How Can You Be A Good American?
Being a good American starts with knowing your rights . . . and respecting the rights of others. And by doing the right thing when many other kids are not.
First off, your rights were not delivered by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.
That was the Ten Commandments, okay? (Hope you've heard of them.)
No, the rights you enjoy today were crafted by human hands and human minds. You have to get that straight from the start or you could go crazy. They were set down by a group of intelligent, difficult, argumentative, arrogant guys whom we officially call the "Founding Fathers." You've seen the marble busts and statues, the paintings of the very serious-looking old guys standing in great halls.
Don't be fooled by how they look.
Believe me, while they were Founding, the Fathers included brilliant thinkers, pains in the butt, more than one certifiable drunk, heroes who stood against the majority on principle, athletes (some of whom were skilled at chasing skirts), and speakers who could make the walls shake. In other words, this collection of true patriots (yes, I mean that term) was very, very human.
To repeat, you have to understand that.
See, your rights here in America were created by a wide range of people (except, owing to the times, they were all male and white). They differed because they had a diversity of human talents and human fl aws. Not really so unlike the population of your school.
But what they shared was the most important thing. It can legitimately be called a "Vision." Let me sum it up in my words!
The average person in America should be free from unjust interference in daily life . . . and should be protected from the bad guys, whoever and wherever they are.
These Founding Fathers wanted to express this Vision in writing so it would live on even long after they were gone.The document they created is what we know as the U.S. Constitution.
Simple? Sounds like it.
But something like this had never happened before in the history of the world.
So, along with everything else, the Founding Fathers-screaming and swearing at each other, laughing and celebrating and pounding each other on the back-were Patriots with a capital P. More than 220 years ago, they were looking out for you.
They wanted to establish some ground rules that would be really easy for everyone to understand and really difficult for bad guys to mess up. They wanted to make the best possible country for Americans forever. That would include you and me. . . right now.
But, yes, they were human.
And they knew it.
Let's review: Well-meaning human beings created a set of rights and called it the Constitution. But they knew things would change over time. So what did they actually do for you?
Did they agree that you have the right to bring your iPod to gym class?
They did not.
Or maybe they did. Well, not specifically, but arguably.
That's right-we have the right to debate how the Constitution affects our lives today.
Okay. This story has a kind of moral: As we talk more about rights, keep in mind that they are rarely absolute.
I mean, rights don't belong just to you. Your rights and my rights have to be balanced against the legitimate rights of other people as well.
That's easier said than done, I know. But here's a case where a young man did just that . . . He came up with a way to balance his right, as he saw it, with the rights of his school administrators.
Do you have the right to refuse to do your school homework?
Does the school have the right to assign so much of it that your life is ruined?
No. But I know it seems that way a lot of the time, no matter where you go to school.
Well, a fifteen-year-old kid thought hard about those questions, and then he took action. No, he didn't call the ACLU. He used his head. Read on-maybe Sean Gordon-Loeb will end up being one of your heroes.
As reported in the New York Times, Sean is one of the bright students at Stuyvesant High School, perhaps the most competitive high school in New York City. As in most communities today, the kids there often feel that they have too much homework. (When kids e-mailed me in response to my book The O'Reilly Factor for Kids, that was the Number One problem they wanted to talk about.) Some parents agree; others do not. Even the experts aren't sure where to draw the line.
But Sean, who by the way has an A-minus average, thought he knew. Vacations should be "downtime," he politely argued to the school's principal. What Sean wanted was elimination of all homework assignments during vacation, but the school prides itself on getting kids ready to compete for the country's best colleges.
The result? Compromise. The principal agreed to encourage teachers to lighten the homework assignments for vacation periods.
One teacher had a very creative response, assigning a paper for vacation but allowing it to be turned in beforehand.
So, Sean's sensible approach to a problem-without confrontation-led to a balanced compromise. Remember Sean as we go forward. When you think you have the right to something-in this case, a worry-free vacation for relaxing-the first step should not be screaming your head off. Think. Be rational. Discuss the issue with respect.
Perhaps, like Sean, you, too, will be able to enjoy "the pursuit of happiness," a phrase we'll talk more about a little later. Go, Sean!
No pinhead, he!