America is more divided today politically, culturally, and economically than at any other time in our history, with the exception of the Civil War. The two major political parties are locked in seemingly perpetual conflict. People judge each other by the color of their skin, not the content of their character. Billionaires build stadium-sized homes while the homeless occupy our cities. Parents and teachers come to blows over who should educate the children. God is banned from the public square and only welcomed in churches on Sundays. Blue America has become the land of woke while red America honors the red, white, and blue.
But history counsels us not to despair. Almost two-and-a-half centuries ago, 39 delegates from 12 states assembled in Philadelphia wrought a miracle — the United States Constitution, which begins:
WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Has anyone anywhere at any time set a more ambitious goal? But having just defeated the most powerful nation in the world and won independence in the face of impossible odds, the founders of our Republic were entitled to hubris.
Since then, Americans have survived a bloody Civil War, two world wars, a Cold War, a Great Depression, recessions large and small, Vietnam and Afghanistan, murdered and impeached presidents, and a host of other perilous events. There are many reasons for our resiliency (including our abundant natural resources), but paramount is that America has had exceptional leaders when it needed them most from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr. As a result, America is today the most free, just, and prosperous country in the history of the world. This is not hyperbole but fact.
However, this remarkable, inspiring story is not being told in our schools and universities where our flaws and defeats are accentuated and our virtues and successes are dismissed. How can we form “a more perfect union” if there is little worth forming? The answer lies with citizen “historians” — WE THE PEOPLE — who must recount the truth about America, still the land of the free and the home of the brave.
This is the message and the challenge of “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Moral and Cultural Case for Teaching the Great American Story,” a powerful new book by Timothy Goeglein, a veteran of D.C. politics and the Washington vice president of Focus on the Family. He challenges every one of us to educate our children — and our grandchildren — about America, the bold and the beautiful. To help us, he provides dozens of inspiring examples of the American spirit, highlighting such Americans as:
- President U.S. Grant, who not only led the North to Victory in the Civil War but led postwar efforts to provide and promote civil rights such as the right to vote for freed black Americans. He signed legislation to condemn white-supremacist terrorism in the South.
- Chief Seattle, a 19th-century Suquamish and Duwamish chief in the Pacific Northwest, who used “military force, economic intelligence and cultural awareness” to preserve his people’s heritage and land. For a short period, Seattle also owned slaves, raising the question: Should we ignore his heroic efforts to preserve the rights of Native Americans? Of course not, responds Goeglein; his story deserves to be more widely told, not less.
- Thomas Jefferson, our third president and the author of the Declaration of Independence, whose history these days is too often limited to his relationship with the slave Sally Hemings. Rarely if ever do woke historians quote what Jefferson wrote a year before he died: “The abolishment of this evil is not impossible … every plan should be adopted, every experiment tried, which may do something towards the ultimate object” of emancipation.
- Frederick Douglass, the one-time slave who taught himself to read and write and became an adviser on race to presidents Lincoln and Grant. He was an eloquent speaker whose speeches inspired many to join the anti-slavery cause. His “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” was a national bestseller. Goeglein points out there is only one national monument to Douglass in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center — a great oversight. How wrong the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement can be was revealed when mobs tore down a statue of Douglass in Rochester, New York.
The author also exposes the ideological extremism of pseudo-historians as the late socialist professor Howard Zinn and his monumentally biased “A People’s History of the United States.” Zinn admitted that his goal was to denounce Western civilization and “upend the social and moral foundations” of America. Goeglein shows how Zinn ignored accepted historical standards to promote his socialist ideology. His chapter on Zinn is a model of evisceration.
A Call to Action
Goeglein admits it will take years and perhaps decades to reverse the damage done by Zinn and similar woke academics. Which is why, he argues, educating our children at home, around the kitchen table, is so important. Parents who place their children in public schools must be “extra vigilant” about what is taught. They must be prepared, Goeglein writes, for “the full wrath of Leftist activists” when they call out the indoctrination their children are receiving.
In the last chapter, Goeglein suggests concrete courses of action for parents, including encouraging their public schools to imitate Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has cited the danger of critical race theory and declared that “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other” has no place in the classroom.
Take your children to visit American Revolutionary War sites, Civil War battlefields, and museums such as the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Support projects like the Civics Alliance of the National Association of Schools (NAS), which promotes genuine civics education in schools.
“We must teach future generations our true history and heritage,” argues Goeglein, in order to preserve our freedom and to be the “United States instead of the divided states.” Every young American, he writes, needs to learn “the story of a nation with a glorious vision of unity, freedom, and dignity for all.”
“Toward a More Perfect Union” is not just another book that ought to be read, but a call to action that must not be ignored.
Lee Edwards is the distinguished fellow in conservative thought at the B. Kenneth Simon Center on Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation, and the author or editor of 25 books.
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