Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4th: Celebrating Independence

The fireworks in NYC are spectacular! I remember watching
from a rooftop one year.  Memorable.
Statue of Liberty, closed since Hurricane Sandy, reopened today.
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I love reading the Declaration of Independence.  When I taught American History in Toledo and St. Petersburg and when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine, I'd pull out the text so my students and I could read it together, taking turns reading, one paragraph at a time, word for word.  My American history students would admit it was the first time they read it, and found it awesome. The members of the English Club in Starobelsk, Ukraine, compared it to the independence of their country from the Soviet Union in 1991. We talked about the meaning of independence, freedom, equality and self-governance.

It's  the greatest history lesson of all.   It's a  basic document of American democracy;  it voices the ideals of our founders, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin among them; and it sets the stage for the evolution of the United States and a new form of democratic government that  the world had never known before.

We especially had memorable and animated discussions about the meaning of  the historic phrase: "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."

I told them they were acting like Supreme Court justices, interpreting the meaning, and application, of these words.

Next up we'd read the Articles of Confederation and then the US Constitution.  I'd throw in some of the Federalist papers too. I'd hear a few groans, but persevered.  In the end, the students were glad to have gone through the seemingly tedious exercise of reading the basic documents of democracy and talking about the principles of our American government. "We the people," the Bill of Rights, separation of church and state, the three branches of government, checks and balances, equality and freedom, the rule of law.

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These are the fundamental ideals all Americans share.  They have underpinned every reform movement in our country, from the abolition of slavery to the Civil War through the women's suffrage movement up to the modern Civil Rights movements of modern times. They have been a beacon of hope to the world. They resonate in what's happening across the globe to this very day, in Egypt now, in other countries struggling to establish their own forms of democratic governance, and yes, in America itself.  

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