WASHINGTON — President Reagan and millions of American schoolchildren, from Eskimo schools in Alaska to schools on U.S. military posts abroad, took time today to mark the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.
In ceremonies televised from the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Reagan led the nation in the Pledge of Allegiance while across the nation youngsters joined in a variety of educational activities in their own classrooms--plays, debates, forums--as part of a "teach-in" on the framework of American democracy.
As more than 100,000 crowded in front of the podium, Reagan urged that Americans of all ages learn and keep the principles set out in the Constitution.
"For over 200 years we have lived with freedom under law; perhaps we've become complacent about it," Reagan said. "We should never forget how rare and precious freedom is. Active and informed citizens are vital to the effective functioning of our constitutional system.
"All of us have an obligation to study the Constitution and participate actively in the system of self-government it establishes."
The ceremonies, attended by the top officeholders in the nation, including Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.), were held in 80-degree temperatures that left eight children and at least one adult faint from the heat and in need of emergency treatment.
Secretary of Education William J. Bennett opened ceremonies at the Capitol, calling the document "the most important, most inspiring, most revolutionary political theory ever conceived."
"No other political document has ever laid a more successful foundation for government than the American Constitution," he said. "None has lasted longer or been more widely imitated, and none has demanded more, or given so much, to the people it serves."
Schools around the nation noted the occasion in different ways.
At elite Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., a college-preparatory school that boasts a prestigious alumni roll that includes Daniel Webster, all American history classes were dedicated this week to the study of constitutional issues. Special bicentennial bookmarks were distributed at the library.
In Pinedale, Wyo., where just three years ago townspeople and city officials engaged in an intense 2nd Amendment debate when the mayor tried to outlaw firearms in bars, students again debated that issue and other questions in a weeklong constitutional convention.