In observance of Constitution Day (Sept. 17), the Students’ Political Science Association (SPSA) sponsored several activities, allowing students, faculty and staff to get a firsthand look at the U.S. Constitution and some of the elements in this document.
One activity gave students the opportunity to sign their name like a founder, with an authentically notched feather quill pen on sheets of paper designed to accompany a five-foot tall replica of the Constitution. About 130 signatures were collected, with many students observing just how difficult it was to write with a feather and some ink.
Additionally, SPSA challenged students, faculty and staff to take a 12-question multiple choice quiz of questions found on the U.S. Citizenship Test. In all, 76 students, faculty and staff participated with a few students even achieving a perfect score.
According to Jacqueline Reich, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, SPSA’s faculty advisor and coordinator of the political science program, one of the hardest questions was about the succession line following President and Vice President. Another common incorrect response was regarding how many justices sit on the Supreme Court.
Almost all of the participants were able to correctly answer questions regarding the Bill of Rights and the Constitution as supreme law of the land.
Another activity run by the SPSA was a poll that allowed participants the chance to vote on their favorite part of the Constitution. An impressive 104 members of the College community took part, with 39 (the top vote-getter) saying that the Preamble, beginning with the famous words, “We the People,” was their favorite part of the document. The second highest vote getter, with 26 votes, belonged to the First Amendment, also known as the Five Freedoms Amendment which protects the rights to freedom of speech, press, religion, petition and peaceable assembly.
“I was not surprised to see that over half of the poll-takers favored the Preamble and the First Amendment,” says Reich. “The Preamble establishes that our government gets its authority from the American people and the First Amendment guarantees some of our more famous, basic rights.”
Sixteen poll-takers favored Article V, which enables changes to be made to the Constitution, something that was both surprising and not, according to Reich.
“James Madison noted that the Constitution was a framework for enabling debate on issues that we need to work out in this country and it has served that purpose for 238 years,” she says. “In that light it might seem a bit strange that a fair number of poll-takers listed Article V as their favorite part. But perhaps that result demonstrates the spirit of Madison as well. After all, the Constitution is a vehicle for resolving conflicts and promoting the public good, and when we as a nation think that it is time to make changes to the document, the Constitution provides for that issue as well.”
In all, Reich sees Constitution Day as a fun and educational way to introduce students to what they may or may not know about the famous document that serves as the supreme law of the land.
"Survey after survey has demonstrated that Americans are not familiar with the content of the Constitution and how it works for them," she says. "Constitution Day is a great way to generate interest in knowing more about the basics of this fascinating document, the very source for our rule of law."
Marilee Gallagher '14