The founders believed that special skills were necessary for free, self-governing individuals. Our second president, John Adams, said, "Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom." Thomas Jefferson proposed a system of public schools to instill the necessary knowledge and attitudes, saying memorably "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
When Ronald Reagan reflected on his eight years as president in his farewell address, he mentioned that one of the things he was proudest of was the renewed spirit of patriotism in the country. "This national feeling is good," he said, "but it won't count for much, and it won't last unless it's grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge." Recalling that his generation had absorbed "almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation for its institutions," he noted that "Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children." And in what may have been the understatement of the decade, he said ". . . As for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style."
"We've got to do a better job," Reagan warned, "of getting across that America is freedom -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection."
When liberals tell the story of America -- and they overwhelmingly dominate the education establishment -- they tend to focus excessively on our flaws and sins. By all means, our kids need to know about the civil rights movement, just as they should know all about slavery and Jim Crow. But they should also be taught that this country overcame an ugly history of slavery and racism to a degree unequaled by any other nation on Earth. Nations that have practiced slavery (some still do) and racism are in legion. Those that have managed to transform themselves -- to listen to the "better angels of their nature" -- are incredibly rare.
In this, as in so much else, the U.S. is exemplary. If the public schools could convey just that much, it would be progress.