On the occasion of America’s 238th birthday, I find myself wondering about our current state of affairs, and how we got here. I think I may have an idea.

To the parents and grandparents out there, I ask this: Sit down with your children or grandchildren, and quiz them on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, and the Declaration of Independence. See what they know about the history of our country. Dig into their understanding of our three branches of government.

Look with scrutiny at their history and civics books. Ask them if they say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning in school. Do they know all of the states and their capitals? What do they say it means to be a citizen? Are they taught patriotic songs in music class?

At the time of the founding of our nation, men would risk their lives and their fortune to protect and defend this country. They recognized that the United States was unique on the face of the Earth. For the first time in human history, a government was set up to serve the people, rather than the other way around. Individuals were free to keep the fruits of their labor, and fall or succeed on their own merits and efforts, which bred a rock-hard work ethic.

Just look at all of the inventions that have taken place in our country that are utilized the world over. That’s not happenstance. It happened because the country and the government were structured in such a way so that it could happen.

Now that structure is being unraveled. We simply cannot remain who we have been without that structure in place. Being an American is not something that happens by magic. It’s possible because the hundreds of millions of us who live here understand what it means to be one, and not only do we protect and defend it, but we pass on that understanding of, and reverence for it, to the next generation.

That is simply not happening.

Every citizen, whether a parent or not, has an enormous stake in our schools and what is being (or not being) taught. The failure of our country is literally at stake. Superintendents and school boards need to be held accountable for the text books and curricula that they adopt. We need to begin our attempt with the repeal of Common Core State Standards, as several other states have already done, and return control to localities, where it belongs.

There has to be demand to stop filling our kids’ heads with liberal codswallop, and to implement a curriculum that teaches accurate American history and government (not the revisionist kind), beginning in the early elementary years. Very young children are capable of understanding that they are blessed to have been born into the greatest nation on the planet. They deserve to hear that they live in the land of opportunity. Why are we taking that away from them?

If we want future generations to thrive and prosper in the greatest country on the face of the Earth, we should heed the eerily relevant words spoken by President Ronald Reagan in his farewell address, Jan. 11, 1989:

“An informed patriotism is what we want. Are we teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? We grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood … or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too.

“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. 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 more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table.

“So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.”

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Julie McDonald-Smith lives in North Yarmouth. She is a registered nurse, former Capitol Hill staffer, and former chairwoman of the Cape Elizabeth Republican Committee. Her column appears every other week.

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