Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why Shared Values & Visions Matter

Most nations are bound by blood and by a shared history of hundreds, if not thousands of years. For example, the vast majority of the population of Japan and Korea share the same genes, the same history and traditions. At the risk of stating the obvious; in its feudal, royal, imperial and democratic forms, Japan was and would always be Japan because it was populated by the Japanese people. But, the United States is, for good and for bad, exceptional. Early on in our history, we ceased being a nation bound by common blood and common history. What made us unique was that we, more than any other nation, were defined by a set of shared values and visions, which I refer to as the American Way.

Of course there always existed some differences in opinion in what the constituted this new creed was, but the majority of individuals and institutions believed in the interconnected values of: individualism, industry, self reliance, thrift, limited government, optimism and opportunity.

And in almost every generation, waves of increasingly culturally and (later) racially diverse immigrants poured in, whom we miraculously were able to integrate. Within a democratic framework, millions of newcomers assimilated the core of the American Way while (to varying degrees) maintaining elements of their traditions. While I, as a Jewish-American possess some distinct traditions from my Italian-American friends, we share fundamental values, so much so that we are more similar to each other than we are to our immigrant forefathers.

So many things that we take for granted are virtually unparallelled in world history. Millions of Protestants voted for a Catholic presidential candidate, when in other nations, they could not even live in the same neighborhood. Millions of European-Americans voted against a candidate of their own race for a man of (partial) African descent, while in Kenya, the majority of individuals would not vote a politician of another tribal affiliation. In fact, a Kenyan commentator noted with irony that Obama could not get elected in Kenya, because he was a member of the Luo minority. The reason this is possible is because of the general assimilation towards a common identity, towards a common creed that transcends blood and shared history.

So, I find it extremely troubling that the majority of our educational and bureaucratic has rejected the philosophy of assimilation in favor of multiculturalism. In fact, in the Masters in Education program that I partook in, not one of my teachers spoke in favor of promoting a shared identity to our students. All spoke of the merits of teaching our diverse students about their own traditions and historic figures. And beyond tolerance and diversity, we were not encouraged to promote (yet alone define) the American Creed to our students, be they native born or immigrant. A progressive associate of mine downplayed my concerns stating that these students were "listening to American music and eating American food." She is correct, however the American Creed is far more than just listening to Lady Gaga or eating Big Macs. And although democracy and tolerance are essential aspects of the American Creed, it would be a mistake to reduce our shared identity to these two values. And those who doubt the importance of shared identity, shared values and visions, should read about the Kenyan Election of 2007 or any of the countless other examples of ethno-political violence that continue to plague most other diverse nations.


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