After retirement, while probing through a life-time of memorabilia, I discovered an eighth grade examination I completed in 1950. The full-day test was required of all eighth grade students attending rural one-room schools. It assessed my knowledge in reading, arithmetic, language arts, health, music, science, and social studies. I was surprised by the range of questions in the examination, and the comprehensiveness of the social studies questions.
There were questions which could be expected in 1950: why does the United States fear communism, and what US treaties were signed in 1949? There were questions about the United States Constitution, The Monroe Doctrine, the formation of the League of Nations, and the North Atlantic Treaty.
Within the social studies examination basic democratic principles were tested. One question asked; how can we best show other countries the value of our democracy? The correct answer was to prove to the world our democratic ideals were followed here in the United States. Another inquired if it was undemocratic for a student running for class president to ask classmates to vote for him or her because they were members of a particular church. The answer was yes. One’s religion should not be used as a criterion to vote for a particular candidate. A third item questioned the importance of immigration. The answer was many nationalities, religions, and cultures are valuable for the United States because diverse ideas blend to make ours a rich society.
Since taking the eighth grade examination I have taught history, been a school administrator, and had the opportunity to travel to many countries. I have traveled in communist, socialist, and democratic countries around the globe. It is evident to me the best way to expand democracy is to follow democratic ideals here in the United States. In working with young people I witnessed the importance for students to accept those from other religions in school elections. That value is easily transferred to public elections. As a school administrator I saw firsthand the benefits of welcoming students from different countries, faiths, and cultures into our schools. Our nation is richer because of the many different backgrounds.
Over 50 years ago I was taught the importance of accepting people from other cultures, the importance of separating church and government, and it is far better to showcase our democratic values than force our beliefs on others. I believe these basic democratic principles remain the same and should be taught and practiced in all public schools.
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