American Rhythms

In Mitch Albom's magical book titled The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, "narrated by the voice of Music itself," there is a singular line that describes what is sorely lacking in our world today.  Many people speak of the cultural changes – perhaps even the cultural rot – demoralizing far too many Americans.  Instead, we need, as Albom asserts, an understanding that "the secret is not to make your music louder but to make the world quieter."  Given the cacophony of brutal words spewed online via Twitter or by so many in show business and politics, we need a return to quiet introspection.  It is imperative that we approach subjects with reason and logic rather than capitulate to the empty barrels that make the most noise.

In the world of education, it is long overdue to expect – in fact, demand – not perfection, but surely excellence.  The soft bigotry of low expectations is producing a crop of young people who are functionally illiterate, historically ignorant, and frighteningly incoherent.  For starters, the teaching of phonics must begin in kindergarten.  I have college students who cannot sound out words or names because they were never taught how to  use phonics.  Moreover, students do not know what an anthology is because books are now replaced with readings on the internet.  They have no clue about biblical or mythological allusions.  There is a constant level of superficiality despite the plethora of information available to them.  Few have learned the skills of separating the wheat from the chaff.

The so-called adults in the room are abdicating their responsibilities to mold and lead young people to make in-depth and thoughtful decisions.  Instead, the focus is on who can scream the loudest and who can virtually blackmail higher authority.  Facts are forsaken while censoring ideas is accepted, even applauded.  This is not a good silence.

We need to return to ideas and language that evoke the sublime, not the gutter talk that pollutes so much conversation these days.  We need to instill a return to the days of the "magic words" such as "please" and "thank you."  I cringe every time a person says "no problem" when I say "thank you."  It implies that being polite is a hardship in the first place.

Dizzy Gillespie once said, "It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play."  In fact, "[s]ilence enhances music" just as pauses offer think time.  But there are few rests in life anymore.  It is a constant din.

Art Linkletter used to bring youngsters onto his show, Kids Say the Darndest Things, and the audience heard them attempt to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  The mangled recitations would bring indulgent smiles to the viewers, but there was never any doubt that these same children would eventually learn to recite the pledge properly – and, more importantly, understand what they were reciting.    

It is neither charming nor cute to hear a youngster today recite the pledge by stating, "I pledge allegiance to the government of the United States, the government of Barack Obama, the government..."  So should I have been surprised when a college student who was giving the history of the pledge explained that Bellamy's original pledge read, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republican [sic] for what it stands, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all"?  At first, I thought she had simply misread the words, but later in her presentation, she asked, "Why do we say 'Republicans' and not 'Republicans and Democrats' in the pledge?"

I have sat through far too many instances of incredible ignorance coming from my students, but this was beyond stunning.  She actually did not know that the word "republic" referred to the fact that the United States is a constitutional republic.  But she did manage to repeat at least three times that saying the pledge is not mandatory in school.

To add insult to injury, she went on to say, "What is America?  After all, we are a multicultural nation" – thus displaying that she and so many of her peers have never been taught to understand what Walt Whitman meant when he wrote "America."

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

Instead, this modern daughter of America echoes the idea that we are a balkanized country based on identity politics and not the grand idea of America, with its aspiration of freedom based on the liberties for which that so many have given their full measure of devotion. 

These young people do not understand that the "United States is indeed a unique animal.  Not only is it a country, but it's also an idea.  People around the world don't just dream of coming to America, they dream of becoming Americans.  Many have and continue to risk their lives to do so.  It's one thing to risk your life escaping the Soviet Union, Communist China or even Communist Cuba.  Those people were or are running from something, trying to go anywhere else.  It's another thing altogether to risk one's life to come to a place[.] ... And that place is more often than not, America."  Sadly, this young woman has never learned the song of America:

... [a] unique combination of freedom and opportunity that makes the country great.  The United States may be filled with mortal men, but the expectation for 200 plus years is that those mortal men can achieve the impossible … that anything is possible.  That sense of can do spirit, of American Exceptionalism has a long history going back to the pilgrims who carved out a place to call home and the rag tagged [sic] army that defeated the most powerful empire in the world.  There is so much more with explorers, inventors and innovators.  From McCormick feeding the world to Edison lighting it to Rockefeller revolutionizing energy and medicine.  There's also flight, winning two world wars, putting a man on the moon and the micro processor.  There are even more mundane things like vulcanized rubber, the elevator, air conditioning and the Slinky.

As Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote in The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (1991) "America increasingly sees itself as preservative of old identities.  Instead of a nation composed of individuals making their own free choices, America increasingly sees itself as composed of groups more or less indelible in their ethnic character.  The national idea had once been e pluribus unum.  Are we now to belittle unum and glorify pluribus?  Will the center hold? or will the melting pot yield to the tower of Babel?"

Clearly, his words have not been heeded as the dissonance in the country grows.  The left, through deliberate mis-education, and the media, through intentional fabrication, are diluting the American identity, and too many in power are just fine with this.  After all, Obama and his ilk on the left "think the United States is synonymous with Uncle Sam ... the federal government.  They think America began to be great when the progressive agenda began to fall into place.  They think of America as a place where the government makes people equal, where the government provides or guarantees everyone healthcare, welfare, education and income.  America is great because the government protects the little guy against the modern robber barons.  In essence, America is great because Uncle Sam is there to look out for everyone." 

In a well honed orchestra, each instrument has a distinct and unique sound.  If the orchestra does not unite and play as one unit, the grandeur of the music is lost.  As the conductor uses a score to guide the players, we need to return our young people to the stirring words, values, and deeds attesting to what America means so they can comfortably refute the progressive agenda.

In January 2017, the National Association of Scholars published a report: "Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics."  The results were dismal.  In fact, civics was "one of the subjects that was swept away as a general education requirement and as a stepping stone to more advanced courses."  By 2010, Western civilization survey courses had disappeared.  Instead, what used to be the bedrock of a liberal arts education was now replaced by "New Civics with its comprehensive dream of turning all students into progressives."  New Civics promulgates the idea that "students are better served by being made to 'do' things than they are by teaching them with books and ideas, and that the only truly legitimate purpose of education is about seizing power in society, and the place nearest at hand is the university itself." 

So we have either an apathetic, ill informed student body or one hell-bent on disruption, not distinction in studies.  The left hates the harmonies and melodies and rhythms that created America.  But we, the people, must insist that "our schools and colleges have a responsibility to teach history for its own sake – as part of the intellectual equipment of civilized persons – and not to degrade history by allowing its contents to be dictated by pressure groups, whether political, economic, religious, or ethnic.  The past may sometimes give offense to one or another minority; that is no reason for rewriting history" – and, may I add, the destruction of statues and symbols of times bygone.

Properly taught, history stresses the "importance of critical analysis and dispassionate judgment in every area of life."  History gives a sense of national identity, and "our values are not matters of whim and happenstance."  Anything else is a betrayal of "the great unifying Western ideas of individual freedom, political democracy and human rights." 

A good start would be to ensure that every American student pass the citizenship test in order to graduate from high school.  Serious history education must return to books that do not whitewash America's missteps but do not portray America as the axis of evil, either. 

Eileen can be reached at middlemarch18@gmail.com.

In Mitch Albom's magical book titled The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, "narrated by the voice of Music itself," there is a singular line that describes what is sorely lacking in our world today.  Many people speak of the cultural changes – perhaps even the cultural rot – demoralizing far too many Americans.  Instead, we need, as Albom asserts, an understanding that "the secret is not to make your music louder but to make the world quieter."  Given the cacophony of brutal words spewed online via Twitter or by so many in show business and politics, we need a return to quiet introspection.  It is imperative that we approach subjects with reason and logic rather than capitulate to the empty barrels that make the most noise.

In the world of education, it is long overdue to expect – in fact, demand – not perfection, but surely excellence.  The soft bigotry of low expectations is producing a crop of young people who are functionally illiterate, historically ignorant, and frighteningly incoherent.  For starters, the teaching of phonics must begin in kindergarten.  I have college students who cannot sound out words or names because they were never taught how to  use phonics.  Moreover, students do not know what an anthology is because books are now replaced with readings on the internet.  They have no clue about biblical or mythological allusions.  There is a constant level of superficiality despite the plethora of information available to them.  Few have learned the skills of separating the wheat from the chaff.

The so-called adults in the room are abdicating their responsibilities to mold and lead young people to make in-depth and thoughtful decisions.  Instead, the focus is on who can scream the loudest and who can virtually blackmail higher authority.  Facts are forsaken while censoring ideas is accepted, even applauded.  This is not a good silence.

We need to return to ideas and language that evoke the sublime, not the gutter talk that pollutes so much conversation these days.  We need to instill a return to the days of the "magic words" such as "please" and "thank you."  I cringe every time a person says "no problem" when I say "thank you."  It implies that being polite is a hardship in the first place.

Dizzy Gillespie once said, "It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play."  In fact, "[s]ilence enhances music" just as pauses offer think time.  But there are few rests in life anymore.  It is a constant din.

Art Linkletter used to bring youngsters onto his show, Kids Say the Darndest Things, and the audience heard them attempt to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  The mangled recitations would bring indulgent smiles to the viewers, but there was never any doubt that these same children would eventually learn to recite the pledge properly – and, more importantly, understand what they were reciting.    

It is neither charming nor cute to hear a youngster today recite the pledge by stating, "I pledge allegiance to the government of the United States, the government of Barack Obama, the government..."  So should I have been surprised when a college student who was giving the history of the pledge explained that Bellamy's original pledge read, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republican [sic] for what it stands, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all"?  At first, I thought she had simply misread the words, but later in her presentation, she asked, "Why do we say 'Republicans' and not 'Republicans and Democrats' in the pledge?"

I have sat through far too many instances of incredible ignorance coming from my students, but this was beyond stunning.  She actually did not know that the word "republic" referred to the fact that the United States is a constitutional republic.  But she did manage to repeat at least three times that saying the pledge is not mandatory in school.

To add insult to injury, she went on to say, "What is America?  After all, we are a multicultural nation" – thus displaying that she and so many of her peers have never been taught to understand what Walt Whitman meant when he wrote "America."

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

Instead, this modern daughter of America echoes the idea that we are a balkanized country based on identity politics and not the grand idea of America, with its aspiration of freedom based on the liberties for which that so many have given their full measure of devotion. 

These young people do not understand that the "United States is indeed a unique animal.  Not only is it a country, but it's also an idea.  People around the world don't just dream of coming to America, they dream of becoming Americans.  Many have and continue to risk their lives to do so.  It's one thing to risk your life escaping the Soviet Union, Communist China or even Communist Cuba.  Those people were or are running from something, trying to go anywhere else.  It's another thing altogether to risk one's life to come to a place[.] ... And that place is more often than not, America."  Sadly, this young woman has never learned the song of America:

... [a] unique combination of freedom and opportunity that makes the country great.  The United States may be filled with mortal men, but the expectation for 200 plus years is that those mortal men can achieve the impossible … that anything is possible.  That sense of can do spirit, of American Exceptionalism has a long history going back to the pilgrims who carved out a place to call home and the rag tagged [sic] army that defeated the most powerful empire in the world.  There is so much more with explorers, inventors and innovators.  From McCormick feeding the world to Edison lighting it to Rockefeller revolutionizing energy and medicine.  There's also flight, winning two world wars, putting a man on the moon and the micro processor.  There are even more mundane things like vulcanized rubber, the elevator, air conditioning and the Slinky.

As Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote in The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (1991) "America increasingly sees itself as preservative of old identities.  Instead of a nation composed of individuals making their own free choices, America increasingly sees itself as composed of groups more or less indelible in their ethnic character.  The national idea had once been e pluribus unum.  Are we now to belittle unum and glorify pluribus?  Will the center hold? or will the melting pot yield to the tower of Babel?"

Clearly, his words have not been heeded as the dissonance in the country grows.  The left, through deliberate mis-education, and the media, through intentional fabrication, are diluting the American identity, and too many in power are just fine with this.  After all, Obama and his ilk on the left "think the United States is synonymous with Uncle Sam ... the federal government.  They think America began to be great when the progressive agenda began to fall into place.  They think of America as a place where the government makes people equal, where the government provides or guarantees everyone healthcare, welfare, education and income.  America is great because the government protects the little guy against the modern robber barons.  In essence, America is great because Uncle Sam is there to look out for everyone." 

In a well honed orchestra, each instrument has a distinct and unique sound.  If the orchestra does not unite and play as one unit, the grandeur of the music is lost.  As the conductor uses a score to guide the players, we need to return our young people to the stirring words, values, and deeds attesting to what America means so they can comfortably refute the progressive agenda.

In January 2017, the National Association of Scholars published a report: "Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics."  The results were dismal.  In fact, civics was "one of the subjects that was swept away as a general education requirement and as a stepping stone to more advanced courses."  By 2010, Western civilization survey courses had disappeared.  Instead, what used to be the bedrock of a liberal arts education was now replaced by "New Civics with its comprehensive dream of turning all students into progressives."  New Civics promulgates the idea that "students are better served by being made to 'do' things than they are by teaching them with books and ideas, and that the only truly legitimate purpose of education is about seizing power in society, and the place nearest at hand is the university itself." 

So we have either an apathetic, ill informed student body or one hell-bent on disruption, not distinction in studies.  The left hates the harmonies and melodies and rhythms that created America.  But we, the people, must insist that "our schools and colleges have a responsibility to teach history for its own sake – as part of the intellectual equipment of civilized persons – and not to degrade history by allowing its contents to be dictated by pressure groups, whether political, economic, religious, or ethnic.  The past may sometimes give offense to one or another minority; that is no reason for rewriting history" – and, may I add, the destruction of statues and symbols of times bygone.

Properly taught, history stresses the "importance of critical analysis and dispassionate judgment in every area of life."  History gives a sense of national identity, and "our values are not matters of whim and happenstance."  Anything else is a betrayal of "the great unifying Western ideas of individual freedom, political democracy and human rights." 

A good start would be to ensure that every American student pass the citizenship test in order to graduate from high school.  Serious history education must return to books that do not whitewash America's missteps but do not portray America as the axis of evil, either. 

Eileen can be reached at middlemarch18@gmail.com.