“As late as June 1776 two-thirds of Continental regiments under Washington’s command were New Englanders. Yankee farmers and mechanics turned out in large numbers. . . . In 1776, these Yankee regiments may have been the most literate army in the world. Nearly all New England privates could read and write. Even young recruits such as [Joseph Plumb] Martin, who was just sixteen, were caught up in the great public questions that were debated in kitchens, taverns, and town meetings. ‘During the winter of 1775-76, by hearing the conversation and disputes of the good old farmer politicians of the times, I collected pretty correct ideas of the contest between this country and the mother country (as it was then called)’ he wrote. ‘I thought I was as warm as patriot as the best of them.’ These new England men were raised to a unique idea of liberty as independence, freedom as the right of belonging to a community, and reights as entailing a sense of mutual obligation.” David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing, pp. 20-21.
When I reread this passage this evening, I began to wonder how many of our young people today would claim to be “warm patriots.” How many have the education in government and politics and the serious attitude about life the yeomen of the Revolution did? How many of the young people you know are regularly caught up in the great public questions we face in this country today and can speak with intelligence about the issues?
Although there are surely many exceptions, I don’t see much evidence of Fischer’s description in the teenagers I have contact with—or in their parents, for that matter. Instead, a preoccupation with sports, the newest electronic devices, texting and hanging out with their friends, the opposite sex, popular music, TV, movies, web-surfing, and other trivial pursuits occupy every minute when they aren’t in school. And I can’t blame them. They’re simply imitating the example set by the adults in their lives.
A while back I read an article that talked about how parents and grandparents are no longer handing down to the current generation the wisdom they gained from their elders and from their own experience. That’s something I’ve observed too, and it troubles me when I think of what that neglect holds for the future. To be fair, in too many families both parents work. Often they’re burdened with demanding jobs and long commutes that suck away the precious hours of their children’s lives. They’re exhausted and frustrated by the time they come home, and they see their children as just another burden. Those who are unemployed or underemployed face other challenges that rob them of quality family time just as surely. And at many schools teachers spend so much time enforcing discipline that there’s limited time to teach.
The bottom line is that today a troubling number of our young people neither know nor care about the history of the country they live in, and they’re equally ignorant of and indifferent to what’s currently going on in the world around them. Their major concern is entertainment, not fulfilling place in a local, state, and national community.
Unless we take seriously the task of nurturing in all our young people the attitudes of our yeoman forefathers, we’ll soon be on the way to losing our precious heritage of liberty—if we haven’t already.