John Agresto on Civic Education and Patriotism

At the Jack Miller Center’s 2019 Summit on Higher Education, board member John Agresto (and former President of  St. John’s College in New Mexico) delivered the keynote address. The theme of the summit was “Should America’s Colleges Teach Patriotism?” 

An excerpt from Agresto’s address:

If patriotism is built on love of one’s own, what exactly is our own, what do we, as diverse Americans, have in common, hold in common, that could claim our loyalty and to which we might be devoted? In other words, what is our singular American identity?

From the Declaration of Independence to the Federalist Papers to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, what our Fathers hoped we would grow in devotion to – what we would make our own – was something hardly tangible. It was the idea of the equality of all men in their possession of equal rights and equal liberty. It would be this devotion to an idea that would lead us to attach ourselves to this country. It would be a country that, with great difficulty and with many missteps and failures, would protect our rights and provide us with equal justice under law. It would be that country and those principles which would hold us together and even help us respect, perhaps even love, our neighbors, our fellow Americans, with whom we share no common blood, no creed, no family relation. It was devotion to the country built on the idea of equality, rights, and freedom that led my father – an Italian-American who quoted Scottish poets – to fight in a war alongside Jews and Irishmen, Hispanics from New Mexico (who died by the hundreds fighting for America in the Bataan Death March), plus everyone else, from West Virginia mountain men to Navajo code talkers.  They understood something about the promise of America which, even if it wasn’t perfect or perfectly applied, commanded their love and devotion and transcended their different backgrounds and, dare I say, their different “identities.”