by Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich and Speaker Newt Gingrich
In Philadelphia 235 years ago today, 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the U.S. Constitution. Eleven years had passed since the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and this historic event marked an important milestone for our remarkable experiment in self-government.
The signing of the U.S. Constitution was the symbolic reward for years of toil and bloodshed in the Revolutionary War. It signaled to the world that the principles of freedom, liberty, and representative government would prevail. In a more practical sense, it was the official start of our new nation’s government.
For more than 200 years, states and local governments recognized Constitution Day in various ways. It has been called “I am an American Day” and “Citizenship Day.” However, it was not federally recognized until 2004, when former Senator Robert Byrd offered the Constitution Day amendment to the fiscal year 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
Along with officially observing Constitution Day nationwide, this amendment mandated that all federal employees receive training materials on the U.S. Constitution when they begin public service – and each year on September 17.
Additionally, the law required that: “[e]ach educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.”
This educational requirement is vitally important, but it has not been enough to preserve our Constitution and history. Unfortunately, we are doing a poor job of teaching the next generation of Americans about our nation’s founding, our core principles, and the brave men and women who forged our exceptional country.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), scores in American history are the lowest across all subjects and grade levels. Only 20 percent of fourth-graders, 15 percent of eighth-graders, and 12 percent of 12th-graders are proficient in American history. Scores in civics are also alarmingly low, as only 27 percent of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth- and 12th-graders are meeting NAEP standards.
As some forces in America seek to revise and reimagine our history – and teach our children to denigrate and condemn our nation’s founders – these trends will only get worse.
Those of us who understand the importance of our nation’s past must work to cure this historic amnesia and find better ways of sharing our American story.
This is why we produced and filmed “The First American,” our award-winning documentary about the life and legacy of General George Washington.
Washington was indispensable to America’s founding. Without his military leadership in winning the Revolutionary War and his political leadership in forming our republic, there would be no U.S. Constitution – or United States of America at all.
Our other Founding Fathers held Washington in the highest regard and knew that his sense of morality and honor transcended politics or personal ambition. There was a reason Washington commanded the Army for eight years, presided over the Constitutional Convention, and served two terms as the first President of the United States.
Studying Washington and his life will help Americans young and old gain a more complete understanding of the principles and ideals on which our nation was founded – and a deeper appreciation for why we celebrate Constitution Day.
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For more commentary from Ambassador Gingrich and Speaker Gingrich, and to watch “The First American,” visit Gingrich360.com.