- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Schools nationwide yesterday observed Constitution Day — mandated by federal law to educate children about the Constitution and First Amendment — but a new survey finds that most American teenagers don”t even know the day exists.

Created by Congress in 2004, the law requires any school that receives federal funds to annually observe Constitution Day on or around Sept. 17, the day the document was signed in 1787.

But 51 percent of high-school students said they have not heard of Constitution Day and just 1 in 10 remember how their high school celebrated the day last year, according to the “Future of the First Amendment” survey, conducted by the University of Connecticut”s David Yalof and Ken Dautrich and funded by the James L. Knight Foundation.

“If our young people don”t understand the Constitution, if they don”t understand the First Amendment, how can we expect them to understand why they should read the news, or volunteer in their communities, or vote?” asked Eric Newton, vice president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation”s journalism program.

The survey found that only 11 percent of parents and 8 percent of teachers said their school has made “a lot” of effort to promote First Amendment principles through school activities.

The good news in the survey was that 68 percent of students said they”ve taken a class that dealt with the First Amendment. Still, nearly three-fourths of students still don”t know how they feel about the First Amendment, or take it for granted, with just 25 percent reporting that they personally think about it.

The survey was conducted from April to June and included 5,484 students, 558 parents and 464 teachers. The margin of error was between 1.3 and 4.5 percentage points depending on the group of respondents.

“Our sense is that we”re seeing some progress, but for the most part the picture is pretty dark as far as we”re concerned,” said Warren Watson, director of J-Ideas, which also worked on the project.

Still, he added that the law “is a great start” and that no one expected things to change overnight.

Mr. Watson said J-Ideas, a journalism program based at Ball State University in Indiana, provides many resources for teachers and parents to teach these topics.

More resources are on the way. Yesterday, was the start of ConSource.org — a free Web site of source documents related to the Constitution, including all of James Madison”s handwritten notes of the Constitutional Convention and the first digital collection of the original Federalist Papers.

The Web site is being managed by the Constitutional Sources Project, a nonprofit organization based in the District, and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Notable leaders helped the two groups celebrate Constitution Day yesterday — Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both taught Constitution lessons to schoolchildren.

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