Beyond flag waving: Raising patriotic kids
By Christina Quick
Next weekend, families across the country will fill parks
and city squares to share picnics, march in parades and watch fireworks
displays in celebration of Independence Day. Children dressed in patriotic
colors will slurp snow cones of red, white and blue. Babies in strollers will
wave miniature U.S. flags.
In spite of all that, some say patriotism is faltering
— that a generation in the United States is growing up not knowing what
it means to be American.
Recent studies suggest U.S. history education is lacking.
For instance, in a 2008 survey of 17-year-old high school students by the
education advocacy group Common Core, more than a quarter thought Christopher
Columbus set sail for the New World after 1750. (The actual date was 1492.) Only
43 percent correctly identified the Civil War as falling between 1850 and 1900.
Twenty-one percent thought it was before 1800. Forty percent couldn’t place
World War I within 50 years of the correct time period.
If adults are to set the educational standard, they appear
to be falling short as well. In a 2008 random sampling of Americans ages 18 and
up conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the majority of
participants scored an “F” on a simple test designed to measure “knowledge of
America’s founding principles and texts, core history and enduring
institutions” — ISI’s definition of civic literacy.
On a multiple choice test, less than half recognized the
three branches of government as executive, legislative and judicial. Only 21
percent knew the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the
people” was from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Less than one in five knew the
phrase “a wall of separation” between church and state comes from a letter by
Thomas Jefferson. Almost half incorrectly said it is found in the U.S.
Those who said they never attend church scored higher than
those who identified themselves as regular attendees. And those in the private
sector, on average, had better scores than elected officials.
Such findings don’t surprise Mathew Staver, founder and
chairman of Liberty Counsel, a religious liberties organization in Orlando,
Fla. He believes history education is being undermined by curricula that
downplay patriotism and morality.
“There is a concerted effort to change from Americanism to
globalism, with America being the enemy as opposed to the blessing it has been
around the world,” Staver says. “If our kids grow up without being taught our
history — or even worse, being taught inaccurate history — it will
fundamentally change the course of the nation.”
Staver says Christian parents have a responsibility to teach
their children what it means to be U.S. citizens as well as citizens of God’s
“We need to return to some of those fundamental principles
that made America great,” Staver says. “It’s impossible to separate religion,
and particularly Christianity, from our history and have an accurate picture of
why we became a great nation. When we remove those things from the equation, we
are shaping the next generation to undermine the liberty this country has
fought to achieve.”
John Wega, executive director and founder of the U.S.
Christian Commission Museum in Gettysburg, Pa., says many of today’s kids are
disconnected from any sense of history.
“Our heritage kind of grounds us,” says Wega, who attends
Bethel Assembly of God in Littlestown, Pa. “That’s one reason why the Bible
includes so many genealogies. God is showing us a principle that we’re
connected to people, to stories. It gives us roots and a foundation.
“Yet a lot of young people don’t even have a contemporary
heritage. They don’t have a father in their lives, so they can’t even go back
one generation. It’s not just something we’re losing. In many ways, it’s
something we’ve already lost.”
Wega says many of the children and teens he meets know
little about the Civil War, much less the stories of godly heroism he shares
with Gettysburg visitors.
“Those who experienced these battles said the presence of
God was so thick in some of the hospital camps, if you didn’t come to God then,
you never would,” Wega says. “God is the fabric, honor and strength of what our
nation was built on.”
Wega says his four children, who range in age from 10 to 18,
have played active roles in helping build the museum and presenting living
history demonstrations to other young people.
“We’ve taught them that patriotism ties into our faith
because it lays down our lives for a cause that’s greater than ourselves so
others can live in liberty and worship God as well,” Wega says. “We’ve sought
to instill those values and make them come alive for our children.”
William O. Barefield, an Assemblies of God chaplain who
served four years at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, says visiting
sites such as Arlington and Gettysburg is one of the best ways to stir up
patriotism in young people.
“I always enjoyed seeing the response as kids walked through
those markers and began to ask questions,” says Barefield, a retired lieutenant
colonel. “They would get quieter and quieter, and a calm reverence would come
over their countenance. It occurred to them, often for the first time, that
someone stood in the gap for them. Someone fought for something meaningful.”
Katie and John Newton spent two years traveling the country
with their three children and visiting national parks and historic sites. They
call the trip one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.
“While the purpose of our trip was to show our children the
glory of God in His creation, we saw how passionate about history they became,”
Katie says. “And we learned things about our nation’s history we did not know,
which enabled us to give God greater glory.”
The Newtons later founded a business, the Corps of
Re-Discovery, to help other families engage their children in U.S. history.
Some of their products are sold in gift shops at places like Gettysburg
National Military Park. John also presents living history demonstrations to
“As we learn from Bible history and our own American history
how God has provided for us, we cannot help but increase our faith and our
reliance on God our Creator and Jesus Christ our Redeemer,” Katie says.
CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former TPE staff
writer. She lives in Springfield, Mo., and attends Central Assembly of God.
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