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Freedom Still Rings

We can educate ourselves into being better citizens

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As Americans celebrate the anniversary of our independence this week, many are asking how America can revive the spirit of 1776 and reestablish patriotic principles instead of the American polarization we all see. Here are a few suggestions:

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Recently, noted columnist, author and television personality Charles Krauthammer opined that a lack of civics education partly explains the national pessimism many Americans feel. FOX News celebrity Jesse Watters has touted his man-on-the-street interviews as evidence that too many Americans are ignorant of basic American history. Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's iCivics nonprofit organization is an antidote of sorts to this widespread lack of civic learning throughout the United States, since it seeks to help junior high school students and teachers know more about American government — especially the American justice system.

Here in Spokane, the Mead School District has adopted a program called Senior to Senior, placing high school seniors with senior citizens for interviews, thereby allowing each to learn from the other, hopefully helping to bridge the generation gap. Numerous surveys graphically illustrate the ignorance of too many Americans about basic U.S. history, economics, government and foreign policy.

So what's the answer to this civics gap?

As Krauthammer recommends: More civic learning — in our schools and workplaces.

Spokane's Garco Construction, under the tutelage of owners Tim Welsh and Frank Etter, for a time accepted — at no charge — a series of basic civics questions and answers, provided by my nonprofit, the Nethercutt Civics Foundation. They proffered the questions to staff at weekly staff meetings in order to help educate the working population about current and past events, so the employees would become better civically educated. They still quiz employees about current events. It takes no more than 10 minutes of staff meeting time, yet yields untold benefits each week, in some cases encouraging individuals to seek public office where a dearth of long-term talent exists.

Mead and Garco both provide possible answers to Americans' lack of basic civic knowledge and political polarization, since evidence exists that civically engaged families are stronger — they volunteer more in their communities, vote more often and are part of community solutions.

As Americans enjoy the week of July 4, it's advisable that we reflect on why we celebrate Independence Day. More than just a day off or a relaxing time to enjoy summer weather and leisure, July 4 is a day that all Americans should cherish, as we too often take our freedoms for granted. A Spokane Uber driver from Saudi Arabia recently expressed a celebratory attitude when he told me he's thankful for America, because it affords one the freedom to become anything one desires. In Saudi Arabia, where he grew up, there's a lack of appreciation for freedom, where succession to kinghood is all-important, where the freedom to enjoy music is restricted, and women are not accorded the respect and freedom experienced in other nations. This man, a husband and father of two daughters, has made Spokane his home so that he and his wife can raise their daughters in freedom, allowing them to become whatever they desire, opening up possibilities not available to them in the country of his birth.

He's not alone. Millions of others throughout America appreciate their freedoms, none more than recent immigrants who earned their citizenship, or those who fought for America, its values and the freedoms we all enjoy. Take a moment to thank a veteran or a new citizen for reflecting the values we all cherish, and the patriotism they personify.

Patriotism. It's an old word, but a lasting one, reflecting American values, America's goodness to others, its commitment to more freedoms, and continuation of the belief that anything is possible for those who educate themselves well, work hard and believe in their dreams for success. This week is a time to celebrate America's heritage by appreciating those who sacrificed for later generations, giving their all so the future could remain free.

Though America is polarized by our differing beliefs, and the U.S. is experiencing political upheaval — in Congress, the presidency and the mass media — there's still room for optimism and the belief expressed throughout history that America is a beacon for freedom. The U.S. exists to help others, and our Constitution still provides the greatest opportunity for men and women to succeed throughout the world. That's a message to tout loudly this week, and beyond. ♦

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