Journalists have an adage about confirming something a source says: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” The point is, journalists are supposed to be skeptical about what we hear. That’s wise advice. Sometimes we even follow it.
Journalists have a favorite new adage, I suspect: When Donald Trump says it, it must be wrong.
Something’s got to be wrong, anyway. It’s Trump. You can’t take anything that guy says at face value. If Donald Trump says the sun rises in the east, check it out.
Trump last week addressed the American Legion’s annual convention in Cincinnati, where he had some provocative things to say about education.
“In a Trump administration, I plan to work directly with the American Legion to uphold our common values and to help ensure they are taught to America’s children,” Trump told the veterans.
“We want our kids to learn the incredible achievements of America’s history, its institutions and its heroes, many of whom are with us today,” he added.
Public schools should teach patriotism. Pretty straightforward, right?
Wrong. Remember, Trump said it. That means it’s controversial.
My favorite story appeared in the Military Times, which featured the headline: “Trump calls for teaching ‘patriotism’ in schools.”
Quotation marks around “patriotism” are perplexing. Trump wasn’t being ironic or metaphorical.
“We will stop apologizing for America. And we will start celebrating America. We will be united by our common culture, values and principles, becoming one American nation, one country, under one Constitution, saluting one American flag, and always saluting it,” Trump said.
The problem, evidently, is that Trump believes the federal government might have a role in teaching people to love their country.
I hate being put in a position of defending something Trump has said, since I dislike him and have no plan to vote for him. But he isn’t entirely wrong.
Now it’s doubtful whether or not Trump knows that federal law bars the U.S. Department of Education from meddling with state and local curriculum. (Not that such legal niceties stopped President Barack Obama’s educrats from jamming the Common Core standards and frameworks down the states’ throats.)
That’s beside the point.
Public schools in the United States exist for one purpose: to teach people how to be good citizens.
What does that mean? A good citizen is free, independent and self-governing, which means he or she is literate, can add and subtract and probably possesses some useful knowledge about day-to-day living.
More importantly, good citizens know their history and rights. They understand something about the country and its special place in the world. They would know, for example, that the United States is a republic founded on a certain set of propositions: human equality, liberty, consent of the governed. It’s all right there in the Declaration of Independence.
A good citizen would know something about the U.S. Constitution and how the government is supposed to work, why we have executive, legislative and judicial branches and what their functions are.
Oh, and a good citizen would understand that America isn’t perfect, but then again nothing in this world is. That shouldn’t prevent him or her from loving this country, which used to be the freest country on earth and a beacon to oppressed people everywhere.
We don’t do a very good job of making good citizens anymore. Don’t just take Trump’s word for it, or mine. Look instead at more than a quarter-century of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card.
Our fourth-, eighth-and 12th-graders don’t know much about history, or geography, or civics. In the more than 20 years I’ve been writing about civic education, the essential theme has remained unchanged: high school seniors graduate and register to vote knowing precious little about how their government is supposed to work.
For all of his failings, Trump at least understands that the nation won’t endure if Americans have little love or understanding for their country. That doesn’t just happen by osmosis. It must be taught.
Ben Boychuk, firstname.lastname@example.org, is managing editor of American Greatness.