Washington Crossing Delaware
Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Patriotic Words We Teach Our Children

By Maud Kersnowski Sachs

“We the People…”
“Four score and seven years ago…”
“I have a dream…”

We all know these words. They are the words that we teach our children. They mark times of hope and inclusion, but also conflict and dissent. They are woven into the fabric of who we are as a nation. They are our highest ideals. They are the words that we aspire to, even though we often fall short of achieving them.

These are not the words of bigotry or hate or isolationism. As country, we do not celebrate when we turned our backs on the world or when we were clouded by prejudice. We celebrate the acts of bravery, not ones of fear and blind loyalty. We do not carve into the walls of our monuments the words of fear-mongers like Senator Joseph McCarthy. We celebrate the people who stood against him.

“His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind…We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty….We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular….This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent…. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”     Edward R. Murrow

Yes, we have made mistakes; raising statues and even naming colleges for those we should have been repulsed by. There are painful, horrible, guilty parts of our history that we struggle with — but we do struggle with them.

Our nation’s original sin of slavery is rooted in the very founding of the United States. Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence included slavery among the list of grievances against England, but representatives from Southern states with economies based on slave labor, struck the passage. It would take over 90 years for Jefferson’s words to apply to all men, and well over a hundred years for those words to apply to women.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We are still struggling to make those ideas a reality for all people. The fact is that almost any group that is not white, Protestant, and male has a scarred history in United States. But as Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:

“Somehow the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: ‘No lie can live forever.'”

Sometimes the great length of that arc can be a tough one to take.  But we continue to fight. We do not do venerate those who beat back justice. That is not who we are. We admire those who stood at Lexington and Seneca Falls and Selma and Stone Wall. We hold up as our heroes Reverend King, Alexander Hamilton, and Susan B. Anthony. That is who we are.

If history is any predictor, our children will not remember the names of today’s Republican leaders in Congress. We will not inscribe the tweets of the current President on brass plaques. Fifty years from now, the story will be that millions of people protested and resisted. Donald Trump will be cautionary tale. Mitch McConnell will be a footnote. But we will remember that She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”


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Maud Kersnowski Sachs

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