Raising Thinking Citizens

by redpillpapa · 1 comment

in Character,Education,Politics+Policy

As a gentle snow fell on New York City this past New Year’s Eve day, I had the good fortune of attending a US naturalization ceremony at the Federal Courthouse in Manhattan. While observing the faces of the new citizens and their friends and family who came to share this special day with them, a feeling of gratitude rose from within me. And, ashamed as I write this, it struck me how many US-born citizens, like myself, whose parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or beyond emigrated to this country, take our system and way of life, dare-I-say-it, for granted. Perhaps it is more about the fact that we give little thought to the vision that our forefathers had when they fought for their independence from Great Britain and wrote the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution. Most likely, we feel too busy in our own private lives earning a living, caring for our families and pursuing hobbies and dreams to think about the big big big picture. I am sure that some readers are saying ‘what is Red Pill Papa talking about? I volunteer my time and do get involved.’ It is my wish that there are more of the latter out there and that I can follow your examples. But I digress…

The point of all of this is, that while listening to the remarks by the Presiding District Judge, it occurred to me that I did not want my daughter to grow up without being made aware, from a young age, of the meaning, beauty and vitality that our system – endowed with all of its freedoms – offers its citizens. I want her to know that she will have the ability to help develop and shape our system of government and law further should she choose to ‘get involved.’ And today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is a great entry point to discuss with our children what individuals with great dreams can do to effect massive change for the better for millions of people in our society.

Returning to the ceremony: it is common practice for the presiding District Judge to address the soon-to-be citizens with a few remarks about what it means to be an American citizen. While I do not have a transcript of our Judge’s remarks, I did some searching and found a recent speech which succinctly hits on the most important points. This speech was given at a Naturalization Ceremony at the New York Historical Society on July 2, 2009 — not by a judge, but by Roger Hertog, a prominent US businessman, civic leader and philanthropist. His words follow:

I was very moved when offered the chance to speak today, because I have much in common with you. Or perhaps I should say, much in common with your children, and children of yours yet to be born. My parents came to America from Germany. They arrived in 1937 and 1938. I was born here. When my parents became citizens, in 1944, I was only three years old, and they could speak very little English and I only spoke German. But somehow they managed to make me know how proud they were. And by the time I was twelve or thirteen years old, their English was much better and they left no question in my mind, they were proud to be an American and that I was blessed to have been born here.

The more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more I understand why they were so proud and I was so lucky. You yourselves have just taken the Oath of Allegiance, and so you know that many responsibilities come with being an American citizen.

But being an American also carries a unique right. The right to belong to one of the very few if not only nations in the world that is built on an idea, not a geographical location. Most of us are not the descendants of natives of this land. Most of us are here because those who came before us signed on to a single idea. The idea of liberty, of freedom.

That profound idea is expressed in three important documents, which together constitute our birthright — mine, and now yours. The first document is the Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776 – whose anniversary we’ll celebrate in just two days.

The Declaration proclaimed that, in contrast to the nation of Great Britain from which we were separating, let me quote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, [and] that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Our founders felt that each of us was born with those rights, and that they had come from God, not from any king, or dictator, or land baron or political figure.

The second document – the U.S. constitution, ratified by Congress on June 21, 1788 — makes our birthright even more explicit. Its opening words are “We the people.” It is we ourselves — the people of this nation — who hold the power.

We alone bestow the governing authority on the representatives we elect. In other words, we alone have the power to choose our leaders, and through them, to change our laws, the way we’re governed. That’s the power that you gained today when you took the oath of allegiance. The power of the vote. But I’d argue that there’s a third document that completes the promise that was left unfulfilled even after the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were adopted. That third document is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered in November 1863 on one of the bloodiest battlefields of the bloodiest war known to man up until that time. What the Civil War did, ultimately, was extend the right to vote to the millions of people whose ancestors had come here not because they wanted to but were forced to come in chains as slaves.

And what makes it so thrilling for me to be here with you today is the fact that now you, too — because you studied and pledged yourselves to live up to the American idea — come under its umbrella. The men who first fought for this idea have been dead for many, many years now.

But their idea of liberty and freedom lives, and it belongs just as much to you, now, as it does to me. You own it as much as any other American, and now it’s up to you to hand it on to your children and grandchildren.
That’s what citizenship means to me, and it’s why I believe my mother and father would be proud to be with you today. Congratulations and God bless you.

So while we do our job as Red Pill Parents, navigating the land mines in the areas health, nutrition, consumerism, education, and the environment, it is important to teach our children, not just leaving it up to classroom lessons, about the system of democracy under which they live and the part that they can play directly in its application and evolution.


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Red Pill Papa January 18, 2010 at 2:05 pm

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