October 23, 2010
What Are They Teaching Our Best and Brightest?By Robert Morrison
It was a golden autumn afternoon. Several hundred people, including companies of U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen and the USNA Band, had gathered on the grounds of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. They had come together to pay tribute to unknown soldiers and sailors. Before we had a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, America had a monument to these unknown French soldiers and sailors who died en route to our great Battle of Yorktown in 1781. America would not have gained her independence without the vital support provided by the French fleet under Admiral de Grasse and the French army under General Rochambeau.
The American and French flags snapped merrily in the autumn breeze as a seemingly endless parade of local and national groups placed their wreaths solemnly at the foot of the handsome 1911 monument. As the band played the Star-Spangled Banner, the French officers saluted smartly. So did all the U.S. and foreign naval exchange officers. Everyone in the crowd put his hand over his heart.
I could not help seeing in my mind's eye that famous photo of then-Senator Barack Obama, hands clasped in front of him. Senator Hillary Clinton, Governor Bill Richardson, and Ruth Harkin, the wife of Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, have their hands over their hearts. The photo is genuine. It ran in TIME Magazine.
I did not share the sense of outrage that many of my conservative and patriotic friends expressed. I did not think Barack Obama intentionally sought to express disdain for our country or its hallowed traditions. I was saddened because I thought no one ever taught him what to do at such moments when he was a little boy. We all learned this in elementary school. What did he learn in that Indonesian school?
The children from the Naval Academy Primary School certainly were learning about civic ceremony. In the chilly afternoon, the tykes bravely stood in rows, patiently waiting for their big moment. And despite the stiff breeze that blew over several of the newly placed wreaths, the kids belted out an impressive version of France's national anthem, the Marseillaise.
Their faces were all earnest and innocent as they sang the French words that speak about "an impure blood filling the furrows of our fields." Good grief! Do their parents know what the kids' kindly teachers are teaching these youngsters to sing? Or is France's blood-curdling but still very stirring national anthem just one more reason to thank God we're Americans?
The president of the Midshipmen French Club delivered his address in English and French, most impressively. France's Embassy in Washington sent their attaché, a Navy captain, to deliver his response. The captain's remarks were most gracious. He diplomatically said he hoped his English was half as good as the young Mid's French. This was a big improvement over last year's French representative, who made a snooty reference to the Midshipman's Quebec-sounding French. That's like a Londoner praising your perfect West Virginia accent. It's nicer when diplomats are, well, diplomatiques.
The crowd cheered appreciatively as the Midshipman marched by. Among their number were a dozen or so cadets from the French naval academy and their famous military academy, Saint-Cyr. The military cadets' uniforms are so resplendent, with tall kepis, golden shoulder boards that look like fancy hairbrushes, and the famed red pants that you'd think each one was a field marshal.
The St. John's College boathouse hosted the reception after the ceremony. There, I met several of the Midshipmen who had taken part. They were volunteers for the afternoon parade, they said. They told me they came out of curiosity, because they had never heard that the French had anything do with our American Revolution.
These three young people were among just 1,200 students admitted from 17,000 applicants nationwide. They are surely an elite group, smart, respectful, and well-rounded, leaders in sports and student activities.
I happily took the opportunity to tell them that many of General Rochambeau's 7,800 French troops in 1781 had slept on the very parade field where they, as academy Midshipmen, march every Friday afternoon. And thousands more American Continental soldiers had bivouacked down by the bridge at Annapolis' Spa Creek, a mile away from the present-day Academy. Those American boys were led by General Lafayette, whose commission was from Congress and who was just 24 years old. That was about the same age as the Midshipmen I was speaking to.
The Mids were eager and responsive. This was all news to them. I was happy to share with them. Still, I felt a pang. Who are teaching the brightest young Americans today? And what are they teaching them?
No wonder some of the liberal elites are so frightened by the TEA Party; no wonder they think those "Don't Tread on Me" flags represent some strange new cult. And no wonder Glenn Beck has such an eager and attentive audience.
My friend Bill Bennett likes to say America's story is the second-greatest story ever told.
He thinks it's a crime to make this powerful story boring.
I recalled Ronald Reagan's Farewell Address. He warned of losing our heritage. "If we forget what we did, we will forget who we are," he said. We need a renaissance of teaching American history. Our very national existence depends on it.