Monday, March 29, 2010

What is a citizen?

What is a citizen? That is a tricky question. Everyone used to know the answer, today I'm not so sure.

I believe that in our quest to produce "well rounded children" we have forgotten to teach them something very essential; what it means to be a citizen of the United States. Do not confuse “citizen” with a legal standing, or a label to be thrown around in an election year. By citizen, I mean a person who understands who we are as Americans. A citizen understands not only our rights, but also our responsibilities. A citizen understands our history, warts and all. They understand the ideas behind our founding, and the origins of democracy and western civilization.

No matter your ethnic background, the nation in which you were born, whether you can trace your family history back to American Revolution, or you were recently sworn in as a new citizen, you need to know a few basic things about America. In order to function as Americans, we all need this same basic understanding of where we came from, and who and what shaped us. In short, we need to know our history.

We need to know a little about the Greeks and the Romans. We need to understand the origin of western law, philosophy and science. We need to understand a bit of European history. The Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and the Age of Enlightenment. We need to know who the Puritans were, and why they left England for the new word, to start this little experiment in religious freedom we call America.

We need to know who the founders of America were, what they believed in, what they feared, and why they wrote the Constitution the way they did. We need to know what the Constitution says, and what it does not say. Why they chose this form of government. We need to know the meaning of free-market capitalism, socialism, communism, and fascism. These are not meaningless labels; they are difference between being a citizen, and being a subject.

A great deal can also be learned by studying military history. From Alexander to Napoleon, from Alcibiades to the Duke of Wellington, from George Washington to General David Petraeus, all these men had a profound impact on our world. We need to know the stories behind places like Saratoga, Shiloh, The Somme, Bastogne, Guadalcanal, Inchon, Ia Drang, Kandahar and Fallujah. The sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made, and are making, have secured our freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and even the freedom to walk around without a clue.

We need to know when we head to the mall and see a half million square feet of retail space, or see a grocery store teaming with fresh produce and meat, these things didn’t just get here by accident. We need to know if you work hard, really hard, you can achieve great things in this country. We need to know when we go the polls, if we don’t like the folks running the government, we can throw them out, and they will go. We need to know that for society to function, the citizen must be informed and involved. As I like to say; the world is run by those who show up.

Being a citizen of the United States carries some responsibilities, although you would not know that by today’s society. Today, we have two or three generations who believe their rights come from the government, they don’t. I am not sure what part of “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” people do not understand these days, but it they are slowly losing touch with what being a citizen is all about.

If we are to stem this tide, I believe we must start with this generation of children. How do we instill this sense of citizenship in them? That is the question we need to answer, and fast.

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