On July Fourth Weekend Teach Your Kids About America's Greatness

Who doesn’t love the Fourth of July? Baseball, parades, families gathering for backyard cook-outs, fireworks, hot summer weather – it’s a great holiday all around.

It’s especially fun because we celebrate our country.

For most of us lucky enough to be citizens, our love of the United States is a given, causing us to speak out when we think the country is meandering off-course, sending us to the voting booth or swelling our heart with pride when Americans raise billions for hurricane victims in Haiti.

On this weekend, we also pause to review the Declaration of Independence, published faithfully where I live in The New York Times every year, and consider how the brilliance and determination of a handful of men produced the playbook for the greatest nation ever conceived.

Do I believe in American exceptionalism? Absolutely. There is no country in the history of the world that has raised the standard of living for so many, that has produced such innovation and wealth, that has so steadfastly maintained the rule of law and that has consistently served as a beacon for those seeking freedom and opportunity.

Yes, the history of the United States has some dark chapters. Slavery is a stain on our past; that the country was willing to fight a bloody and destructive civil war to abolish slavery speaks to our undeniable commitment to freedom and equality.

The Vietnam War is a controversial part of our past, as was the invasion of Iraq.

We will go on making mistakes, but ultimately the good outweighs the bad. As Churchill said, “You can always count on Americans doing the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.”

As a Baby Boomer, my view of the United States is undoubtedly colored by my parents’ reminiscences about World War II. It was a given that we were the Good Guys; our soldiers tipped the balance and helped defeat Hitler. After the war, we propped up a demolished Europe with the Marshall Plan, helping to spur decades of growth. Thereafter, we resisted the spread of Communism, countering an aggressive Russia.

This history is one to be proud of; it is beyond unfortunate that many of our young people will never hear about it.

I know a student at one of our country’s finest colleges who recently took a U.S. history course purporting to cover 1850 to the present day. The professor spent the entire semester on the Civil Rights movement and the New Deal. There was one – one! – lecture about World War II, no discussion of the Marshall Plan and rare mention of the Cold War.

It has become the fashion in academic circles (as in the media) to focus on our country’s warts and to gloss over our accomplishments. This is sad, because the attitudes of generations to come will be colored by professors who are often avowed Socialists (one of my children had two of those in high school-- happily one at least was an outstanding teacher) or who pride themselves on taking a “dispassionate” view of the United States.

This is not my imagination. There have been numerous studies that show that our university teachers lean so far left as to be falling-over unbalanced. One such review looked at more than 150 departments at 32 “elite” colleges and found the ratio of registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than ten to one. “Although in the nation at large registered Democrats and Republicans are roughly equal in number, not a single department at a single one of the 32 schools managed to achieve a reasonable parity between the two.” At four schools, there was not a single Republican on the faculty. Whatever your political leanings, this lopsidedness cannot be viewed as healthy.

The lack of balance shows up in the courses taught on college campuses today, and certainly in the teaching. Here is a quote from long-time English professor Stephen Zelnick at Temple University, who served as president of the Faculty Senate, in addition to numerous other senior posts:

“I have sat in on more than a hundred different teachers’ classes and…rarely heard a kind word for the United States, for riches of our marketplace, for the vast economic and creative opportunities made available for energetic and creative people (that is, for our students); for family life, for marriage, for love, or for religion. I did hear a great deal about…the evils of imperialism; about the need to be skeptical of all kinds of institutions and traditional values; …I have found my students…have been imbued with a decided ignorance of our nation’s history and accomplishments. … (they) can tell me about the failure of the U.S. constitution to end slavery…but can tell me little else about that remarkable document and its clever fashioning.”

What can we do? As parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, we can provide some balance and help to educate our children. We can encourage them to read about our history, and help pique their curiosity by taking them to historical sites like Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Nantucket or Mystic Seaport. The "living museums" at Williamsburg or Sturbridge Village, as they are called, are fun, and they also help kids get a sense of our past.

It’s a brilliant history, and one that each child born in the U.S. should be allowed to share.

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