What Would John Adams Do?

In Nashville, where I live, we will vote on January 21 for or against a measure proposed by a city councilman to make English the “official” language of the city and require that all official city business be conducted in English. 

Nashville has attracted a number for foreign businesses over the past years, including Nissan, because we are a welcoming community.  Many people feel that the English Only initiative would damage the economic base of Nashville by decreasing the number of foreign businesses and visitors to our city.  Many people also feel it is a mean-spirited initiative that pushes back against  the perception that more immigrants – particularly hispanic immigrants – are coming to the U.S. than ever before and present a strain on the country’s resources.

Those who oppose the English Only initiative remind that constitutional rights in the United States apply to illegal immigrants, too.  Also, for years businesses have looked the other way and tacitly encouraged illegal immigrants to the U.S. in order to have enough workers.  It isn’t fair to now treat the people who have been here for years, raising families and working and paying payroll taxes (70% of illegal immigrants work “on the books”) as if they were criminals.  Cracking down on illegal immigrants also entails profiling, which most people understand can lead to casting too wide a net. 

The issue of immigration got a little swept away during the final days of the presidential campaign due to the economic issues that dominated conversation in the days leading up to the election.  But, the issue will come up again because both sides of the issue agree that federal immigration law needs reform.

How does this pertain to teaching your child to learn?  Well, aside from the obvious benefit of showing your child how to become involved in social issues and how to analyze information from interest groups on both sides of an issue, I encourage you to ask, “What would John Adams do?”

My son and I recently watched most of the three-disc mini-series on John Adams.  Though long, the series is a fabulous in-depth examination of the issues that the founding fathers grappled with as they drew away from England and started from scratch their own country, built on lofty though radical and untried ideals.

One thing my son and I noticed was that the two broad camps of founding fathers–federalists and anti-federalists–focused on elements that continue to need balancing today.  In a way, that is the true beauty of our democratic government.  The tension between the individual rights and the need for the government to make rules to maintain order isn’t one with a finite resolution.  Our government is set up in a way that allows the balancing act to persist–even if it gets kicked out of whack now and again.

So, what would John Adams think about our current immigration issues?  Or, for that matter, what would he have said about abortion, privacy rights, or gun control?  He was a passionate and opinionated man–there’s no doubt he would have vigorously taken one side or the other.  What would it be? 

Use current events – even ones that are controversial or difficult–to encourage your child to think about the nature of democracy.  Show them that some human ideals and values persist over time and place.  Let them discover that ideas aren’t stale just because they were first described ages ago.  Find opportunities to let your child feel the pride of being involved in a noble and brave process started over two hundred years ago that continues to survive despite wars, predjudices, poverty, and terrorism.

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