Discovering What It Means to Be an American
December 24, 2020
Believe it or not, there once was a time when the Declaration of Independence was commonly read across the country every Independence Day. Those words which define our highest ideals as a nation could be heard in town halls, from church pulpits, and in the living rooms of proud citizens.
Today, students are lucky to read the Declaration once during the course of their education. As a result, too many see the Declaration as an antiquated, irrelevant document, or worse, as a pile of lies.
But with your help, Ashbrook is changing the way young people think about their country and about those men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of freedom.
Every June, we help dozens of high school students discover the principles of the Declaration—principles that give meaning and vitality to America’s struggle for freedom.
When these students begin the Academy, their thoughts about America are usually no different from the millions of other students their age.
One student from rural Tennessee named Mason admitted that he and many others in the Academy “laughed when one professor said that he reads the Declaration of Independence to his kids every Fourth of July.” To him, it seemed silly to spend time pondering a stuffy old document at a time meant for picnics and fireworks. But by the end of the program, Mason said he and his fellow students had “all taken a more serious look” at the idea. They began to think about what they “should be doing to carry on the American tradition.”
This transformation is the result of the unique opportunity that all Academy students have to learn about America. Students spend an intensive week studying and discussing our nation’s primary documents. They get acquainted with the Declaration of Independence as well as other foundational documents like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, studying them line by line, word by word. After just a few days, students begin to feel a profound connection and respect for their country and the things for which it stands.
This way of thinking was contrary to everything a student named Martina had been taught growing up in Miami. Martina, a second-generation immigrant, remarked that back home, her “US history class is a joke. We only learn about other countries, and we all grew up believing that America never did anything for us.” As a result, she and her classmates believe “that the Founders were just racist old white guys.” Martina said that the Academy opened her eyes so that she could appreciate American history – her history. Leaving the Academy, she wished that her classmates could learn as she had, “So they can understand that the original purpose behind America was freedom.”
Still another student named Aakanksha discovered that “there’s something extremely crucial about what it means to be an American.” Aakanksha, also a second-generation immigrant, came to understand that “it’s our civic duty to know the history of America, to know what the Founders wanted, and to read original documents. It’s a shame that the vast majority of Americans don’t.”
So this Fourth of July, I hope you will join Aakanksha and Martina and Mason in reading the Declaration of Independence, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. You can find a copy here.
Let us restore a great American tradition this Independence Day. Thank you for joining us in this noble effort to gather our families together and celebrate the American principles so famously proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….”
Happy Independence Day!