Lee Hamilton '52 on 'What We Owe Our Young People'
May 6, 2008
May 6, 2008, Greencastle, Ind. - "You cannot step into an American community today without finding a lively conversation about educating our children," begins an op-ed by Lee H. Hamilton, the veteran statesman and 1952 graduate of DePauw University. The former congressman writes, "How to boost math and science learning, whether our schoolchildren are reading and writing enough, what constitutes a 'quality' education -- all of this figures into the national schooling debate and its thousands of local echoes. Yet with all respect, I believe this debate is missing a fundamental piece: a recognition that a well-rounded education includes the civic virtues."
The co-chair of both the Iraq Study Group and the 9/11 Commission, Hamilton believes, "We owe our young people not just a solid grounding in math, science, English and a foreign language, but also an education in democratic citizenship, because in all too many places they're not getting it. Too many youth lack a basic understanding of our representative democracy, and we reap the sour fruit of this in many Americans' disengagement and lost opportunities to contribute to our society."
The Democrat calls for classes that provide "a robust account of the American story: the full, unvarnished history of our successes and failures, our ideals and the human flaws that jeopardize them, our progress through the centuries and the detours we've taken along the way. That is the best way to learn how crucial the involvement of ordinary citizens has been in setting the course of our history. It also is the best way to gain an appreciation for how deeply experimental our system remains, with basic questions about the use and allocation of power that were present at the beginning still in play. Indeed, understanding that we continue to evolve as a nation, I'm convinced, is the strongest spur not just to participating in local and national civic life, but to appreciating the skills democracy imposes on us: consensus-building, compromise, civility, and rational discourse."
It's also Hamilton's view that "we need to teach that citizenship carries with it certain responsibilities: staying informed, volunteering, speaking out, asking questions, writing letters, signing petitions, joining organizations, finding common ground on contentious issues, working in ways small and large to improve our neighborhoods and communities and to enrich the quality of life for all citizens. Civic education can help young people feel a part of something larger than themselves by connecting them to the splendid traditions of American democratic involvement, and by showing them how to make the most of their talents to leave their communities better places than they found them." (above left: Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Commission co-chairs, flank President Bush)
The column concludes, "We adults have been given the great opportunity of political freedom, and we have a heavy obligation to pass on the knowledge of where it came from and how to sustain it. But teaching our civic virtues has to start somewhere, and I would argue that a key place is in our schools." (at right: DePauw President Robert G. Bottoms with Hamilton)
Access the complete essay, "Civic virtues are what we owe our young people," at the Colorado Springs Business Journal.
Hamilton, who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, is director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Learn more about Hamilton in this recent story.Back