<< The Body Politic

Sen. Jon Kyl delivers farewell address

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

After serving for 18 years in the U.S. Senate, Arizona’s Jon Kyl delivered his farewell address to the Senate yesterday afternoon. Kyl first represented Arizona in the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1995 and then was elected to serve in the Senate.

In his farewell remarks, Kyl emphasized the importance that civic education plays in shaping civil society and teaching students what it means to be American. He notes:

When it comes to shaping our culture, we must also improve the quality of our students’ civic education. I fear that many American students are graduating from high school and college with only the vaguest knowledge of our founding and our constitution—what it means to be an American. It is hard to defend rights if you don’t know what they are and where they come from.

Schools shape students’ views about our priorities as a society and what principles are worth standing up for. Instead of teaching history and the fundamentals of America’s founding, many curriculums focus on small, politically-correct topics, such as gender, class, diversity, and ethnicity. The entertainment industry and many major media outlets, too, dwell on these topics and lend them outsized importance.

These topics tend to be political and emphasize what divides us. They ignore our common heritage of freedom, equality, self-reliance, human dignity, faith, and community. As William Bennett recently wrote, when we look at what students are being taught, it’s easy to see why more of them say they prefer socialism over free-market capitalism. “Politics is downstream from the culture,” he writes.

Bennett also noted that Plato said the two most important questions in a society are: “Who teaches the young and what do we teach them?”

I believe we need to think long and hard about these two questions. It’s time to have a serious discussion about civics education. If Americans don’t understand or appreciate the foundations of our republican government, those foundations will gradually erode. In that sense, political and historical literacy is critical to the preservation of our constitutional freedoms.

As President Reagan famously said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

Read Kyl’s entire address at the Weekly Standard.