House Education Committee urged to recognize Constitution Day
CONCORD - Armed with a national survey that says only 38 percent of American adults can name all three branches of government, and that a third could name none, a first-term lawmaker urged colleagues to adopt a law requiring recognition of Constitution Day in the state's public and private schools.
The House Education Committee heard testimony on a bill filed by Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, that would add Constitution Day to the ranks of days on which special patriotic exercises are required. Current law requires "exercises of a patriotic nature" on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Constitution Day is Sept. 17.
"It is my intent with this legislation to focus attention on the Constitution," Cordelli told colleagues. "If we can better educate our children about constitutional rights and responsibilities, our nation will be strengthened."
A 2004 law establishing the oak as the national tree included a provision requiring every educational institution receiving federal money to include lessons on the Constitution on Sept. 17 every year.
Rep. Robert Willett, a member of the education panel, suggested that the proposed law needs to be more specific. "Would saying the Pledge of Allegiance satisfy the requirement?" Willett asked. "We have no patriotic exercise police, but I would hope there would be more instructional information provided to the students so they would be better educated about the Constitution."
Rep. Dan Itse, R-Fremont, known for arguing many issues before the Legislature in constitutional terms, appeared before the committee to support the bill. Itse said he wants the state's schoolchildren to know that the Constitution was intended to "keep the government corraled."
"(Constitution-related exercises) would help kids understand what it is all about; that they are supposed to be in charge of the government, rather than vice-versa," he said.
Cordelli said after the hearing he did not intend for the measure to be used to provide ideological instruction, and he said it has been a longstanding issue for him, dating to his days on a school board in Connecticut when he made similar proposals. The measure was also backed by Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, who told the committee that even in teaching at the graduate level, he often opens classes with references to the Constitution.
Some members of the committee appeared to want to add more teeth to the legislation than to merely include a patriotic exercise.
Cardelli said his goal is to raise awareness of the basics of American government through understanding of the Constitution.
"They know the judges on 'American Idol,' but they don't know the chief justice of the Supreme Court," he said.