Report: Ignorance of history is leading Americans to lose sense of national identity
The Bradley Project on America’s National Identity today released its Report, “E Pluribus Unum,”the product of a two-year study involving a number of our nation’s leading academics, public figures, journalists, educators and policy experts. The report examines four aspects of American life crucial to American identity: historical memory, civic education, assimilation, and national security.
The report finds that America is facing an identity crisis and calls for a national dialogue on America’s national identity. According to James Ceaser, professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a participant in the project, America’s understanding and appreciation of diversity is important but must be balanced by an emphasis on what we share. “In selecting the title E Pluribus Unum, the Project embraces the conviction that plurality and unity are not necessarily in tension with one another, but are supporting ideas of the same national experiment,” Ceaser said. “Plurality is only made safe when it when it is grounded in a deeper commitment to national unity. Unity is the precondition for healthy diversity.”
To inform its work, the Bradley Project asked HarrisInteractive to conduct a study on Americans’ views on national identity. The good news is that most U.S. citizens believe there is a unique national identity that defines what it means to be an American. The troubling news is that over six in ten believe our national identity is getting weaker. And “even more troubling is that younger Americans – on whom our continued national identity depends – are less likely than older Americans to believe in a unique national identity or in a unique American culture.” Indeed only 45 percent of 18-34 year old Americans believe that the U.S. Constitution
should trump international law in instances where there is a conflict.
According to Professor Ceaser, “The weight of all this evidence suggests mounting confusion about the meaning of American national identity and a loss of commitment to its promotion.”
“The findings from the report are sobering and significant. They raise subjects that are vital to our future, transcend partisanship, and clearly resonate with the American people,” said Rick O’Donnell, Executive Director of the Bradley Project. O’Donnell continued: “Our intention is that the report be the starting point for a national conversation on these important issues. Silent Spring in 1962 started a conversation that brought about significant changes in our environment. A Nation at Risk in 1983 launched an ongoing national conversation that continues to reshape American education. It is in that tradition that we release E Pluribus Unum.”
A number of notable scholars have already joined this conversation and commented on the Bradley Project report.
Walter A. McDougall, Pulitzer-prize winning historian and professor at the University of Pennsylvania calls the report: “An eloquent defense of America’s intellectual, civic, and moral identity that deserves wide circulation, especially among American youth.”
Harry Lewis, former Dean at Harvard College, says of the report: “A stirring reminder that America is more than the union of our differences, and a rational program for preserving the nation by passing American ideals on to the next generation of citizens.”
Amy A. Kass, of the University of Chicago, writes: “The Bradley Project’s report addresses the urgent problem of American identity in our global and multicultural age, and its wise recommendations for promoting civic consciousness and civic understanding couldn’t be more timely or more fitting.”
James C. Rees, Executive Director of Mount Vernon, said: “This report confirms what we experience at Mount Vernon every day – that most Americans know precious little about their own history. George Washington’s face is still familiar to most Americans, because we see it each day on the dollar bill. But when asked about Washington’s character and leadership, which made all the difference in the world to the founding of our nation, the average citizen is rendered speechless.”
The report makes clear that we didn’t get to this point overnight, and that addressing our challenges is a long-term imperative. In addition to its call for an immediate and comprehensive national dialogue on America’s national identity, it recommends:
■ a renewed focus on the teaching of American history,
■ embracing America’s heroes and historic landmarks,
■ affirming the benefits of diversity, but not adopting policies that perpetuate divisions or compromise our national identity,
■ inaugurating an initiative to ensure immigrants learn English, understand democratic institutions, and participate fully in the American way of life,
■ and creating an annual Presidential Award for American Citizenship for students and new citizens who demonstrate exemplary understanding of and commitment to American ideals and institutions.
Professor Ceaser concludes: “The report speaks of a nation ‘founded not on a common ethnicity,’ but ‘on an idea.’ And it argues that ‘a nation founded on an idea starts anew with each generation and with each new group of immigrants.’” “Knowing what America stands for is not a genetic inheritance,” said Ceaser. “It must be learned, both by the next generation and by those who come to this country. From this premise follow many of the recommendations to strengthen the serious study of American principles and the American founding at all levels of education, including college.”
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Randll Reese Besch - 6/20/2008
Another example of the degeneration and transmutation of our country was when the national motto was altered during the 1950's. A sham and a shame.
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