Closer Readings Commentary

A Truly “Star-Spangled” Month

Susan Key is the Star Spangled Music Foundation Executive Director

The month of September is a special one this year as we commemorate the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on September 12, the 10th anniversary of Constitution Day on September 17 and the launch of the Civics Renewal Network on the same day. Busy teachers starting a new year will be pleased to learn they don’t have to scramble to find good resources for either event since EDSITEment staff have been hard at work culling the “best of the humanities on the Web” for your classroom.

The Star-Spangled Banner

This past summer University of Michigan musicology professor Mark Clague and Susan Key co-directed “Banner Moments: The National Anthem in American Life”, a national teacher institute supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The institute brought together 29 summer scholars representing 12 states and the District of Columbia; their teaching assignments spanned the entire K–12 spectrum and included teachers from the fields of  language arts, music, fine arts, social studies, science and math.

Together these teachers explored both the music of the anthem and the anthem’s role as a “witness” to American history in cultural, social, economic, and political life: building from the joyful expression of a single mind and moment to a text that embodies a multiplicity of American voices. Based on their experiences at the institute, these summer scholars created over 40 different curricular projects, from lesson plans to ideas for school-wide celebrations for Star Spangled Music Day on September 12 that can be adapted to your school or community.

Like the flag, the national anthem is an enduring national symbol. But unlike the flag, the anthem depends on continual re-affirmation as it is brought to life in musical expression and through educational activities. Across two centuries, the song has also undergone re-interpretation and re-imagination; the version most Americans today would regard as “traditional” varies significantly from the original. More recently, African Americans such as Jimi Hendrix and Rene Marie, and Latin Americans such as Arturo Sandoval have used the anthem to express political views, claiming a broader patriotic identity and sometimes stirring controversy.

Project Directors Clague and Key discussed the myths surrounding the “Star-Spangled Banner” and what led to the rise of the national anthem as a part of our everyday life. They also spoke about events leading to the law, signed by President Herbert Hoover in 1931, that made the “Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem. 

Constitution Day

Did you know that September 17 is the 10th anniversary of Constitution Day? Back in 2004 Senator Harry Byrd argued before Congress that this day was more important than Columbus Day or Thanksgiving or even the Fourth of July! The law that was subsequently passed required all schools and universities that receive federal funding to teach about the Constitution on this day. 

NEH was one of the first federal agency to develop educational and other resources to help people understand the origins and subsequent development of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the other Amendments. 

Through EDSITEment, NEH was also the first federal agency to establish a Constitution Day portal. Each year resources have been added to this portal so that it now contains over 30 lesson plans and a worksheet that guides students through a close reading and careful analysis of the Constitution.  

Most recently, the portal has been enriched by two timely Common Core lessons. The Argument of the Declaration of Independence shows how to do a close reading of case made in the text that the behavior of the King and Parliament towards the colonies amounted to “a design to reduce them to absolute despotism” and justified their independent stand. The Preamble to the Constitution shows students how the opening words of the Constitution improves on similar language in the opening words of the Articles of Confederation and embodies the principles agreed upon at the Constitutional Convention.

The Civics Renewal Network

This year EDSITEment is also celebrating Constitution Day as a partner in the Civics Renewal Network a consortium of nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations committed to strengthening civic life in the U.S. by increasing the quality of civics education in our nation's schools and by improving accessibility to high-quality, no-cost learning materials.

On the new Civics Renewal Network site, teachers can find the best resources of these organizations, searchable by subject, grade, resource type, standards, and teaching strategy. The motto of the CRN is “a republic, if you can teach it”: a clever spin on Benjamin Franklin’s famous response to a question about what kind of government the Constitution Convention was proposing for Americans. His answer: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

On September 17 this year, a full day of activities will take place in Washington D.C. and across the country coordinated by the CRN. Join us!