By Trey Apffel
The Constitution is a crucial thread in the fabric of our country’s history. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said, the Constitution changed world history “for the perpetual benefit of mankind. In 1787, no country in the world had ever allowed its citizens to select their own form of government, much less to select a democratic government.”
Although the Constitution was written long ago, the founding document still plays a significant role in our daily lives as it guarantees the precious liberties and fundamental rights for all U.S. citizens and puts “governance in the hands of the people.”
In 2001, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1776, which established Celebrate Freedom Week. Texas public schools are encouraged to spend the week focusing on the importance of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, in their historical contexts. Local school districts honor Celebrate Freedom Week during the week of Sept. 17, Constitution Day, to commemorate the signing of the historic document in 1787.
Along with our profound freedom comes the responsibility of increased civic education and citizenry. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt expressed the urgency of educating our prospective leaders in justice and civic involvement: “Our children should learn the general framework of their government and then they should know where they come in contact with the government, where it touches their daily lives and where their influence is exerted on the government. It must not be a distant thing, someone else’s business, but they must see how every cog in the wheel of a democracy is important and bears its share of responsibility for the smooth running of the entire machine.”
Civic education is important to society because civic virtue fosters engaged citizens who understand our democracy and the liberties the rule of law protects. Ensuring that our children receive a solid foundation in civics is essential to producing the next generation of responsible citizens in our communities.
In the spirit of Celebrate Freedom Week, the State Bar of Texas offers resources designed to help educate the public about the law. The State Bar’s Law Related Education (LRE) Department has helped train over 6,000 educators on civic education programs and curriculum by using technology that will captivate and prepare students for responsible citizenship.
Through the department, teachers and students in elementary, middle, and high school are able to experience the interactive, Web-based programs I was the First. Vote for Me! and Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! in preparing for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.
I was the First. Vote for Me! engages students through animated historical figures such as Susan B. Anthony, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Students and teachers can access this interactive program in English and Spanish at texasbar.com/iwasthefirst.
Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! focuses on landmark court decisions Texas students must know to prepare for assessments in the U.S. government and history. Students and teachers can search case summaries, watch short films, and find other helpful resources at texasbar.com/civics.
Lesson plans focused on Constitution Day, interactive games, and civic education resources can be found at texaslre.org.
As we celebrate the Constitution, let us not only enjoy the rights and freedoms that we have as American citizens, but let us be accountable in educating our youth on the importance of our founding documents to ensure that democracy lives on. The values that are crucial for our system of government can only prevail if sustained by future generations.
Trey Apffel is president of the State Bar of Texas and the founder and owner of Apffel Law Firm in Galveston. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.