West Virginia Students Celebrate Constitution Day

September 16, 2009

By State Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine

In January, we heard a new president take the Oath of Office swearing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” This oath is specified in the Constitution itself. How many of us have really listened to those words and wondered why the president swears to protect and defend a piece of paper, our Constitution, not our country?

Our founding fathers suffered under the rule of kings. Our founders had the revolutionary idea to put their faith in the people, not in a king. They wrote down the commitments and rules that outlined how they agreed to live together into the Constitution and signed their names to it on Sept. 17, 1787. Who could know that this brief document, which had been hammered out by a committee of just five men, would change world history and become a blueprint for democracy across the globe? 

Today, the level of knowledge Americans have of our Constitution is shockingly low. Many admit they have never read it. That is a reason the Legislature created the West Virginia Civics Literacy Council. The council, a coalition of organizations, groups and agencies, is working to strengthen civic knowledge, citizenship, and the civic participation of West Virginia’s youth and young adults. To defend and preserve the Constitution, we must understand it and carry out our responsibilities as citizens.

Sept. 17, 2009, is the 222st anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. It is a day for all West Virginians, whether citizens by birth or by naturalization, to pause to reflect on the document that is responsible for our success as a free people. Join the West Virginia Civics Literacy Council on Thursday and read the Constitution. Read it at home with your family and friends. Read it out loud at your place of work. Read it as part of agenda at public meetings, organizational board meetings, programs and events. Conduct ceremonies and programs that celebrate the freedoms and the independence guaranteed by the United States Constitution. 

By doing so we honor the visionary leadership of our ancestors and, in this spirit of patriotism, rededicate ourselves to the great ideals that motivated our nation's founders. One cannot be a functioning citizen of the United States if one has not read, comprehended and absorbed into one’s daily life the ideals and values set forth in the Constitution of the United States. There is no other comparable measurement of what it means to be an American.

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