The recent report card in history was issued just as I attended a conference sponsored by the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, to discuss the American identity, to talk about the changing sense of "we the people." We heard concern for the way we're losing the moral tissue that connects the first principles established by the Founding Fathers. Intellectual trends like multiculturalism, globalism and a sneering skepticism of America have diminished the shared memories and common values that have held the nation together through war, Depression and social upheaval.
Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, for example, but that shouldn't blind us to his ideals. Yet impressionistic young people are taught to belittle the whole man. The author of the Declaration of Independence is trivialized with simplistic moral condescension. When our history is reduced to our flaws, celebrating fragmentation in hyphenated Americans, the young can't understand the cohesive principles on which our liberty is based.
This becomes especially dangerous as younger generations fail to learn about the separation of powers, checks and balances of government and why Congress enacted the Bill of Rights. There's no appreciation for democracy, which after all originated here.
Best-selling books on atheism testify to the strength of American pluralism, but when our schoolchildren lack the knowledge to make intellectual discrimination as taught by history, they fail to appreciate how American ideas are rooted in such self-evident truths, that "all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," and become insecure in what it means to be an American.
"In God we trust, yes," observes the theological scholar Michael Novak. "But for all men there must be checks and balances." American citizens need not profess a faith in the Creator to be a good citizen, any more than they must attend a church or synagogue, but our children should be taught where the roots of American identity come from. The "nation's report card" sounds the alarm that the lessons of history are threatened when those lessons are never learned.