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Civic Perspective and the Cosmos

“‘Come!’ said Africanus, ‘how long will your mind be chained to the Earth?'”

Before setting out for Los Angeles, the scholars invited to the National Academy for Civics in Government read the Dream of Scipio. It’s about finding perspective. Where you look for answers shapes what you believe you know about the question.  Those chains can tie us down to the wrong question.

In a previous post, we turned to a contemporary space traveler to emphasize the point. From astronaut Michael Collins’s 1974 book, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey:

I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of, let’s say,100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment.

An update from this year’s National Academy is in the works. It’s all about how we see and what we know. It’s a three-week adventure of cosmic proportions.

Seeing America

The second week at Montpelier concluded Friday with this question… What do you SEE when you say AMERICA?

As the American public celebrates independence through fireworks, BBQ and pool parties, the 80 teachers who studied constitutional citizenship at Madison’s Montpelier know we must keep the future as well as the past in our mind’s eye. There’s no reason to skip the fireworks but let’s consider what that particular moment in time reveals to us about our present and our future. If America is an idea rather than a place, it’s essential that we share our ideas about what America is or could be.

It’s that mission that led to our last assignment for our afternoon discussion. We focused on our work as teachers and the role of citizens and elected representatives as constitutional officers, and Jim LeCain shared a quote he thought defined our mission:

Teach the [Constitution’s] principles, teach them to your children, speak of them when sitting in your home, speak of them when walking by the way, when lying down and when rising up, write them upon the doorplate of your home and upon your gates.

–John Quincy Adams on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution

–Quoted by Chief Justice Warren Burger at the 200th anniversary celebration

The quote resonates with the power of the words in Deuteronomy beginning with 6:5:

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

And Will couldn’t stop there. If you didn’t hear the cadence of the words in Deuteronomy when you read the quote, you might have remembered a folk anthem instead. Remember these lyrics from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Teach Your Children”…

You, who are on the road
Must have a code
That you can live by.
And so, become yourself
Because the past
Is just a goodbye.

Teach, your children well
Their father’s hell
Did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s
The one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would die
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.

With such an important task at hand, what do you SEE when you say AMERICA?