The Importance of Recognizing Constitution and Citizenship Day

Constitution and Citizenship Day 2020
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Author: Emily Farris, Texas Christian University

September 17 is primarily known at most universities as Constitution Day, but it is also designated as Citizenship Day.

In fact, Constitution Day originated as a celebration for U.S. citizenship. In 1940, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the President to set aside the third Sunday in May as “I Am an American Day.”

Starting in 1952, the day was moved from May to September 17 to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution on that date in 1787. In 2004, Congress changed the name of the day to “Constitution and Citizenship Day.” It also required educational institutions receiving Federal funds to hold a program for students every September 17.

So, along with commemorating the Constitution, the day presents an opportunity for Political Science instructors to encourage students to think critically about citizenship and immigration in American Politics.

As the Trump administration delays naturalization applications, preventing potential new citizens from voting this fall, the issue is both timely and important.

Here are a few strategies to consider:

Ask Students to Analyze the Naturalization Process

One idea comes from Dr. Alvaro Corral: “My students are filming FlipGrid videos about the naturalization process.”

He explains that his students read the N-400 form, looking in particular at the questions in part 12, such as “Have you EVER been a member of, or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with: The Communist Party?” to spark discussion.

He then asks students to look for local resources to help prepare for the English and Civics tests, and to take the tests themselves. They discuss the cost and location of the classes, on top of the $725 fee for naturalization and USCIS’s citizenship “rights and responsibilities.”

Discuss How Citizenship is Constructed

Another way to commemorate both days is to discuss the 14th Amendment and how citizenship is constructed.

The 14th Amendment establishes anyone born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States. This issue has been under attack under the Trump administration.

Dr. Candis Watts Smith recommends students read a portion of the Dred Scott majority decision, as “it gives a history of all the ways in which white legislators never intended blacks to be citizens.”

Dr. Smith recommends guiding students through Dr. Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s insightful article Constructing Citizenship: Exclusion, Subordination, and Resistance. Another suggestion from Dr. Smith is an episode of This American Life, Episode 2: No Place Like Home, Phone Home, to prompt further discussion about citizenship.

For additional reading, Dr. Martha Jones discusses the origin of the 14th Amendment to incorporate former slaves into the nation.

Cengage held Constitution Day webinars with our Political Science authors—check out the recordings for more discussion ideas and insights.