“We must all learn--those who are born here, and those who come here by choice--what it means to be an American.” –Peter W. Schramm
Peter Schramm was 10 years old when he fled with his family from Hungary after the revolution against the Soviets failed. To his question about where they were headed, his father replied, “America.” Peter asked, “Why America.” “Because, son,” his father replied, “We were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”
Since then Mr. Schramm has become a professor of history and political science at Ashland University. He spends his days teaching people what it means to be an American. Schramm contends (here) that “being an American citizen is different than being the citizen of any other country on earth.”
Explaining this, Schramm writes, “We Americans do not look to the ties of common blood and history for connection as people the way the citizens of other countries do. Rather, our common bond is a shared principle.” Since we are bound together by an ideal, he echoes Lincoln’s claim that Americans are “blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh, of the men who wrote [the Declaration of Independence].”
Schramm asserts, “American citizens are made and not born.” Each generation must learn and buy into the ideal that is America. Our problem today, he complains, is that “we are doing a poor job of passing this knowledge on to future generations.” And the problem is severe. 72% of eighth graders cannot “explain the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence.” Schramm notes that our immigration debate has been largely devoid of “discussion about what it means to be an American--about what is necessary to make Americans.”
We can expect immigrants to have a long learning curve on what it means to be Americans, but today native citizens are deficient as well. Schramm describes the situation. “Some do not know the basic principles of this country, and still others have embraced the ideology of multiculturalism and self-loathing to such a degree that they can no longer recognize, let alone proclaim, that ours is a great nation built on lasting principles.”
Why is this bad? Schramm says, “If we no longer understand or believe in that which makes us Americans, then there is nothing substantive to assimilate into. We become many and diverse people who share a common place, rather than E Pluribus Unum.”
Schramm writes, “We cannot forget who we are. We are Americans. This is a great nation.” If America is to continue to aspire to its founding ideals, citizens must become Americans. We will only continue to enjoy the rights we enjoy if we continue to demonstrate that we deserve them.
It seems that we Americans are not only failing our kids in language, math, and science; we are failing them in civics as well. This can be remedied. We have experience and know how to do it successfully. Let's get to it.