Most teenagers have more knowledge about television shows than basic facts of the U.S. Constitution, a national survey shows, but Eastern Illinois University is trying to help change that.
In response to a new federal mandate, EIU has planned several activities for Sept. 12-18 to observe Constitution Day, which marks the anniversary of the Sept. 17, 1787, signing of the U.S. Constitution.
After a 1998 survey revealed that a greater percentage of U.S. teenagers could name three Three Stooges (59 percent) than could name the three branches of government (41 percent), U.S. lawmakers decided to take action.
Last year, legislators passed a law requiring all educational institutions that receive any federal funds to provide educational programming on U.S. Constitutional history on Constitution Day.
EIU officials recognize the importance of helping promote awareness of the document our nation is founded upon.
“One of the important responsibilities of higher education is the advancement of democracy,” said Jeff Cross, associate vice president for academic affairs at EIU. “In a democratic society, citizens need to know the provisions of the Constitution that creates that democracy. If the citizenry doesn’t know the provisions of the Constitution, they won’t know when our democracy is being tromped on and what our responsibilities are as citizens.”
Other interesting findings from the 1998 survey of teenagers included:
-- 75 percent knew which city has the ZIP code 90210 (Beverly Hills, Calif.), while nearly 26 percent knew the city in which the U.S. Constitution was written (Philadelphia).
-- Fifty-eight percent knew Bill Gates as the father of Microsoft, but fewer than 2 percent knew James Madison as the father of the Constitution.
-- One quarter of those surveyed knew at least one of the rights the Fifth Amendment protects (double jeopardy, self-incrimination, right to a grand jury, due process, compensation for private property taken for public use), while nearly 64 percent knew what "The Club" protects (a car).
Educators who want to know how to include information about the Constitution in their curriculum will have access to various resources on EIU’s Web site at http://cats.eiu.edu/constitution/index.php.
Throughout the week, people may view a “Constitution Resources” display in Booth Library’s Marvin Foyer. In addition, the displays “Getting to Know the Constitution” and “Exercising Your Rights” will be set up in the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.
EIU Student Government will sponsor a “Know Your Rights” information booth from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 15 and 16 in the Union.
A panel discussion, “Where Does the Bill of Rights Stand in the Homeland Security Era?” will feature student representatives from the College Democrats, College Republicans, Pre-Law Honorary Society, Political Science Honorary Society and Political Science Association. It is set for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, in the Charleston-Mattoon Room of the Union.
On Friday, Sept. 16, EIU will participate in two national videoconferences. The first, "Conversation with Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Stephen Breyer,” is set for 11 a.m., followed at 12:30 p.m. by the video "Justice Talking: Free Speech in the Digital Age.” Both videoconferences include a local panel and will be held in the Arcola-Tuscola Room of the Union.
And prior to the home football game at O’Brien Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 17, the EIU Marching Band will present a musical “Salute to the Constitution.”