Give honor to those whom deserve honor

Published 10:52 am Thursday, November 9, 2000

Alabama Policy Institute
A friend of mine, John K. Andrews, Jr., has been publishing a newsletter for six years. Recently he asked his readers to respond to this question: "What can one person do to make the next decade a better time for our country than the past decade was?"
Among the many responses that John received was this profound suggestion from a gentleman in Whitefish, Mont. who said simply, "Teach a young person to love his or her country."
When I read this man's statement, it struck me how great an impact it would have on our nation if we could achieve this simple objective. If nothing else, by attempting this we could at least reduce some of the cynicism that so many children, as well as adults, now have toward our nation's leaders and our government.
The best place to begin is to make the teaching of history one of the primary objectives of our children's education. And the best place to start teaching children history is in the home with parents and grandparents.
Children need to be connected to our nation's past through the lives of their families. Each year my children's school hosts a combination Grandparent's Day and Veteran's Day program. At the elementary school assembly, the men and women who served in America's armed forces are asked to step forward, starting with those who served in World War II through those who are currently serving.
After the last person has joined the others in front of the children, taps is played for those who, in Lincoln's words, "gave the last full measure of devotion" for our country.
Bringing the parents and grandparents of these children to school and paying tribute to their service to our country in front of the students help connect our youth to the role of their family members and others in their communities in shaping our nation's history. It also teaches them to give honor to those to whom honor is due and lays the foundation for instilling in students a sense of respect for the sacrifices made to establish and maintain our nation.
Here is where I am most concerned. How do we give our young people a sense of personal responsibility for their community, state and nation that transcends them as individuals? Part of the answer lies in teaching history with a civic emphasis. One of the goals of communicating our history should be to instill in students an appreciation and respect for the nation's values and institutions that must be passed on from one generation to the next.
While history often focuses on the deeds of individuals, it is really the story of what people did together to build nations or a record of what they failed to do that caused nations to fall. As the acclaimed British historian Arnold Toynbee said, "All history, once you strip the rind off the kernel, is really spiritual." So teaching a young person to love his or her country must go beyond what they learn in school. This effort must extend to what they are taught in their churches and synagogues and ultimately to what they are taught at home.
To teach our children to love their country will require a change of perspective on the part of parents. Instead of trying to achieve for ourselves a better life materially than our parents had, maybe we should focus less on our material gains and more on what we can leave our children in regard to the political and cultural well being of our state and nation.
While we all aspire to a higher material quality of life, we must not neglect the political and civic institutions that guard our freedom and make our material success possible. The institutions must be protected not only from foreign threats, but also from internal neglect. It is then, not only a worthy objective for each of us to "teach a young person to love his or her country," it is an absolute necessity if our nation is to survive.
Speaking at Normandy on June 6, 1984, the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan said that we have an obligation to teach our children about what happened that day and why. He said that our children "should know about our heroes and understand what Lincoln meant when he spoke of patriot graves bound together by mystic cords of memory." President Reagan concluded by saying, "We must teach them to love the things we love and to honor the things we honor. Nothing less will do."
Ultimately, the best way for us as individuals and as parents to teach our children and other young people "to love the things we love and to honor the things we honor" is by our own example.
Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

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