After some hand-wringing over British citizens who have chosen to fight with ISIS, Prime Minister David Cameron said he thinks one reason for the defection is that too many of the defectors have forgotten what it means to be British. As a means of fighting the radicalization of young people, he wants all of Britain’s schools to again teach “British values.”
It is a diagnosis Americans would do well to consider because an unknown number of Americans (FBI Director James Comey says he doesn’t have a precise number because they are “hard to track”) have abandoned their country to fight with jihadists.
In order to teach values, whether British or American, we must first agree on what they are. Since the turbulent ‘60s, some Americans have chosen to ignore, even oppose, values taught to their forebears. These tenets begin with personal responsibility and accountability, hard work, capitalism, self-reliance, faith in God and patriotism.
As I see it, too many students pay little heed to the Pledge of Allegiance. Few will serve in the military, or feel compelled to “give back” to their country as did those who fought and died for their freedom.
A look at what used to be taught in public schools before the advent of multiculturalism offers a lesson in what we have lost.
In 1923, the superintendent of Public Instruction in Lancaster, Ohio, J.J. Phillips, created a series of booklets for elementary school students called “Selections for Memorizing.” They included many verses from the Bible that would be banned today. They also included passages about respecting and loving parents and love of country.
Beginning in first grade, children were exposed to sentiments like these: “I give my hand and my heart to my country. One country, one language, one flag.”
In an entry by Daniel Webster called “Duty of American Citizens” there is this: “This lovely land, this glorious liberty, these benign institutions, the dear purchase of our fathers are ours; ours to enjoy, ours to preserve, ours to transmit. Generations past and generations to come, hold us responsible for this sacred trust. Our fathers from behind admonish us with their anxious, paternal voices; posterity calls out to us from the bosom of the future; the world turns hither with its solicitous eyes all, all conjure us to act wisely and faithfully in the relation which we sustain.”
Webster concludes: “But what are lands, and seas, and skies to civilized man, without society, without knowledge, without morals, without religious culture? And how can these be enjoyed in all their extent, and all their excellence, but under the protection of wise institutions and a free government?”
Who decided these virtues were outdated and no longer worth teaching to new generations, especially “millennials,” who seem so cynical about them?
Even conservatives, who still cling to those values in theory, are doing less in practice to affirm them. Too many have their children in public schools that challenge their beliefs. Too many conservative families are breaking up, instilling conditional love in their children.
As Peter Beinart wrote in last February’s National Journal, “The very attributes conservatives say make America special — religiosity, patriotism, and mobility — are ones they’ve inadvertently undermined. Is it any wonder millennials are less impressed with their country?”
In a letter to his wife, Abigail, John Adams wrote: “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”
If we could question those Americans who have gone to fight with jihadists, it would be interesting to see what they were taught in school and how they came to hate America so much. Meanwhile, we had better get back to teaching the current and future generations what we used to teach, or risk losing not only them, but the entire nation.
“Selections for Memorizing” might be a good place to start.
Readers may email Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.