12 December 2007

The Declaration of Independence: Is Our Primary Exposure Unpatriotic?

America was created by “white” men, for “white” men. Any body that did not possess these superior qualities was excluded from the inalienable rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” (Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence). We are taught in classrooms when we are young that we should replace the word men with the word people, because that is what Thomas Jefferson meant when he used the word men, and it is to be read between the lines that he meant everybody. But that is an invention, because Thomas Jefferson wrote in collusion with his society’s values. Any omissions were not accidental. Native Americans, African American slaves, and women were not regarded as equal to men (white men), and were therefore excluded from the pursuit of their own happiness.

If one can’t change the past, one can at least choose to teach it differently. In our current age of political correctness, the general cultural awareness held by children who are reading The Declaration of Independence for the first time is one of freedom and equality for all, because that is what is taught in public school classrooms. A reason for teaching this way might be to underscore the rightness and the justness of Our Forefathers, our country, and rules in general that ought to be unquestioningly respected. After all, who in their right mind would question the promotion of equality? Therefore, “all men are created equal…” is interpreted with our culture’s current standard of political correctness and supposed gender and race equality in tandem with the careful installment of unwavering nationalistic pride. This seamlessly translates: “all [people] are created equal”. The effect of this careful omission disregards our country’s roots in the oppression of “non-whites” and women. In order to uphold the righteous words of our Forefathers as fair and good, sometimes the words have to be bent to accommodate current cultural standards. Our current trend of political correctness doesn’t allow for the fundamental building blocks of America to be stained with overt racist and sexist oppression. Only after a firm nationalist foundation is built in the minds of American children do they learn about slavery and imperialism, which they can then mentally keep separate from the Goodness and Rightness of our Forefathers who wrote perfect documents containing laws that transcend time. When truth is bent this way, and histories are omitted, the legacy of a country that has good and wholesome roots supersedes a more sinister past.
But what does it mean to be white? Skin color means nothing, and genetic testing proves that a “white” person has more in common genetically with a “black” person than with another “white” person.

Who is limited when the word men is used to imply all people? Women learn from an early age that they are excluded from the early written context of their own country, or at best their presence is implicitly tolerated.

Is it enough that we attach current standards of political correctness to a document that was written within a social context that revolved around oppression? Should history be taught alongside doctrine, or should America’s elementary school students continue to be guided to look upon antiquated documents with only reverence?

I argue that it is unpatriotic to isolate the Declaration of Independence when it is presented to children. There will be a rift in their minds between the good Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the forgivable (or bad) Thomas Jefferson who owned slaves. Omitting social criticism from the teaching of the Declaration of Independence is in direct conflict with patriotism, if autonomous thinking is a desirable trait in an American. Young minds that are not encouraged to think critically will find it hard to think critically later in life.

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