In the fifth century, a man named Patrick walked the hills and dales of
Ireland. As he walked, he spoke about a faith that could change an
individual life, and was changing the world. He shared the impact of that
faith in his own life, and he used ordinary items like the shamrock to
explain its theology.
In his one single lifetime, he transformed the Irish people, giving them a
faith that has survived through the centuries.
His tools were his words. Words that spoke about truth. Words that
informed and enlightened. Words that made his listeners understand what he
believed and why he believed it. Words that his new followers could
embrace and share with others.
Contrast that with the situation in America’s schools.
Earlier this month, CBS News New York reported that 80% on New York high
school graduates can’t read well enough to even enter the lowest level
courses at the city’s community college without remedial assistance. They
can’t count or write either.
They are not alone. The National Adult Literacy Survey reveals that about
1 in 4 American adults can’t read, and the average American adult reads at
a level between the eighth and ninth grades. The National Assessment of
Educational Progress reveals that the problem is not limited to one
generation – nearly 2/3 of America’s fourth graders test below the
Proficiency level in reading.
And it’s not just the level of reading in our schools that is the problem,
it is the content. The federal Core Standards are increasingly controlling
the content of our local curriculum. Educational professionals, parents,
and taxpayers are now working against the standards in the various states.
For example, those testifying at hearings in Minnesota pointed out that the
standards do not include Columbus, Sacagawea, Thomas Paine, William Penn,
or even Abraham Lincoln. Nor do they mention liberty, patriotism, or
Of course, since our average reading ability is below the high school
level, the students would not be able to read and comprehend "Common Sense"
even if were included in the curriculum.
In a way, we are standing right where St. Patrick stood. We are looking at
a nation lacking in knowledge.
We can spend our time bemoaning the situation – or we can follow Patrick’s
example and begin teaching. And we can begin with our own children and
We can make sure that they can read. Either by ensuring that they are in a
school that actually teaches academics, or teaching them ourselves.
We can make sure that they DO know the names and the stories of the men and
women who built this nation. We can give them the words of leaders like
Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington so that they will
understand liberty and patriotism and religious freedom.
It will mean that we may have to learn things ourselves first. We can’t
teach what we don’t know.
There is an old poem that talks about how a kingdom was lost "for want of a
nail" on a horseshoe. Let us resolve together, as we celebrate the saint
who changed the Irish nation with his words of faith, that we will not lose
our American nation for our want of the words of freedom.