A long-time Cuban immigrant to the United States, Martin Gurri, wrote a stirring paean to his adopted country for the nation’s 247th birthday. He poured out his gratitude for being an American and explained why America is truly exceptional.
There was one fly in the ointment. Mentioning his 5-year-old grandson, he wrote that this child associates George Washington most noticeably with —owning slaves. While Mr. Gurri discusses Washington’s greatness and his unique behavior in not becoming a dictator as foundational to this country’s greatness, he doesn’t elaborate on the source of his grandson’s pitiful ignorance. Did the child pick up his biased view in school? From TV? From his parents? Did Mr. Gurri sacrifice for and rejoice in sending his children to university, unaware that they would emerge scornful of the country he loves? I do not know.
What I do know is that the country that welcomed the elder Mr. Gurri is threatened by a growing number of people who do not appreciate it. Many years back, I gave a presentation for a private school on the choice of books for elementary grades. I suggested that while some of the books being proposed by the school’s newly minted teachers were quite wonderful, they focused only on America’s problems. Many of these are, indeed, valuable books to read. But they must appear in context. First, children should learn to be proud of America and understand its greatness. Then, they can be exposed to past mistakes and flaws and ways in which they have been tackled. They can be encouraged to accept responsibility to serve as honorable citizens, improving the country even more. Discussing only the failings leaves students both historically ignorant as well as tragically cynical and pessimistic. Education has only gotten worse since my talk took place.
On a personal level, the likelihood of this child growing up to be as successful as his grandfather is questionable. An inability to say, “My country is wonderful. It has made mistakes and it is not perfect, but it is still a great country,” isn’t only a matter of patriotism. A child brought up in this way will have great difficulty applying a more charitable standard to friends or relatives. He will have no practice saying, “My wife (friend, employee, employer) is wonderful. Like me, she is human and has some flaws. If there are one or two that are serious, I can love and admire her fine qualities while facilitating her growth.”
Mr. Gurri’s essay started my Fourth of July off on an upbeat note. I hope that he is stepping in, as we all must do in our own families, to ensure that his grandson grows up patriotic and optimistic, rather than continuing his current trajectory.
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America’s Real War
In America’s Real War, Rabbi Daniel Lapin argues that the real chasm in American culture is not between blacks and whites, rich and poor, men and women, or Jews and Christians.
The real divide is between those Americans who believe that Judeo-Christian Bible-based values are vital for our nation’s survival and those Americans who believe that these timeless truths obstruct progress.