Tuesday, July 15, 2008


You can go to live in Turkey but you can’t become a Turk. You can’t go to live in Japan and become Japanese. But . . . anyone from any corner of the world can come to America and be an American.” -- Ronald Reagan

Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race and ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy.” -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

In 1776, we declared ourselves independent and committed ourselves to certain principles and ideals. Our ideals, set forth in the Declaration of Independence, implemented in the Constitution, go back to the Magna Carta, common law, Athenian democracy, and the Hebrew covenant.

What does it mean to be an American? Opportunity , reward for hard work, respect for talent, entrepreneurship, leader in productivity, respect for education; the chance to get ahead, to name a few characteristics.

What makes us a nation is our heritage, but we are losing it. We are losing our American memory. The most recent report card of the National Association of Education Progress, NAEP, gives examples of ignorance of history: Only 14% of high-school seniors are at or above proficient (meaning barely above basic), and 53% are below basic. Among graduating seniors at universities, only one-third knows that the Battle of the Bulge was in WWII.

In colleges, ethnic groups ask for separate graduation exercises, separate housing, and separate freshman orientations. Those arrangements divide America . The more groups separate, the looser becomes our national identity.

Patriotism has become a forbidden word. When it comes up, the goal is usually to find ways to guard against its dangers, Thomas Sowell points out. Intellectuals particularly in academia have replaced patriotism with internationalism.

In France , teachers forgot the victory of Verdun in WWI and replaced victory with pacifism and internationalism. In WWII, the French surrendered to the Nazis after only six weeks of fighting. French teachers and textbooks were more important than French tanks in defeat, the French teachers’ union was told. Today, we are in danger of following the French pattern.

John McWhorter: “Campuses are precisely where many black students learn a new separatist conception of being ‘black’ that they didn’t have.” According to a 2001 study, immigrant children after four years in an American high school consider themselves less American than when they started.

We still have no national language. Last week Barack Obama, addressing LULAC, a Latino conference, said we should speak Spanish.

John Adams: “Children should be instructed in the principles of freedom.” In the19th and 20th centuries, the principles of freedom were the civic mission of the schools. No longer. Some schools from elementary through college are teaching pacifism and internationalism.

The history of the founding of the nation has been pushed out of high school into lower grades. Most 8th graders do not know the purpose of the Declaration of Independence . “Almost completely missing is the story of the origins of American liberty and equality,” reflects historian Sheldon Stern. In the age group 18-34, 55% believe the Constitution should not trump international law when there is a conflict. In college, American history “is not trendy enough for most professors,” says Professor Harry Lewis, former dean of Harvard College . American history is not a required course in college.

The history being taught is a history of this group or that, not of the nation as a whole. The U.S. is no longer “we the people.” It has become “we the peoples.” It is taught with emphasis on its failings, as if the aim were to make students ashamed of their country instead of committed to its ideals.”
A century ago, immigrants learned the language. “ America ’s genius has always been assimilation, taking immigrants & turning them into Americans,” writes Charles Krauthammer. A new point of view prevails. It sanctions dual citizenship and multilingual ballots. New immigrants are placing their loyalties above their allegiance “to the flag and the republic for which it stands.”

Even so, what unites us is greater than what divides us. A survey finds 84% still believe in a unique American identity; 63% believe it is weakening; and 24% believe we are so divided that national identity is impossible. (It will be worse in a generation when today’s young people, on whom knowledge of our continued national identity depends, take our place.)

Colleges and universities ban ROTC from the campus. At Harvard, President Lawrence Summers has brought it back. “We may wish that it were otherwise, but in this world—at this time—we are free because we are strong. And we must be grateful to those who support the strength of our country, the men and women of the U.S. military,” said Summers at the recommissioning ceremony of the ROTC.

We should reject global citizenship, which undermines civic education We should return to Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays from Presidents’ Day. There should be a Presidential Award for American Citizenship, for demonstrating “exemplary understanding of and commitment to American ideals. These are the recommendation of the Bradley Project on America ’s National Identity, which has published a 50-paged brochure on it.

Roger Wilkins: “…there is also something incredibly right here. This isn’t the country that Washington and Adams and Jefferson and Madison and Hamilton and Franklin founded. . . . It is so much better . . . largely because of the civic idealism and structure of national ideals,” observed this civil rights leader.

By Natalie Sirkin
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