"Hey, do you know about the U.S.A.? Do you know about the government? Can you tell me about the Constitution?"
During this political season these questions are not only pertinent, but of critical importance. Unfortunately,
many of us, adults and children alike, are unable to answer them with a resounding "Yes I do!" In an effort,
however small, to address this gap in our civic understanding, I would like to suggest a few illuminating and
(believe it or not), entertaining options for families and individuals of all ages.
If you're a child of the '70s or early '80s who watched Saturday morning cartoons, you surely recall School House
Rock, a collection of catchy tunes accompanied by cartoons that cover subjects
ranging from math and science to grammar and American history and government. Personally, I owe my ability
to recite the Preamble to the Constitution to School House Rock.
Readily available on DVD are several versions of America Rock, which includes the classics "I'm Just a Bill,"
and "Sufferin' Till Suffrage," among others. The
most recent offering in this history/government collection is
which alone includes the new song,
"Presidential Minute." This newest song is, I think, the least impressive or memorable of the collection and amounts primarily
to a reminder to vote.
The better choice of DVDs is, in my opinion, the School House Rock 30th Anniversary Edition, originally released in 2002
and easy to find online or in many retail outlets (we found our copy just this summer at Target). In addition to the
complete original lineup, including "Grammar," "Science," "Money," "Multiplication" and "America Rock," this DVD contains the
new (at the time of release) number "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College," which attempts to explain the electoral college -- a tutorial I'm sure even the best informed of us could use.
On a totally different level I'd like to suggest a film that brings tears of hope, pride and shame to my eyes every time I see it. It is a film by an Italian immigrant who was a champion of and great believer in the promise of America, an optimist whose pictures held a cinematic mirror up to the best the country had to offer; the director
is Frank Capra and the movie is 1939's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I recently watched this film with my girls, and am so glad I did. We stopped the movie several times to discuss not only what was happening on screen, but to discuss how it is like, and unlike, current events. I was pleasantly surprised by how timely it still is. James Stewart's Jeff Smith is a naïve idealist, but his ideals are American ideals and his naïveté stems from a belief that those ideals are worth fighting for. Additionally, Mr. Smith is a really excellent film with a great cast.
At this election time, and always, I think it is important for us to remember and to teach our children what America has meant and still can and does mean. In the words of Jefferson Smith:
Get up there with that lady that's up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look
at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won't just see scenery; you'll see
the whole parade of what Man's carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better
than just jungle law, fighting so's he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no
matter what his race, color, or creed. That's what you'd see. There's no place out there for graft, or greed, or
lies, or compromise with human liberties. ... Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right
here; you just have to see them again!