by Jack Miller
In his Gettysburg Address at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln pointed out that the United States was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” “Now,” he continued, “we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
Thankfully, we are not in a civil war today – and, one hopes, never will be again. We are, however, in a battle for the soul of our country.
The fight today is not about what we want to achieve but, rather, how best to achieve it. Both sides claim to want a society in which people can live fulfilling lives. Both claim to adhere to the vision outlined in the Declaration of Independence and supported by our Constitution. Yet neither side has any sense of common ground on which to move forward.
Put generally, one side envisions improving our society through a highly involved federal government that provides greater support and greater regulation meant to benefit everyone. The other side believes that traditional American ideals of individual freedom, limited government, and free markets will lead to a better life for all.
Those who want to restrict government power and reach are depicted as greedy and without compassion for the disenfranchised and less fortunate. Those who desire larger government aid and controls are seen as ignorant of history and human nature. One side is judged heartless; the other, brainless. These polarizing caricatures quash any desire for a real understanding of how we as one nation can move forward.
The 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – a miscarriage of justice – was the spark that led to the popularization of critical race theory, riots and looting in many cities, and the tearing down of statues of great Americans. It also gave impetus to the 1619 Project’s skewed framing of the American Founding. All these developments have widened our divide. So has teaching young people in colleges, universities, and K-12 schools that America is systemically racist, which has angered parents across the country.
In fact, ever since the Vietnam War era, civic education has been under attack, beginning at the university level and now at the K-12 level. To make sure our nation, “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” can endure, we must rise to the challenge.
The good news is that most Americans believe in the vision of our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and that all are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Over the years, that vision has united us as one people, even through the most divisive debates, and has attracted millions to America’s shores.
It is that unifying vision that must be taught to our young people. After all, it will fall on their shoulders to continue the progress previous generations have made. Frederick Douglass, during the Civil War era, and Martin Luther King Jr., during the civil rights era, both invoked that vision in advocating for a colorblind society and fair play for all. We have come a long way toward achieving those goals. But teaching our young people through a lens of racial grievance and Marxist historicism corrupts and reverses that progress.
This miseducation must stop. Fortunately, now that parents and the public are becoming aware of and alarmed about the situation, change is possible. The solution is clear: it is to reintroduce and reinvigorate the teaching of both our founding principles and a well-rounded and unbiased American history in our classrooms. While not complicated, this solution will require hard work and financial support.
If our country is to endure, every child should be assured of a high-quality education. Not everyone needs to go to college to lead a successful life. But every child needs, and is entitled to, a quality K-12 learning experience. That should include a solid civics education in our founding principles and our form of government, as well as our history of progress toward achieving the promise of our Declaration. Children should learn about the American culture of freedom and opportunity that enables anyone to achieve success and has made our country a magnet for people from around the world. Together, we need to continue working to achieve the vision of our Declaration.
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Jack Miller is the founder and chairman of the Jack Miller Center, a 501(c)(3) organization that promotes the teaching of America’s founding principles and history by supporting professors and programs on campuses nationwide as well as courses for K-12 teachers that help them build engaging lessons for their students.