July 2, 2023: Civics and the 4th of July
I spent the better part of last week at a Civics Conference at our local University. As a self-described social-studies-nerd, I was in my element. Hundreds of teachers were gathered to listen to some inspiring key note speakers and attend a variety of engaging and informative sessions.
I think everyone acknowledges that social studies knowledge in general, and civics knowledge specifically, is sadly lacking in a large portion of our citizenry. Clearly, schools must do a better job of making sure that our future citizens have a deep and complete understanding of the workings of our representative democracy.
The 4th of July Holiday is a great example. Ask any child, (and many adults) and it is described as the celebration of the birth of the United States. The day we became an independent country. The signing of the Declaration of Independence. July 3rd, we were colonists, and July 4th, we were Americans.
However, that view fails to take into account the years of events, conflicts, and struggles leading up to the signing. Nor the years of events, conflicts, and struggles that followed, as the new nation tried to work out how it would function.
History is never simple and definitive, just as current events are rarely clear. You need to understand the context, the nuances, the influencing factors. We need to see the big picture, not just examine all of the minute details.
Our simplistic understanding of the Declaration of Independence also fails to acknowledge the actual work of writing this important document. While credit is often given to Thomas Jefferson, the fact is, it was a group effort. There were five men tasked with writing this document. Like all collaborative writing, there was conflict, disagreement, and compromise. Then the entire Constitutional Convention got to revise and edit the document. Again, conflict, disagreement, and compromise drove the process.
I love thinking about this process. I think it helps to demonstrate that that our Nation is so clearly founded on the idea of differing perspectives. That civil discourse is such an integral part of the fabric of who we are. That our founders tried to set an ideal, and that we continue to work to live up to that ideal. We are definitely a work-in-progress. And that, I believe, is the power of our Nation.
Happy 4th of July!