To kick off Constitution Day celebrations, the Marshall-Wythe School of Law and Williamsburg community held a Constitutional Conversation Wednesday night at the Williamsburg Regional Library Theater. Constitution Day commemorates American citizenship and the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.
A panel of four speakers participated in the Constitutional Conversation, which was moderated by Coordinator for History and Social Sciences in the Virginia Department of Education Beverly Thurston. Wednesday’s event marked the start of an eight-month Constitutional Conversation program.
“It is a great community-based project,” Director of the Constitutional Conversations program Julie Silverbrook J.D. ’12 said. “It is a way for law students to reach out to the community and teach them about the Constitution and Constitutional law, and it is meant to get people involved with politics at the local, state and national level.”
The panel consisted of Bill White of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Director of Instruction at the Youth Leadership initiative of the University of Virginia Center for Politics Meg Heubeck and Director of Civic Education at the Center for the Constitution Kelly Carmichael Booz.
“We are going to be talking about what is civic engagement, the difference between civic and civics education,” Heubeck said. “I do that here at my job because I direct the youth leadership initiative which is an online teacher resource for 50,000 teachers across the country. We provide really excellent teaching resources on civics and government.”
Heuback works to provide teachers and the general public with more information about civic engagement. She provides free public programming throughout the year both online and in other ways.
Similarly, Booz works to increase civic engagement through programs with middle and high schools as well as a new online initiative.
“I have been working on the launch of an online course where you can, at self-pace, learn about the Constitution,” Booz said. “For me, civic education is about how our government works, what our Constitution is, and how it functions for us every day.”
Booz, Heuback, White and Silverbrook joined to discuss why civic education is essential to a healthy democracy.
“I think it is really important to talk about it,” Booz said. “The topic is right up my alley. The education today is so focused on testing, testing, testing and No Child Left Behind continues to focus on reading and math at the expense of subjects like social studies. It is very important to understand how our government works, how it functions, and how we can be active participants in our society.”
Other festivities include a concert in Merchant Square on Saturday night and the launching of a new webpage and an online field trip for the public.
“The web-based programs are new this year,” White said. “We are expanding so that we are not just celebrating this year on site but that we are celebrating with some of our visitors that will be off site too.”
The online field trip is free to any school that registers. There were already 3,000 sign ups in the previous week. Along with the field trip, the foundation has just started a new webpage to provide more information about the Constitution.
“We just launched a new web page on our site called Connect, so next week there will be a live interview with George Washington and James Madison on the Constitution,” White said.
Both the Constitutional Conversation and the upcoming Williamsburg events continue to celebrate a tradition in the first Capitol of the United States.
“In May of 1776 the Virginia convention met in the Capitol Building here in Williamsburg. They declared independence and the first thing they did was to fashion a Declaration of Rights,” White said. “When you read the Declaration and then read the Constitution you can see where these ideas came from. That process started here in Williamsburg. There is no better place to celebrate it.”
Another Constitution Day event was held at the library Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
A third event will be held on Sunday, September 7 at 7 p.m.
This story was updated on Sept. 16 at 12:15 p.m.