A few short years ago, some of our nation’s most esteemed colleges and universities decided to take a look at how well their students knew American history. The results were alarming.
For instance, only 34% rightly identified George Washington as the leader of America’s revolutionary soldiers at the Battle of Yorktown. Only 22% knew that the phrase “government of the people, by the people and for the people” was from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. And only 23% of those elite students correctly identified James Madison as “the father of the Constitution.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni bemoaned: “How did seniors from our nation’s top colleges and universities do? They flunked. Four out of five — 81% — of seniors from the top 55 colleges and universities in the United States received a grade of D or F. They could not identify Valley Forge, or words from the Gettysburg Address, or even the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution.”
And far worse than not recognizing the trivia of our heritage—names, dates, documents, etc., is the failure to recognize the concepts of America. In a survey commissioned by Columbia University’s law school, over two-thirds of those polled believed the maxim “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” was or could have been penned by our founding fathers. Actually, the phrase is from the radical communist, Karl Marx.
The American Council’s report summarized: “Our future leaders are graduating with an alarming ignorance of their heritage – a kind of collective amnesia -- and a profound historical illiteracy which bodes ill for the future of the republic.”
The Bible often calls us to remember. The fourth commandment exhorts us to “remember the Sabbath day” (Exodus 20:8). We partake the Lord’s Supper because Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The psalmist said “I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11).
I believe one of the reasons modern Americans are reluctant to study and know American history is because it points us to God. No knowledgeable person can deny our founders had a thoroughly Christian world-view. Talking about the founders of America necessarily requires us to talk about God, and that’s a conversation many, especially in elite academia, avoid like the plague. Also, American history requires a Providential understanding. There are too many “miracles” in our nation’s legacy to deny—to use a term our founders were so fond of—“the hand of Providence.” America’s successes cannot be interpreted as a string of coincidences, but can only be understood from a vantage point of God’s governing hand.
Isaiah 51:1 says “Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug.” This Independence Day, let’s take a renewed look at how we have arrived at this point. And let’s give thanks to God for carving out a unique story. We are doubly blessed. We are Christians and we are Americans.
Thomas Jefferson said it well: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Our liberties as Americans will not survive in ignorance. Nor will our liberties as Christians. Let’s be vigilant to remind ourselves of the great spiritual and national legacy we have.