But, America is not just the story of presidents. It is not just the study of great leaders, but, rather, of the undertaking of a great people — the study of great citizens who wisely choose how to save themselves and others, how to correct wrongs, and how to preserve what is still the greatest nation in the history of the world.
While we have our Washingtons, our Lincolns, our Roosevelts, our Trumans, our Reagans, we also have so many others — heroes in every walk of life, in every city in America. If we take on the complete study of our country again — the good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly — we will realize that for every anti-hero that we can be criticized for, there are hundreds of heroes; for every dark moment, there are thousands of rays of light to be seen through the passing clouds
Those who watched the recent Medal of Honor service for Lieutenant Michael Murphy were awestruck by the presentation to this young man’s family — by hearing of how Lt. Murphy’s “powerful sense of right and wrong,” guided him his whole life, and how he embraced from an early age the importance of “defend[ing] those who could not defend themselves.” “Murph,” as he was known by his friends, was our nation’s 3,445th Medal of Honor recipient, the highest honor our nation bestows.
Why don’t our schools take next week, as Veteran’s Day is celebrated, to start a program where they learn about “Murph” and the other Medal of Honor winners throughout their elementary- and secondary-school careers? Why not invite a veteran in to school next week? Such study would help teach our children history with real-life heroes and, at the same time, it would help repay the debt to those heroes by transmitting their stories unto the next generations. I cannot think of a greater way for young children and young adults to learn history than through the stories that make our history — and these stories deserve to be told and retold.
A time of war is a terrible thing, but it brings opportunities for teachable moments, and it is about the best time there can be to make our heroes and their cause teachable and estimable again. If we rededicate ourselves to studying our history and our people rightly, if we take the time to look at the entirety of our firmament, we will see what our Founders saw we could be, what foreigners who came here saw all along, and what we ourselves can — even today — see once again: that we have something precious here. That something is called America, where young men and women sign up to protect her each and every day in the uniform of our armed services. And it is worth the time of every young man and every young woman in our nation’s classrooms to study why.
–William J. Bennett is the author of Volumes I & II of America: The Last Best Hope — a new box set of American history (including a special audio tribute to Ronald Reagan). Bennett is the Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute .