Call to action to preserve the American identity

The Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, a Milwaukee-based conservative organization, recently unveiled “E Pluribus Unum: The Bradley Project on America’s National Identity.”

Under the direction of Daniel Schmidt, vice president of programming for the Bradley Foundation, the project began with a HarrisInteractive poll of 2,421 American citizens. Of those surveyed, 84 percent believe there is a unique American national identity that is based on shared beliefs, values and culture.

The survey also found that 63 percent believe that America’s shared national identity is becoming weaker.

The foundation then hired educators, authors and other critical thinkers to forge a dialogue around the data and spark a national discussion about America’s “identity crisis.”

The following are quoted recommendations from the Bradley Project to preserve the American national identity. The full report is available online at www.bradleyproject.org.

• The teaching of American history should include America’s great public documents and speeches, and books with compelling narratives. And the period of the American founding should be emphasized at all levels, including high school, by teachers who have majored in history. Students should first be taught about America’s great heroes, dramatic achievements and high ideals so they can put its failings in perspective. Meaningful, balanced history best prepares young people for informed democratic participation.

• Colleges and universities should require for graduation a comprehensive course on American national history and government that includes the nation’s great public documents and speeches.

• Families, schools and colleges, businesses and civic organizations, and government at all levels should keep American memory alive by treating national holidays and historic sites such as Mount Vernon and Gettysburg as touchstones of national identity and as educational opportunities.

• Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays should be restored as distinctive celebrations in place of the generic Presidents’ Day.

• Newcomers to America should be encouraged to participate fully in American social, economic and civic life.

• Schools and colleges, businesses and civic associations, and all levels of government should promote special programs as well as special occasions that focus on what unites us as Americans.

• While appreciating the benefits of diversity, Americans should affirm their commitment to national unity, a shared culture, a common language and defining ideals.

• We should not adopt policies that perpetuate division or that compromise our national allegiance.

• Universities, businesses, and civic institutions should avoid policies and arrangements that may tend to stereotype and divide Americans.

• Our schools and colleges, businesses, and civic groups should take time to recognize and honor those who are serving in the armed forces.

• Colleges and universities should have ROTC programs on campus and should give the same access to military recruiters as they do to other employers.

• Looking at the global economy, it seems to some that nations pose a barrier to the efficient movement of workers, investment, and technology. But there are other values at stake, such as what American companies owe to their fellow citizens and to the nation that charters and protects them. As captains of industry like Howard Hughes and Henry J. Kaiser proved in World War II, patriotism and good business do not have to be adversaries. American companies should understand that they have special obligations to the United States and to their fellow citizens at home.

• Civic education should be based on the distinctive features of citizenship in American democracy, not on the misleading idea that one can be a “citizen” of the world.

• A Presidential Award for American Citizenship should be created. The award would provide recognition at the highest level to students and new citizens who demonstrate exemplary understanding of and commitment to American ideals and institutions.

• The teaching of American history should be strengthened by including more compelling narratives and primary texts, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the great speeches and debates. The period of the American founding should be emphasized at all levels, including high school.

• Americans should embrace an informed patriotism that expresses our devotion to our country and our bond with our fellow citizens.

• Schools and colleges, businesses and civic associations, and all levels of government should promote special programs as well as special occasions that focus on our national ideals and what unites us as Americans.

•Textbooks should be supplemented with primary documents and books by authors such as David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin that tell about the lives and events that constitute the drama of American history. A foundation for understanding American history should be laid in the primary grades by including national holidays, heroes, songs, and poems. Stories of heroes and heroines in American history should be major components of the social studies and reading curricula in K-5. The founding period should be covered at all levels, including the senior year. And teachers of history should be required to major in history.

• Colleges and universities should require knowledge of America’s national history and its democratic political tradition as a condition of graduation. Courses in American history and government should include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other primary texts such as great speeches, the Federalist papers, and landmark Supreme Court decisions. Faculty should be hired who are prepared to teach these subjects, not just narrower specialties.

• Schools should not slight their civic mission by giving students the impression that America’s failures are more noteworthy than America’s achievements. They should begin with the study of America’s great ideals, heroes, and achievements, so that its struggles can be put in perspective. A broadminded, balanced approach to the American story best prepares young people for informed democratic participation.

• While American companies, especially multinational corporations, have responsibilities toward their partners abroad, they should understand their special obligations to the United States and to their fellow citizens at home.

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