Our school (Eglin Elementary, on Eglin AFB) had a wonderful Veteran's Day walk Tuesday. The whole school went over to the All Wars Memorial on base, and when the buses parked, the kids and their parents (many of whom were in uniform) walked together to the memorial. The program was great. In preparation that morning, I had the kids writing about "Why I Love America". They worked for a while, and as I walked around and looked at their work, most centered on what they owned - X-Box 360, or what they could do "play video games, eat McDonald's" etc. A few said "freedom."
But not nearly enough.
So I got them all together and explained that when I was in elementary school, I was asked to recite something in a veteran's day program.
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.
I then launched into an explanation of just why out of everything I knew or experienced of America in my life what I learned when I was about their age had stuck with me. I wanted to share it today with you. This isn't the way I explained it to 3rd and 4th graders, but my readership doesn't hold a high percentage of that demographic. :) So for you, gentle reader, here's why I love America.
We - that was huge, because until those words were penned, there was no "We", only a collection of states born from different motives and filled with people determined to live their individual lives for their own reasons. "We" was the binding principle that said to the world "We may all be individuals, but when it comes to knowing, believing, and defending at the cost of our lives if necessary - "We" are one.
Hold these truths - In the era we live in, people feel free to live their own truth. They pick it from here or there and preach toleration of whatever anyone chooses to believe. At the birth of our country, out of all the "truths" that were out there, our forefathers decided to proclaim to the world that this nation would live out a creed higher in purpose than just making a living.
That all men are created equal - I know, I know - maybe the first thing you think of is how that lofty goal took many years and the shedding of thousands of lives in a civil war to approach. And maybe you think we still aren't there. But for a nation whose inhabitants came from the rigid caste system of Europe to write this into their founding document sent to the world as why they were forming a new country - it was explosive. It marked out one corner of the world where freedom was real - or would be.
That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights - "lex rex" - the King is the law- meant that a man's rights were whatever the King said they were, or whatever the government said they were. This phrase places man's rights beyond reach of King, parliament or Congress, grounding them in God. Again, the mere idea is so far beyond anything that had ever come before in Europe, when the common man read this he knew there was one place in the world where a king's or nobleman's whims held no power over them.
"...that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." - We frequently focus on the three mentioned, but should also notice the founders knew enough to know there were more than just those three. "Among those" means that while America wanted to let the world know that those three - "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were at the core of what America aspired to be, there were things already acknowledged and truths accepted across cultures that would be part of America's genus as well. If we guarantee that rights are "inalienable" because they are given by God, we do not have to name them all.
The uniqueness of these phrases, regardless of the imperfectness of how we lived it out is why I love America. And I learned that in elementary school.
If we aren't inspiring kids today to remember what makes America great, the loss will be... everything.