‘What so proudly we hailed…’ Our clear and present danger… and what we must do at once to improve civics education.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. My mother used to sing a little ditty — complete with rollicking delivery — called “School days.” It went something like this
“School days, school days Dear old Golden Rule days. Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic Taught to the tune of the hick’ry stick.”
I never knew much about this tune beyond the lyrics. Its interest for me was in the way my young mother sang it to me and my siblings, always upbeat and cheerful, an American lass belting out an American tune.
It was written in 1907 by Will Cobb and Gus Edwards. Lots of people other than my mother liked this song… and like Byron G. Harlan (who made it a great hit) recorded it. It provides just the right note for this article. Go now to any search engine and find the rendition you like best. Sing it now. Its effervescence will will help cheer you in advance of my more sombre message. “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
In 1907 when Byron Harlan was singing of his school days the golden promise of the Great Republic was like a celestial magnet pulling expectant multitudes from everywhere on this planet to… America! Not merely a land, a territory, a mere place… but a dream made flesh by people like — them! It was a place to be not a serf, a servant, a subject… but yourself, your own person. And the world came in waves to find themselves… and breathe free for the first time in their lives.
Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) set the exact mood in her famous poem (1883) chiselled on the Statue of Liberty, appropriately the first thing every emigrant saw and which set the uplifting, liberating mood.
Because these people were so various in their histories, the need to Americanize them was acute and highly desired by the emigrants themselves. They embraced this cause as their own, and proudly so. And so American civics came to America’s schools and helped deliver one proud American after another, citizens who proved their devotion to the Great Republic and its soaring ideals on all the battlefields of our planet.
But all this, having culminated in my parents’ World War II generation, then began to recede as my rebellious Baby Boomer generation grew into turbulent adolescence. We brooked no discipline… and showed it in ways various, often affronting, and contentious. And so, bit by bit, the flood tide of Americanization waned and left us… divided, selfish, no longer united or cohesive, or resolved upon common goals… still a republic, but no longer as great as we had been.
And it is this malaise, this palsy on the body politic, this diminishing of our great cause that confronts us now on every front… and which I address here, now, to caution you that great institutions fail and fall when necessary and fundamental repairs, restorations, and reconstructions are neglected and put off to another day.
Thus it is now time, and well past, that civics education and instruction be restored as part of the curriculum, the curriculum that explains and advances the cause of the Great Republic. This curriculum must include, but never be limited to, such grave and important matters as the necessity for a Great Republic as the instrument of God’s Will; the history of the implementation of this idea; the people great and small who have contributed to this idea — as well as the people who have opposed it, why, and to what extent they may at first have succeeded… only to falter before the majesty of this cogent idea and of the Great Republic which embodies it….
As part of this curriculum, there must be full and sustained attention to the governance of the Great Republic, what has been tried and found true; what has been tried and found wanting and even dangerous. In this particular, we must focus on both men and their measures.
And above all we must focus on the essential concept of the citizen, for I must remind you, the Great Republic is founded upon, built and protected by its citizens — that is people like you and me who have been born into or otherwise admitted to its rights and obligations. These citizens must understand that, know their duties and be clear on what is expected of them for the success and furtherance of the Great Republic.
Sadly, all this is now in our little days neglected, cast down, derided, forgotten, to the detriment of the present and the certain ruination of the future. We stand at a critical moment in the affairs of the Great Republic, the people — the responsible citizens — are restive… but uninformed about what must be done, how to achieve the desired results, and, most of all their particular role.
No where is this more true than in the schools of the Great Republic, almost all of which have neglected their role — what must citizens know and do to fulfill their essential role and responsibilities?
One point illustrates the entire problem and what must be done.
Too many young Americans of voting age, like too many older Americans, do not understand the importance of the suffrage, the single most important aspect of citizenry. The guarantee of this right was hard won by the blood and strenuous efforts of committed, audacious men and women who placed the life and prosperity of the Great Republic above their own. They acted… they suffered… they died, so that we might vote.
And how have we treated this sublime gift?
We have been casual about it, unthinking, ill prepared, forgetful, dismissive of its significance. And the results are clear and dismaying: citizens who do not participate in the electorate and who do not vote threaten the very structure, the very future of the Great Republic.
And so schools must deal with every aspect of the suffrage, from the origination of the very concept, through the struggles many and various which either retarded or advanced the ultimate end, its glorious achievement, and what they must do now and forever to sustain and enhance this vital aspect of our affairs.
Merely saying “vote today” will never be enough, for an imperative injunction without understanding is unacceptable and will never do.
“What so proudly we hailed…”
Once upon a time in this Great Republic, when we had the problems of assimilating the unending waves of emigrants, we had such a program in place… and it worked, building and solidifying the Great Republic, making each of us proud. We now have a problem, and it is the genius of our people to do what is necessary to solve such problems — once they are informed about it and understand their role in its solution.
Each of us who are citizens must do what we can to advance this essential matter by
* contacting superintendents of schools and asking what they are doing;
* asking all teachers for situation and progress reports;
* doing the same with all elected officials;
* informing the president and asking for what the current administration is doing, and so on.
But above all, two musical pieces will help us frame the debate and the action which must occur.
First, “Hail to the Chief”, a tune which every American knows for it precedes the impending arrival of a sitting President. But here’s the twist: the president is only “chief” during his administration. In reality it is the citizen — people like you and me — who are chief… for our responsibilities never end and are essential to the realization of every goal. In the republic, the citizen is king.
Finally, we must understand the vital importance of schools in the solution of this problem; indeed, there can be no solution without their full and complete cooperation.
And so we return to where we began, a rousing tune by Cobb and Edwards composed and sung when we were proud to be Americans, understanding of our role and work as citizens, eager to do it… feeling certain we were doing God’s work… And so we were… and so we must do again.
Note: Dr. Lant has established The Lant Prize for Civics for high school students.
*** We invite you to submit your comments to this article.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today. Details at worldprofit.com
Author: Jeffrey LantThis author has published 572 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.