For Teachers

The anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, coincides with Constitution and Citizenship Day, which commemorates the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. The juxtaposition of these anniversaries provides an opportunity to reflect upon who we are as Americans, examine our fundamental ideals and principles, evaluate our nation’s progress toward realization of our shared ideals, and propose actions to narrow the gap between these ideals and our daily lives.

The following introduction and four lessons are designed to accomplish these goals.



    Students are introduced to the 9/11 attacks and learn that the nation’s response created tension between the need for security and America’s tradition of liberty. They are then introduced to the Declaration of Independence and Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and learn that these documents describe fundamental values and principles that characterize the American political culture.

    Lesson 1

    What is an American?

    Students learn that to be an American is to share certain fundamental ideas, values, and principles with other Americans. Students are asked to read and put into their own words quotations that include some of the fundamental ideas shared by Americans. They are then asked to reflect upon whether they agree with and share the ideas expressed by the quotations. Finally they are asked to write a response to the question, “What does it mean to be an American?”

    Lesson 2

    What fundamental ideas about government do Americans share?

    Students are asked to examine some of the fundamental ideas about government that are contained in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. They then identify which of the ideas they agree with. Next, they determine the ideas the class as a whole holds in common. Finally, if students agree with these fundamental ideas, they are given an opportunity to visit the Center’s website and add their signatures to those of the Founders who signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

    Lesson 3

    How well is the American government serving its purposes?

    Students are asked to fill out a questionnaire indicating to what degree they think the American government is fulfilling its purposes as they are set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution. Students are then asked to take the questionnaire and use it to survey adults in their community.

    Lesson 4

    How can the American government better fulfill its purposes?

    Students are asked to tally adult responses to the questionnaire, identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and attempt to explain why differences might exist. They then evaluate, take, and defend positions on how well they think American government is serving its purposes as they are set forth in the Preamble. Next, they propose remedies to the shortcomings of government they identify. Finally, they are asked to compare their results with results from across the nation.


    This website features an the full text of the lessons, a downloadable pdf of the lessons, a signable Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and an online version of the questionnaire, among other features.

    Terms to know

    For easy reference, the website for the lessons includes a section that provides background on the meaning of the following ideas: self-evident truths, “all Men are created equal,” unalienable rights, pursuit of happiness, justice, domestic tranquility, and the general welfare.

    Contact us

    We at the Center for Civic Education hope you find these lessons useful. We are very interested in hearing comments and suggestions from teachers and students who review and use the lessons. We will take them into account in periodic revisions.

    Please send your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    This website was developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, the content does not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and does not imply endorsement by the federal government. 


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