and Legislative Branch. Using the slide display, they copied down the duties each section of our government is responsible for and repeated the important words; executive, judicial, legislative.

Then it was lunch time. While they were in the cafeteria, I looked at their work. It wasn’t pretty. Half their words were misspelled, and they had stapled their pages out of order. This would not be a product for them to “show and tell” their parents. So, I made cheat sheets that listed the duties of each branch of government and when they returned from lunch, we began the project all over again. They cut out their pages more neatly this time, stapled them in order and used the cheat sheets to spell words correctly. I was feeling better about this project and so were they.

At the end of the day, I always tell my students; “In order for you to leave you have to tell me….” That day I asked them to recall the three branches of our government. One by one, they stumbled over the new words they had learned to pronounce. Finally, my last student stood in front of me. “What are the three branches of our government?” I asked him. 

His brown eyes looked up into mine as he said, “Executive, judicial and laxative.” 

It is never easy to keep a straight face when correcting a student, but I refrained from laughing until after he left the room. 

Why bother remembering our constitution? It is worth remembering the most important document of our country since it is the foundation on which we stand. Remembering how to pronounce the words associated it, is important too

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