Teachers who love our country are deeply saddened by our fellow educators’ unwillingness to recognize America’s greatness, its promise, and its hope for our generation and posterity. The common principles that unite us—such as a love of liberty and private property—are being destroyed in the name of social equality. How can we teach our educators and students American exceptionalism? American history offers many solutions to teach basic principles of liberty and patriotism.
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Americans have been blessed with incredible examples of heroes: men and women who have honored us with courage, strength, sacrifice, and love. Past legislators and Presidents have given these individuals great honor by proclaiming eleven federal holidays, nicely spread out over 12 months. Because these are federal holidays, no teacher need worry if he is breaking the law (or the dreaded Common Core) by teaching patriotism on these special days. And those teachers who do not love their country can use these days to teach the facts and then have a discussion over their importance. Honest teachers can let their students decide if our country’s heroes are worth looking up to.
At the beginning of the school year, we have Columbus Day, October 12th. Thirty years ago, students enjoyed a free day off from school and learned how Columbus braved the unknown to find America, a discovery that opened up the new world and spread the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian culture to the Americas. Today, our students know little of Columbus. This is because most teachers believe him to be an example of evil colonization, and don’t teach anything about him. Instead of ignoring him, there should be a debate about Columbus: was he a hero or a villain? The coming of Columbus ended some Indian practices that were antithetical to western values: polygamy, cannibalism, human sacrifice on a monumental scale, wife-stealing, and theft. His discovery also led to the extinction of the Tainos Indians and to the takeover of the Americas by Europeans. Many Indians were enslaved. Perhaps 90% died of disease, though Columbus had no idea this would happen. In light of these facts, was Columbus a hero or was he a villain? I know what I think, but I am curious to hear what my students will say.
In November, Americans celebrate the great American holiday Thanksgiving. Four years ago, I asked my 200 students (5 classes of 40 students), “What was the reason for the first Thanksgiving?” Sadly, no one gave me the correct, historical answer. Most said it was a day the Pilgrims thanked the Indians for helping them. Others said it was a day to be thankful, but to whom they could not give an answer. The answer is found in the primary source documents of Governor Bradford, proclaiming America’s First Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1623 as a time to give thanks to “Almighty God.” The Pilgrims suffered greatly those first few years in America. In their first winter of 1620, 45 died out of 102. The fact the Pilgrims had a celebration to honor God for his blessings just a few years after this tragedy tells us of the immense humility of our ancestors. America’s students can use this lesson of humility a driving force to rise up from any challenges they may face.
Each holiday has its story of greatness, of courage, of sacrifice, and of love. Veteran’s Day allows us to think of sacrifices our soldiers have made in order for us to enjoy the liberties that so many in the world yearn for. Christmas provides us with the story of humility and love. Even a non-Christian can appreciate the great love of someone giving his only son for others. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a man who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that Americans would one day be judged by our character, and not the color of our skin. Washington Day gives us the amazing story of a leader who was in the public eye and pressures of war and politics for 24 years. During this marathon of public service, the father of our country never faltered or gave anyone a reason to question his character. After Washington Day, there is Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.
If our students (and teachers) knew of the meaning of America’s federal holidays, they would grow in patriotism.
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