Schools, Civics, and the Constitution

by Carol Kocivar | June 29, 2024 | 1 Comment
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Independence and Unity

Each July 4th we celebrate America’s Declaration of Independence. It’s also become a day to celebrate our Constitution, America’s enduring and essential document.

In honor of the occasion, in true Ed100 style we thought it might be fun to present this post in the form of questions, similar to our popular post about Education Jargon. How much do you know about these founding documents and the importance of schools in the work of sustaining American democracy?

What does the Declaration of Independence say about education?

Not a single thing.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident…” What are they?

The Declaration asserts important principles: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Self-evident was a fancy way of saying “obvious.” Unalienable means that the rights are impossible to take away or give up.

When was the Constitution signed?

The >famous image at the top of this post commemorates the signing of the Constitution in 1787, more than a decade after the Declaration of Independence. It became part of the design of the two dollar bill in 1976.

Established in 2004, Constitution Day is formally observed each year in the week of September 17.

What does the US Constitution say about education?

Not a single thing. Public education has become a cornerstone of what makes America great, but it is mentioned in neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution.

In several cases, the US Supreme Court has considered whether its decisions created a Constitutional right to education through precedent. The answer is mostly no. By omission, education is a function of government constitutionally left to the states.

One ruling is worth noting. A 2020 federal Michigan appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, held that there is a federal right to an education. According to The National Interest this “relied heavily on the history of public education, with its emphasis on preparing people to be good citizens. The majority stated, “without the literacy provided by a basic minimum education, it is impossible to participate in our democracy.”

What does the California State Constitution say about education?

Many state constitutions, including California’s, address public education. The founding version of the state constitution established that public school districts should exist. Amendments have dramatically added to the state constitution, but not yet established a state constitutional >right to quality education.

Section 1 of the California Constitution begins:

“A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.”

How have famous leaders linked education to democracy?

Abraham Lincoln: “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

Franklin Roosevelt: "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."

John Dewey: "Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife."

Nelson Mandela: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

How did Abraham Lincoln connect the ideals of the Civil War to the Declaration of Independence?

Abraham Lincoln’s famous (and famously concise) Gettysburg Address linked the ideas of liberty and equality to the endurance of the nation:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

Do you know the lyrics of our national anthem? (Are you sure?)

The US National anthem, written in 1854, is a long song —four verses long. Most Americans only know the last lines of the first verse:

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Congress adopted The Star Spangled Banner as the US National Anthem in 1931.

Why was the US constitution written? (Remember the preamble?)

The preamble to the US Constitution lays out the important reasons. These are values we should still cherish.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The classic Schoolhouse Rock song about the Constitution remains the best way to learn its preamble:

Are California schools required to start the day with the pledge of allegiance?

Yes and no.

Public elementary schools must begin the school day with “appropriate patriotic exercises. The giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy the requirements of this section.” California Education Code §52720

Public secondary schools shall conduct “daily appropriate patriotic exercises. The giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy such requirement.”

The content of the Pledge of Allegiance and customs related to it have changed over time. In its early iterations, the Pledge of Allegiance was often accompanied by a Bellamy Salute, which became more associated with Nazism. The hand-over-heart gesture officially replaced it as an amendment to the Flag Code in 1942.

What two words in the Pledge of Allegiance have created controversy?

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The main source of controversy about the Pledge is whether the mention of God violates the separation of Church and State. The words “under God” were amended into the pledge in 1954 during the Cold War.

You can find a full discussion of this issue here.

How are the ideals of the US Constitution taught in each grade in California?

What are California students expected to learn about civics in each grade? (Source: CDE)


Students recognize national and state symbols and icons such as the national and state flags, the bald eagle, and the Statue of Liberty.


Students describe the rights and individual responsibilities of citizenship.


Students explain governmental institutions and practices in the United States and other countries.


Students understand the role of rules and laws in our daily lives and the basic structure of the U.S. government.


Students understand the structures, functions, and powers of the local, state, and federal governments as described in the U.S. Constitution.


Students describe the people and events associated with the development of the U.S. Constitution and analyze the Constitution's significance as the foundation of the American republic.


Students in grade six expand their understanding of history by studying the people and events that ushered in the dawn of the major Western and non-Western ancient civilizations…Continued emphasis is placed on their everyday lives, problems, and accomplishments of people, their role in developing social, economic, and political structures, as well as in establishing and spreading ideas that helped transform the world forever.


Students in grade seven…learn about the resulting growth of Enlightenment philosophy and the new examination of the concepts of reason and authority, the natural rights of human beings and the divine right of kings, experimentalism in science, and the dogma of belief. [Students] assess the political forces let loose by the Enlightenment, particularly the rise of democratic ideas, and they learn about the continuing influence of these ideas in the world today.


Students analyze the political principles underlying the U.S. Constitution and compare the enumerated and implied powers of the federal government.


The California State Board of Education has established grade nine history-social science as an elective year. (No requirement. Each school district decides what content to teach in this year; many use it to meet the requirement to teach Ethnic Studies.)


Students consider the influence of the U.S. Constitution on political systems in the contemporary world.


Students analyze the significant events in the founding of the nation and its attempts to realize the philosophy of government described in the Declaration of Independence.


Students explain the fundamental principles and moral values of American democracy as expressed in the U.S. Constitution and other essential documents of American democracy.

Are California students required to learn the principles of American democracy?

Yes. California high school graduation requirements include three years of social science (including U.S. history and geography; world history, culture, and geography; one semester of American government and one semester of economics).

Questions & Comments

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enangriffin July 1, 2024 at 10:43 am
I loved this! The format, the questions, and the music. Great job. Nan
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