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Saturday, December 01, 2012

From One Generation to the Next

I flipped open a used copy of Mark Levin’s book, Ameritopia, at Half Price Books last night to read the table of contents, and a handwritten note fell out. You can see a picture of it on the right. You may need to click on the photo to make it big enough to read.

The note is from a mother who is writing to her daughter, Holly. Holly’s mother gave her the book because she feels a duty to our ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. She wants Holly to learn about and understand what is going on in the world right now in light of what the founding fathers taught.

You can feel the mother’s passion, but apparently she didn’t get through to Holly with her gift, given that Holly sold the book to a used bookstore, note and all, for a dollar or two. It makes me wonder if Holly even opened the book. If she had, why would she leave her mother’s note inside?

And check out the date on the note: October 29, 2013. Mom got the year wrong. She must have meant to write October 29, 2012 (the book came out in 2012, so it couldn’t have been any other year). If she gave her the book at the end of October – just a little over a month ago, then Holly’s reaction appears to have been a visceral one.

Maybe she is tired of Mom harping on her about why she should care about the founding principles of our nation and she got rid of the book as quickly as she received it. Or tragically, maybe Holly died recently and her possessions, including this book, were dispersed.

I don’t know how the book ended up at Half Price Books, but the note inside makes me feel squeamish. The tone has a hint of condescension and none of us respond well to that. Teaching foundational principles about government, or anything else, has less to do with teaching them, and more to do with showing them.

Think about the best teachers you’ve had in your lifetime. Before you allowed them to shape you, they had to earn the right to do so. In high school, I had an English teacher named Mr. Martin who inspired me to write – partially because of his passion for the written word and partially because he wrote (you can read more about my experience with him here).

He didn’t tell us to write, or try to explain the importance of writing. Instead, we traveled to exciting worlds created by authors and he read some of his own writing to us. Eventually, he started a journal called “Fine Lines” and encouraged us to submit to it. By igniting a passion for the written word inside me, he earned the right to teach me how to write.

Ironically, the introduction of the book Holly’s mother gave her includes this quote from Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on to them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

My heart aches for Holly’s mother because her note implies that she didn’t hand on the principles of freedom to Holly as Holly was growing up. Or maybe she did, but Holly just was not open to learning them. Maybe Holly’s mother was late to the party, only coming to an understanding later in life and now she feels desperate to pass along what she has learned. I don’t know. But this post isn’t really about Holly and her mother, nor is it intended to be critical of either of them.

Instead, it prompts this question: how do we pass along the type of freedom Reagan spoke about – one that the founders used to refer to as responsible freedom, rather than one that is self-focused – to the next generation? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Practically speaking, I think we do so by talking about the issues of the day over dinner with our kids. We use our freedom to help others in our communities and we involve our children. We look for teaching moments in pop culture, rather than simply consuming or avoiding it. We get involved and stay involved in the political process, without assassinating the character of our political opponents.

What else?


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