I was going to get on a plane and go to Washington this afternoon to attend a White House Forum entitled "We the People: A White House Forum on History, Civics, and Service." Alas, old man winter has done its worse and not only flights to Reagan National, but the event itself has been cancelled. As a rule I am not much for meetings, but this--and not only because I got a handsome invitation saying "The President cordially invites you..."--I wanted to attend because the subject speaks its own importance, and in todays world the subject is pressing. And I wanted to see what others had to say on the subject, and was willing to add my two cents. All this will have to be left for another day. In the meantime, see this good piece by Matthew Spalding from todays Washington Times characterizing the issue:
"The American Founders argued that
self-government requires civic and history education. Not
only must future citizens know that legitimate government is
grounded in the protection of equal natural rights and the
consent of the governed — the principles of the Declaration
of Independence — they also must understand and
appreciate how the Constitution and our institutions of limited
government work to protect liberty and the rule of law."
Rah! Rah! I love good, patriotic speeches! Matthew Spalding hits it straight on. I assigned a reading of the "Declaration of Independence" to my college-level American History survey course. Few read it - fewer commented on it. My temper and frustration nearly boiled over at their lack of participation, especially since that majority that did not read also included a majority that did not vote in the 2000 or 2002 elections. I am also assigned the Constitution - lack of participation this time will result in closed books and a writing assignment on the principles contained therein.
I am very surprised at the lack of knowledge. Its almost unpatriotic to know your own history at the expense of what? I introduced them to Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. Most knew little about James Madison and had some very odd notions of Thomas Jefferson (no thanks in part to Annette Gordon-Reeds diatribe that lacked any foundational research techniques that we recognize as legitimate in historical circles and the movie "Jefferson in Paris"). But I digress - while I am disappointed in their American history knowledge, I am also encouraged by the few students who want to attain more knowledge, who want to read those obscure books that line my shelves, who want to examine the history - good or bad.
But there is an appalling lack of basic knowledge that scares the heck out of me. Tolerance is our new God - so accordingly, "progressive" writers seek to undermine those individuals that do not comform to their idea of tolerance. Apparently, our Founding Fathers lack that sensitivity that we have about race, gender and other issues. I highly doubt that. Their own words speak volumes of their sensitivities and tolerance. What, I think, those Founders would be appalled by is the lack of understanding of the history of this country, its documents and its foundational roots. Civics and Amiercan history should not be cast aside for the sake of "educational reform". They should be a part of it - to enlighten another generation about the tragedies and triumphs of those who came before, to tell their stories, to seek out their wisdom and interests and lives. We dont have agree with them (as they did not agree with each other), but we should at least listen to them (as they DID). Thanks!
Thanks for yours, Jennifer Williams. Very thoughtful comment. Dont be discouraged, stay with it. This is when teaching becomes both a challenge and a great opportunity. Tell them good stories that reveal the difficulties the Founders found themselves in, ones that reveal their solid characters, and ones that give life to the principles to that moved them. Your students might be ignorant, but they both human and (without yet knowing it) are already Americans. You can turn their souls!