This is a great country but there is much work ahead

Home Columns Books Talks About me Contact me

 

“American exceptionalism” is a phrase being used to deceive us about our greatness without recognizing our shortcomings. Our country truly is great, although not superior to other countries which have existed or will continue in the future.

            Our country was founded on principles of equality and justice. These were part of the moral fabric of the founders who wrote our initial documents of the Declaration of Independence and ultimately the Constitution. While the founders were forging ahead with an experiment in self government unheard of before they were not in unanimity about how to proceed. That’s why they included two ways to amend the Constitution.

            While these two documents represent a spirit that we honor with a sacredness and reverence akin to religious fervor and God-like adoration, we must remember that these founders were human beings operating out of their culture, education and experience.

            The Constitution, for example, was written after the failure of the Articles of Confederation. The ink on this new Constitution was scarcely dry before the people demanded some changes before they would ratify it. And so the delegates proposed twelve amendments to this Constitution. Ten of them were approved and have become known as our Bill of Rights. As a result the Constitution was finally approved by nine states and went into effect.

            The founders of our country did not have a magic wand nor were they the human hand of God. Rather they were all white male human beings, who fashioned these documents to the best of their ability and then made changes almost immediately. The Constitution has been amended seventeen more times since 1791 to reflect changes in our country and our culture. This process of civil debate is one of the ways we are great. But even there we failed miserably when debate turned to war among our own citizens. That war was a valuable lesson that needs to be reviewed in these times of violent rhetoric so we don’t make that same mistake again.

            Equality is another highly regarded American value but it requires the work of human beings to achieve that in the real world. In the late 18th century equality meant the equality of white men, but not women, or slaves, or native Americans. We have made significant progress in some of these areas, but not in others. The nuts and bolts of politics is what brings about this equality for each generation. Today women are still seeking full equality not only in our civil affairs but in religions as well. Gays find themselves in a particularly unequal situation in public life today. Immigrants and children of immigrants too lack equality. Some politicians even want to take away citizenship from these children of immigrants.

            This struggle for equality is also found in the work place where laborers have had to sacrifice their lives to form unions to secure safe working conditions, higher wages and more benefits from business owners. Much progress was made in this area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries despite the many attempts to bar these advances by our judicial system. Labor laws were declared unconstitutional for many years before finally approved.

The pendulum is again swinging toward the big business owners and the very wealthy. Equality, much preached by conservatives, eludes the vast majority of people in the middle class and below while the top five percent wallow in luxuries unseen in this country for nearly a hundred years. Tax cuts for the wealthy are passed with support of lobbyists and big business campaign contributions without considering the needs of the lower and middle classes. Every effort to change this is criticized as “job killing” policies.

            We were great in our work ethic and high standards of education. We led the world in innovative technology as a result. Now we are dumbing down America while the rest of the world ratchets up its education and way of life.  For example, a recent report showed that MEAP scores were inflated. The state told parents of fourth graders that 84% of their chilrfen were proficient in reading, but only 30% of these same students  were proficient on the national test. Other scores in math and science were similarly disastrous.* The Department of Education has recently decided to raise its standards.

We need to make some hard decisions about the role of government in keeping with our values. We can’t rely on jingoism to solve these problems. The solutions involve more than tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts by the government. Our infrastructure, education, and our very way of life in a world that is rapidly shrinking are at stake.

 

* Glenn Gilbert, “Inflated MEAP scores full of hot air”, The Oakland Press

Published: Saturday, January 22, 2011

http://www.theoaklandpress.com/articles/2011/01/22/opinion/doc4d379eaa9b1a6148477516.txt

 

“State raises bar on MEAP, wants same for accreditation”, Detroit Free Press,

February 9, 2011

http://www.educationreport.org/pubs/mer/article.aspx?id=14546