Preserving American Exceptionalism

It is vitally important that young Americans learn why America is unique. Unlike many nations, defined by geography, ethnicity, and language, America is a country defined by great ideals.

This means that anyone can learn to be American. And over three centuries, tens of millions have arrived on our shores to do just that. The big ideas that define America -- that all men are created equal, and that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- draw many people here.

These principles are the basis of our system of government, the subject of our political debates, and at the heart of what makes America exceptional. Thankfully, most Americans still understand the importance of these ideas.

A Gallup poll in 2010 asked respondents, “Because of the United States’ history and its Constitution, do you think the U.S. has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world?"

80 percent of all Americans said they believed this to be true, that America is an exceptional nation, including 91 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents, and 73 percent of Democrats.

Today, however, we are in danger of losing our appreciation for what makes America unique. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that the belief in America’s greatness is much lower among younger Americans. Only 34 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 say they believe America is the greatest country in the world.

While this number is concerning, it shouldn’t be surprising. For two generations we have failed to teach American history. As a result, we are beginning to see our nation’s memory of the past slip away, including the values and principles upon which America was founded.