In recognition of Independence Day and the spark the Declaration of Independence gave to the formation of our great nation, it seems like a fitting time to look at some laws that pertain to the celebration of freedom in our public school system. The Florida Legislature has taken an active role in ensuring that every student who works their way through Florida’s schools understands the importance of America's historical documents and how they positioned the United States as the beacon of freedom in an often troubled world.
During the summer of 1976 I had the pleasure of attending the Bicentennial Rodeo as it made its appearance in Philadelphia. This exciting event, held in the now demolished John F. Kennedy Stadium, celebrated all that was “America.” Having been born in the “City of Brotherly Love” I was raised visiting the historical sites that have become so much a part of our nation’s founding (Independence Hall, Penn’s Landing, Ben Franklin's Print Shop, et al.). The founding documents were a natural part of my public school education and I could not imagine a world without them.
In 2002 the Florida Legislature recognized that America’s formative documents were getting short shrift in our state’s public schools. During that year’s legislative session lawmakers enshrined in statute (via passage of the wonderfully numbered SB 1776/ HB 885) the requirement that the last full week of classes in September be known as “Celebrate Freedom Week.” One of the provisions of this law states that social studies classes must set aside at least three hours of instruction time during that week to study the “intent, meaning and importance of the Declaration of Independence.”
The law requires that at the start of each school day, students must be lead in the recitation of the following passage from the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The stated purpose of this exercise is “to reaffirm the American ideals of individual liberty.”
2002 proved to be a banner year for patriotic education. During one of the many special sessions that were held following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Legislature passed a bill that explicitly allows educators to post, read and teach, at any time throughout the school year, key documents that have been the bedrock of the United States during its infancy and development. The documents include: the national motto; the national anthem; the pledge of allegiance; the Constitution of the State of Florida, including the Preamble; the Constitution of the United States, including the Preamble; the Bill of Rights; the Declaration of Independence; the Mayflower Compact; the Emancipation Proclamation; the writings, speeches, documents, and proclamations of the presidents of the United States, the signers of the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence, and civil rights leaders; and decisions of the United States Supreme Court.
During a time when America’s place in this world is being challenged by those who would want to steal the liberty and freedom so many have fought and died to defend, it is reassuring to know that a new generation of school children are being raised up with a greater understanding of what sets America apart and why so many people risk their lives to come and live the “American Dream.”
I welcome your questions about the legislative process, state government or any related matters. Please feel free to leave your questions in the comment section and I will answer them in an upcoming post. If there is a specific topic you would like me to write about please let me know as well. I look forward to responding to your comments!