I am writing this blog post on July Fourth as I prepare my WPHT 1210-AM Radio broadcast from Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
When it comes to the Fourth of July, Philadelphia should own this national holiday. It is the city where the Declaration of Independence was conceived, debated and drafted. It is rightfully called “the birthplace of liberty.”
Yet, this week’s festivities seem awfully light on history.
Boston and Washington, D.C. seem to be the center of the nation’s July Fourth focus. Philadelphia’s big claim to fame for the holiday: a “Party on the Parkway” concert, featuring the Roots, Queen Latifah, Darryl Hall, Joe Jonas and the rapper Common.
Last year, Common was invited to the White House by Michelle Obama to participate in a poetry reading. The New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association expressed their outrage to the White House, noting that one of Common’s songs, “A Song For Assata,” was about Assata Shakur, step-aunt of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur and a member of the Black Liberation Army, who was convicted of first degree murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster in 1977.
At another poetry reading, Common wrote“flyers say ‘free Mumia’ on my freezer.” For Philadelphians and police officers everywhere, this is a painful reference to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
Common’s questionable rap lyrics and poetry will have to be the subject of a post for another time. Today, on July Fourth, Philadelphia’s celebration of the holiday seems more like a Vegas spectacle than an opportunity to honor the birth of our nation. I see lots of Vegas-style “Charo,” but very little Jefferson. I get the tourism objective, but why does the message of history and patriotism seem to have second-class citizen status on such an important national holiday?
The one signature event that we used to have was The Liberty Medal. Jimmy Carter, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall, Kofi Anan, Colin Powell and Sandra Day O’Connor have been recipients. Yet in 2006, organizers threw in the towel on having it on July Fourth, and they cited the hot weather as one of the reasons for moving it to September and having it at the National Constitution Center.
Part of this is due to what I call “civics illiteracy.” Civics has all but disappeared in our nation’s schools. Ask a kid what “civics” is and you’ll get a blank stare. People young and old can’t remember the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner. They don’t know who the Founding Fathers were, but they can name this year’s winner of “American Idol.”
There are countless studies year after year that show an alarming lack of public knowledge about our nation’s history, the Founding Fathers, the Founding documents and the importance of participating in our country’s democratic process.
The result is we have gone from engaged citizenship to disengaged citizenship.
President Ronald Reagan captured it perfectly in his farewell address to the nation in 1989:
“Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven’t re-institutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.”
“So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important–why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, ‘We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did. Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.”
Now civics literacy is not a left-right thing. It’s an American thing.
The great actor Richard Dreyfuss shares the same view of President Reagan on this issue. He started a civics awareness organization called the Dreyfuss Initiative to revive, elevate and enhance the teaching of civics in American schools.
Dreyfuss joined me at the National Constitution for an in-depth discussion on the issue of civics illiteracy, and it is tremendous that a public figure of his stature is taking up this importance cause.
It’s not one of those publicity stunts dreamed up by a Hollywood publicist. He just didn’t “lend his name” to a cause or record a public service announcement; he dug into his own wallet and funded an organization. And he’s donating his time and working tirelessly to advance this cause and return civics and an appreciation of our country to the nation’s classrooms.
Richard Dreyfuss is an engaged citizen. We need more like him.
Although the only thing that Ronald Reagan and Richard Dreyfuss have in common is their acting heritage, their different political viewpoints come together when it comes to civics: we need to re-institutionalize these values.
If we brings civics and history back into important events like July Fourth, than maybe we will see more common sense patriotism and less of the rapper Common.
No related posts.