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Developing the Character of a Nation’s Citizens

September 20, 2016 3 Comments

There’s a lot of talk these days about what it means to be an American.  The more diverse we become, the more difficulty it seems we have in answering this question.  But whatever that answer might be, we should expect that, at its core, being an American means that we share some national sense of who we are – what moral virtues do we all aspire to, what ideals do we most cherish?  The question is:  “How do we instill in our citizens moral qualities and ideals our nation holds dear?

In the American experience, I believe this question is answered as follows:

The moral character of Americans is shaped through what we believe, read and experience.  These three things mold who we are and hold most dear.

I’d like to spend the next few paragraphs unpacking this idea, and how we have attempted to determine what it is our citizens will read and experience in the formation of the American character and what we believe.

George Washington’s Call for a Nation Built on Private Morality

History records that when George Washington was sworn in as President of the United States, he was very aware of the precedent he was setting for the new nation of America. Scholars have found in his First Inaugural Address an American application of Moses’s warning in Deuteronomy chapter 28, in which Moses laid out the blessings God would bestow on Israel if they followed his commands, and the curses that would befall them if they failed to do so. Washington said:

No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. …These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. … Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained: … I behold the surest pledges … that the foundations of our National policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; and the pre-eminence of a free Government, be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its Citizens, and command the respect of the world.

How would the young country promote “private morality”? The founders saw the need to provide for a system of public education. In passing The Land Ordinance of 1785, they established a means for funding public education. Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. In 1836, William McGuffey published what came to be called the McGuffey Eclectic Reader. It was the nation’s first common textbook, and sold over 120 million copies. John Westerhoff III, in his book “McGuffey and His Readers,” wrote :

When we investigate the content of McGuffey’s Readers, three dominant images of God emerge. God is creator, preserver, and governor.

For over a century, the public schools of the United States used the McGuffey Reader to instill the “private morality” Washington had called for during his first inaugural address.  But beginning in the 1920s, a movement arose to remove free market economics and Christianity from what was taught to our young people.  In 1934, Willard E. Givens issued this statement in a report titled “Education for the New America” during the Proceedings of the 72nd Annual Meeting of the National Education Association:

“A dying laissez-faire must be completely destroyed and all of us, including the owners, must be subjected to a large amount of social control.  A large section of our discussion group, accepting the conclusions of distinguished students, maintain that in our fragile, interdependent society, the credit agencies, the basic industries, and utilities cannot be centrally planned and operated under private ownership.

… Hence, they will join in creating a swift nationwide campaign of adult education which will support President Roosevelt in taking these over and operating them at full capacity as a unified national system in the interests of all of the people.”

Another participant in this movement was Norman Woelfel, a PhD candidate who studied under Dr. George Counts (part of a national commission to redesign the teaching of social studies in the US) and Dr. John Dewey (creator of the Dewey Decimal system).  In 1934, Woelfel published his doctoral dissertation in book form.   His book, called “Molders of the American Mind,” was a review of 17 prominent educators of that day.  Near the end of his book, Woelfel concluded:

The things of highest value for individual experience and for ethical standards in modern America will not, however, be found out so long as intellectual leaders maintain sensitivity over the supernatural significance of Christian mythology or a sentimental personal attachment to the character of Jesus. (Emphasis added. Woelfel, Norman.Molders of the American Mind: A Critical Review of the Social Attitudes of Seventeen Leaders in American Education. (Columbia University Press: New York), 1934, pp. 205, 229.)

Today, except in some home school and church school programs, the McGuffey Readers are no longer used.  Space does not permit the tracking of how efforts by progressive educationalists led to the removal Christianity’s influence in public education. Suffice it to say that

“By the middle of the 20th century, schools switched to readers like “Dick and Jane” which no longer taught the Bible stories. Test scores began to drop, along with a moral decline of our youth and a rising crime rate.”

As a result, in 2016, like the Israelites of old, America has witnessed the rise of a new generation that, in the words of Judges 2:10, “grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”

Reviving Washington’s Call for Private Morality

As a college freshman at Butler University in 1975, I took my one and only Bible course.   It was a survey of the Old Testament.   The instructor had us read “The Source” by James Michener.  After reading that book, I fell in love with the idea of using historical fiction to bring the Bible alive for modern readers.   As a young father, I looked for age appropriate books to read to my children.  Books like The High King by Lloyd Alexander, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth Speare.  And, I know I’m not the only person to have done so.

It is this belief in the importance of literature as a means of character education that has led me on a twenty year journey to write my own novel and develop a comparative history curriculum intended to help the reader apply precepts of the Bible to a modern age.  This two minute video introduces the idea behind Clash of the Superpowers, a curriculum built around the events of 600 BC, as I envisioned how Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel would have set about the creation of a “brotherhood of the scroll” to preserve God’s word in a foreign land.

Call A Nation to Prayer

Clash of the Superpowers is designed around my novel, Brotherhood of the Scroll.  The prophet Daniel plays a prominent role in that novel.  At one point in the later part of his ministry, Daniel sought God’s mercy on behalf of Jerusalem and the temple.   In Daniel 9:8-11, we read:

We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, LORD, because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him, we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you.

Daniel was mindful of the words Moses had written regarding the blessings and the curses in Deuteronomy 28.  Likewise, George Washington was mindful of not only the words of Moses, but also Daniel’s prayer.  Today, America faces anarchy in the streets. The word of God is the solution, but increasingly, secular society is seeking to silence the message of Christ. The solution to the moral crisis we face will not be found in any action of own.  Instead, it must begin with prayer.

Anne Graham Lotz is doing this through her book, The Daniel Prayer.  Here is a short video where she explains why applying the example of Daniel is so important in our day:

[iframe id=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/3kRLm5u4PEU” align=”center”]

Anne’ brother, Franklin Graham, is conducting a national tour to pray on the capitol steps of all 50 states.  On October 5th, Franklin Graham will be coming at noon to Indianapolis, Indiana, as part of his Decision America 2016 Prayer tour.

[iframe id=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/m7_MLX4zbrk” align=”center”]

Like the Prophet Daniel, George Washington, and now Franklin Graham, this is our time to humble ourselves, repent of our sins, and beseech the Lord to heal our land.

  • Prayer
  • The nurturing of private morality
  • Christians using the tools of cultural expression such as books and movies to share the Gospel of Christ.

All are needed, now, if we are to develop the character of our nation’s citizens.

About the Author:

David Lantz is a self-published author, adjunct college professor and leadership consultant. Visit my online courses at https://generationselfemployed.zenler.com/ and like my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wisejargon and

Comments (3)

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  1. Robin Simpson says:

    You are so right on David…teaching our children morality through stories helps them remember God’s word better. Yes, we need such prayer for our Nation..watching the debate last night I said LORD HELP US!!…praying for you too…you are very gifted…keep writing!!

    • David says:

      Hi, Joe!

      Love your thoughts. You wrote: Multiply these effects across the country and in every community by the number of big box stores which have replaced small businesses , and you have a devastating effect on traditional values. I think it is very important for those who wish to restore or preserve traditional values to come to grips with the ruthless and comprehensive powers of big business capitalism

      Yes, there are certainly MANY things that play into the mix. But the fact that Walmart moves into a community and small businesses fold is not the INTENTION of Wall Mart. Note there are also communities where the local businesses still thrive. My home town of Goshen, IN, was one of the first (If not only) community of less than 25,000 in population to have TWO Walmarts move in; one just north of town, and one just south of town. But, the local downtown did not fold. It reinvented itself.

      The difference here is what I quoted by Norman Woelfel. George Counts and John Dewey were both on his dissertation committee (Molders of the AMerican Mind was published in the depths of the Great Depression out of his PhD research). Look into Counts and Dewey. They would cheer at what Woelfel said:

      The things of highest value for individual experience and for ethical standards in modern America will not, however, be found out so long as intellectual leaders maintain sensitivity over the supernatural significance of Christian mythology or a sentimental personal attachment to the character of Jesus. (Emphasis added. Woelfel, Norman.Molders of the American Mind: A Critical Review of the Social Attitudes of Seventeen Leaders in American Education.

      You might find the most recent post in “The Unraveling” of relevance to the topic.

      Thanks, as always, for commenting!

  2. Joe Parchelo says:

    Yes, it’s me again. It really bothers me how well you and your followers have identified the problem, and keep avoiding some of the important aspects of the solution, or maybe we agree on this one as well, but I haven’t seen it.
    To simplify the concept, let’s just identify it as Walmart, and its effects on values of individual initiative and entrepreneurship. Me wife and I were in Virginia a few years ago, and we went into a butcher shop. The proprietor told us that if we had come a year later, he wouldn’t be there , because all of the other small businesses in town had been put out of business by Walmart and he couldn’t see much future for himself.
    So, point one, superstores have stripped communities of opportunities for entrepreneurship. People who might have been able to start small businesses 50 years ago, if they’re lucky might be able to start out as greeters and work their way up to departmental manager. None of these positions provide nearly as much opportunity for initiative and certainly none for entrepreneurship.
    Point 2, the community as a whole is thereby deprived of its leadership, which would in former times have emerged through small business associations like Kiwanis, Jaycees, and Rotary. Employees of superstores make good followers, but not good leaders.
    Point 3, people who have their own business have more discretion and control on solving the work/family time stress. They might have their children doing simple jobs in the store. They would have more choice in when to be at work and when to be at home.
    The above points apply without any reference to religion. However, one could also note point four, big store open on Sunday and give employees little choice of whether or not to work on Sunday. This cuts into Church attendance. Another effect from point 2 is the dilution of Church leadership.
    Multiply these effects across the country and in every community by the number of big box stores which have replaced small businesses , and you have a devastating effect on traditional values. I think it is very important for those who wish to restore or preserve traditional values to come to grips with the ruthless and comprehensive powers of big business capitalism to eradicate such values and practices.It is not only the “progressive establishment” which is a threat here.

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