Confessions of a grade school Teachers’ Pet.
So, yes, I believed some of the ideas my teachers taught, and this ‘brainwashing’ has stuck with me throughout the years. And now, in honor (or memory) of Mrs. Clemens, Mrs. Lamphere, Mr. O’Brien, Ms. Derichs, and all the other teachers of social studies, English, politics, ethics, or just plain life, I’m writing down my take on the foundational ideals that this country is built upon, and which at no point can we allow to be sacrificed at the alter of safety, security, or simply getting along. (And yes, I do need to return to 7th grade English and learn how to eliminate run-on sentences.)
I kind of like the Declaration of Independence. You know, the part about all men [addendum: and women] are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. So, yes, equal rights. They don’t need to be justified, excused, explained. They just are. For everyone. Always. In all circumstances. These rights affect and limit the concept of Majority Rule. The majority may rule (in this republic / federalist hodge-podge system), but the minority has its rights that are more important than anything the 50, 60, 70, 80, 90% majority might want. (In short, the majority has Obligations.)
The glory of these past sixty years of America (up to Nov 8, 2016) has been the understanding of minorities as real people, too, and not just instruments for the powerful or for the majority to get their way. Rights for Blacks, for Women, for Gays, for Disabled. We have become a country that is actually approaching that Biblical standard of each and everyone made equally in God’s image — no one more important; no one ignored. (Yes, I wasn’t just a teacher’s pet in public school; I sucked up in many, many years of Hebrew School, too.)
What other foundational credos did I absorb? How about this classic from early America: I’d rather 100 guilty men go free than one innocent man be falsely jailed.
There are choices we make as a people, and the above expression is the guidance that keeps us from slipping down the path of ceding our lives and liberties to the all powerful government. In short, our presumed innocence and the overwhelming obligation of government to prove it if we are not, renders us having no duty to government to justify ourselves to it. That is the essence of the First Amendment freedoms – freedoms which basically say we can think and decide as we individually want.
I also was taught about justice. Lady Justice sits above all our courts, reminding judges that although we are a nation of laws, not men (I know that one thanks to growing up in the era of Watergate), that notion applies to the lawmaker, not the [accused] lawbreaker. To those being accused and tried, we are a nation of just application of the laws. That judges are to use judgment, and not be the rote enforcers of the letter of the law. That – to bring religion back into this – we are to have judgment based on mercy, not judgment based on retribution (that phrase is a simplified old-line Christian outlook of the Old Testament God vs. the New Testament God). When that powerless individual is being trampled by the mega-powerful state or the all-powerful corporate interest, it would be nice if a Judge actually did say, “What would Jesus do?” We just might understand how to treat and trust each other better.
And I am so glad I get to write this, and you all can choose to read or not, respect or not. It is the Freedom of Thought, of Conscience, embodied in the First Amendment that not only provides us a right, it provides us a duty. We must question continually those in power, those who speak, those who write – question their intent, question their sources, question their knowledge. Debate them in the free exchange of ideas, because when ideas are freely discussed, we should have no fear that the ideas of democracy, liberty, equality, freedom will not prevail. For if they don’t prevail, if freedom actually loses at a free debate, then freedom herself was always just an illusion.
But when discussion is quashed, any discussion, we are living the lives of fascism, and thus fascism becomes the norm, the accepted, the future. For there is one thing a bully (a fascist) cannot stand and that is to be stood up to. There is nothing more vital to a free democracy that what Voltaire pronounced over 300 years ago, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Only then – with non-stop response – does the bully melt under the weight of his own anger.
[I wish I could draw. That last comment has my seeing an image of Dorothy pouring that bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the West. Can you hear her say, “I’m melting. I’m meeeellltttinnnnnnnnnn…”]
Wow. My first blog post. Kinda long. Kinda full of myself. But gotta start somewhere. And after the 2016 elections, with Trump as President, there can be no holding back. We must fight every day. This is for real, folks. Real people having families, dreams, futures, ripped apart. No more head in the sand.
To summarize – a short list of America’s founding values are:
- Equal Rights
- Majority Obligations
- Assumed Innocence
- A society of justly applied laws
- Freedom of Thought and Conscience
Sure there is more, but I’m supposed to be succinct, or you won’t read this 🙂
Those are my confessions. More – much more – to come. What are your thoughts about this post?