This article was originally published at The American Mind.
If Abraham Lincoln were alive today and looking out from a speaker’s stand over our divided nation, he would probably once again deliver his Gettysburg speech. All he would need to change is the number of years:
“Twelve score and five years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
During a time when all over the world kings reigned with absolute power, our founders brought forth a nation based on the vision which Jefferson so perfectly expressed: “that all men are created equal.” And because we were all created equal, we are all entitled to the same rights – amongst which are the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Jefferson knew that no human institution could ever perfectly embody these ideals. But he declared that ours would be the nation that was always striving to achieve that vision.
Our history is the story of our steady progress toward that vision. We have made great strides: slaves were freed, the franchise extended, and liberty and sovereignty secured at the cost of blood and treasure. We know there is still much to be done, and that work will never cease.
We traditionally have looked to our schools and universities to help raise up the next generation of informed and aware Americans – Americans who value our founders’ vision and who can lead this nation forward to continue our progress. Yet few of us feel very good about what we see.
Too often, politicized or partisan instruction has replaced thoughtful American History and old-fashioned civics instruction, including the careful and reflective reading of America’s historic documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and their sources of inspiration in English common law and Enlightenment philosophers. In response, The 1776 Commission published a report to honor our true history and refute misrepresentations of it.
To be sure, American education can boast many excellent programs in such areas as science, technology, medicine, engineering, and other fields. But our schools are no longer fulfilling their mission when it comes to forming the next generation of informed and patriotic citizens. Without those citizens, we will be unable to continue pursuing the vision of our Declaration.
Many Americans are rightfully becoming more and more concerned about this problem. Instead of being discouraged, we at the Jack Miller Center are doing something about it. Since 2004, we have been building a cadre of professors on college campuses across the country. Today we have about 1,000 professors, on more than 300 campuses, who have taught well over 1 million students about the wisdom and promise of our founding documents and our history of making them a reality.
We are beginning to see a revitalization. It is not yet strong enough, but it promises a real renaissance in the honest study of American History, in the understanding of our foundational documents, and in the true meaning of that vision that binds together all Americans of whatever race or ethnicity.
By the time kids reach college, it is almost too late. By then, too many of our young people have settled into the belief that America is fundamentally evil and that our free market system is inherently unfair – even though it gives all individuals the greatest opportunities to succeed. So, five years ago, we began a K-12 teachers initiative, starting by enriching the knowledge of high school social studies teachers about our history and our founding principles.
We started in Chicago and expanded to New York City, Wisconsin, Virginia, and now the entire state of Florida. The response from the teachers has been great. They are hungry for good content that they can use in their classrooms. Our vision is to expand this state by state until we are covering the country.
This is a boots-on-the-ground effort. We are really making a difference. For more information on our progress both at the university and the K-12 level, visit our website at jackmillercenter.org. This is an effort that all patriotic Americans can and should get behind.
To conclude as Lincoln did in his Gettysburg address: “we here highly resolve . . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Jack Miller is the founder and chairman of the Jack Miller Center, a nonprofit working to get the teaching of our founding principles and history back into schools across America.