Three Eastern Washington senators have thrown their support behind a bill that would require setting aside at least one day of each school year for study of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
But one of those senators said the full-day study idea should be more of a suggestion than a requirement, and some educators said schools are already devoting plenty of time to study of the federal documents.
SB 6432, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Bob Morton, Bob McCaslin and Jim West, mirrors an idea suggested by U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich during a visit to the Legislature last week.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is the measure’s prime sponsor. He said Gingrich’s speech to a joint session “sparked an interest” and prompted him to introduce the legislation, which is scheduled for a hearing in the Education Committee on Jan. 29.
“The idea behind this is a continual, annual effort to bring these two important documents to the forefront of children’s minds,” Benton said of the bill, which would apply to grades kindergarten through 12.
Local lawmakers said they signed on because of the importance of learning the principles on which the country was founded.
McCaslin said familiarity with the documents makes people better citizens.
“I think it’s so important for the future of America. The more we teach, the more they’ll (children) grow up knowing it and using it,” he said.
“We have the best country in the world, and I want to continue that.”
Even though he is a co-sponsor, West said he doesn’t advocate setting aside one full day for examination of the documents.
“I’m not going to micromanage the school district,” he said. “My signature only symbolizes the fact that I support schoolchildren learning the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and the principles on which this country was founded.”
Some area teachers said the documents receive sufficient attention in their curriculums.
Lyle Anderson, a history teacher at Sprague High School, considers the bill superfluous.
Sprague seniors take a yearlong class in government, and an average of three days a week are spent studying the Constitution and “its relation to government,” Anderson said. The Declaration of Independence is covered in junior high school, he added.
“I know here, by graduation, they get a real good dosage of the Constitution, so I don’t believe we need a day set aside for that. I think it’s incorporated well in the essential learnings,” he said.
The “essential learnings” are school districts’ Essential Academic Learning Requirements, which list what students should know by the completion of each grade.
The Washington State Commission on Student Learning, formed six years ago, is developing statewide learning requirements for each grade.
Ivory Nelson, commission member and president of Central Washington University, said emphasis already is placed on learning how the government works through study of the documents.
“You can teach the Constitution and Declaration of Independence all day long and that doesn’t necessarily mean you understand the U.S. government,” he said. Instruction on the papers must be integrated into the curriculum, he said.
Schoolteacher George McGarry, head of the history department at Ferris High School, said the idea sounds good to him.
“On the high school level we devote a lot of time on it (the Constitution), but I do think a day on it would be nice,” he said.
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