America can't outsource teaching values and keep producing patriots

Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council. This article appeared in the Washington Times on September 10, 2019.

With the approach of Patriot Day on the 9/11 anniversary, we are reminded of the dangerous and volatile world in which we live. We are also thinking of the incredible sacrifice and service of the men and women in our military and in the ranks of first responders who have answered the call to defend America against terrorists.

Patriot Day also prompts a question. As the global threats and dangers to America continue to increase, will America continue to produce patriots? This is not a rhetorical or theoretical question, but a practical and poignant question in light of a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey. The survey on what Americans value reveals a steep decline in the priority Americans place on patriotism, religion and having children. What should get our attention is that the overall downturn in these core values is driven primarily by those under the age of 40.  

In the age of Nike and Colin Kaepernick, a 9 percentage point decline in patriotism over the last 21 years, while troubling, is not a huge surprise. Likewise, with the scandals in organized religion and its growing departure from the transcendent truth, a 12-point decline in the priority placed on religion, while disturbing, is not shocking. The 16-point drop in the value of having children is a most likely a combination of factors ranging from the decline of commitment, selflessness and transcendent purpose. But I believe there is more behind this decline in core values — it’s the outsourcing of teaching our children the meaning of freedom.

Earlier this year, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation released the results of a national survey of 41,000 Americans in all 50 states on their understanding of American history. Among their findings, only 27 percent of those under the age of 45 were able to demonstrate a basic knowledge of American history.

A decade ago, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute warned of a coming crisis of citizenship. Students educated at the nation’s top colleges and universities were graduating with less knowledge of American history and civics than when they began their path to higher learning. Graduating seniors at Harvard managed to average a score of D+, higher than their peers at other Ivy League institutions.

Patriotism, or devotion and allegiance to one’s country, is difficult to nurture and maintain if you have little understanding of the nation’s origin, founding purpose and vision. 

Religion has fared no better within the walls of America’s educational system. With the removal of prayer and the Bible from public schools in the early ‘60s, the Left started a long march through America’s institutions, that, like Sherman’s March to the Sea, has left little behind.

This scorched-earth policy of the left has not only served to shackle the free exercise of religion of students and administrations. The effects of this march are not limited to the classroom; they have helped to marginalize and stigmatize faith in the broader culture.

Education has also played a role in diminishing the importance of family and children. Increasingly, parents are not only circumvented by educators, but, in some cases, students are told their parents’ views are antiquated and even bigoted.

Add the dogma of the left’s climate change message, which calls for the reduction in the population for the sake of the planet. Rather than a blessing to be nurtured, they say, children consume our limited supply of resources and increase the burden on the Earth.  

The very fact that these values are being tracked over time speaks to their significance to the American experiment. Os Guinness, in his book, “Last Call for Liberty,” writes about the brilliance of the Founders in what he describes as the golden triangle of freedom. He explains that freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom. If one of the three is absent, the golden triangle collapses.   

The Old Testament records the children of Israel coming out of Egypt and establishing their start-up nation. Among the priority instructions was the one contained in the Shema. The Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6, continues to be recited morning and night in Jewish homes. The prayer is a reminder that parents are to diligently teach their children the ways of the Lord when they sit at home, walk along the way, when they lie down and when they arise. Instilling in their children a sense of identity and understanding of their history was a 24/7 proposition; it wasn’t something that could be outsourced.  

Two decades before he became president, Ronald Reagan made an almost prophetic statement. He observed: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll should be a wake-up call for those who understand and appreciate American exceptionalism; and the blessing it has been not just to Americans, but to the entire world. If America is to continue producing patriots, who are essential for freedom to remain, then the outsourcing of teaching to our children the values of faith, family and freedom to the institutions controlled by the left must end.