It’s time, once again, to celebrate the birth of our nation. We commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which initially separated us from England. Many lives were sacrificed to make it a reality, but we celebrate the decision of our Founding Fathers to change the course of history.

In the span of time, we’re still a very young nation, a mere 243 years old. We’ve had serious growing pains. We have matured in some ways and in others, perhaps, we’ve taken steps backward. We were founded on the premise that all people have rights and freedoms and all citizens can participate in their government. Now, we can argue forever as to the intent of the wording of the original documents. You cannot put today’s values and mores on the people of the 1700’s or the 1800’s. We also cannot erase what we have done—good and bad. We must face it, understand it, and learn from it.

We have grown. We’ve had internal struggles. We’ve made mistakes. We have persecuted people on the basis of their religion, race, sex, and ethnic origin. We have discriminated against our own people and immigrants who have made important contributions to the development of our country. Unfortunately, we continue to do so. Have we failed to learn from our history?

We definitely have our faults. All that being said, we’re the freest nation on earth. We have the freedom and the right to speak out about the injustices that happen in our nation and around the world. We have a process to bring about change. Unfortunately, the process may work very slowly at times. All citizens can make a difference in their local community or on the state and national level. Of course, these freedoms come with consequences. There are those who take advantage of them. There are those who use them for evil or to harm others.

Since our inception, many nations have been created or reorganized. They used our plan of government as a template. They incorporated some of our structure and values into their plan. We’ve helped struggling nations and provided aid around the world. We’ve worked with others to save the world from the domination of dictators. We’re the beacon of freedom and opportunity for people around the world. We’re a leader on the international stage.

When history is taught, we must make sure that we’re sharing the facts with students. We must be careful not to teach revisionism. Students need to develop their own opinions. They may not agree with mine or yours. We must be careful not to indoctrinate but educate. Providing our children with a clear and accurate picture of our past is critical for understanding how we arrived at where we are today. Portraying America as always right or always wrong is inaccurate. One-sided, biased representation leads to misinformed and warped perceptions of our nation and the world.

One of the challenges teachers face is finding unbiased teaching materials. School systems have limited choices as Pearson Publishing has a corner on the textbook market and chooses the material that’s included. Obviously, there’s no way a history text could include all sides of every issue throughout our history. Teachers must use supplemental material to provide a balanced curriculum and give students the tools needed to sort through material to find the facts.

We celebrate the ideals and goals set forth by our Founding Fathers. We must learn from our past and continue to strive for those ideals. Giving our children the tools to continue that journey is vital to the survival of our nation.

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Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County School Board member.