Speech given by Mrs. Cheney at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and
October 5th, 2001.
It is a great pleasure to be here today to celebrate the Dallas Institute
of Humanities and Culture on its twentieth anniversary, and it is a particular
joy to help honor Dr. Louise Cowan, whose tireless work on behalf of the humanities
has enriched not only Texas, but the nation.
Here today among so many people dedicated to education, I thought I would
spend a few minutes talking about our schools and about what we should be teaching
children in the wake of the September 11th attacks on our country. Some educators
saying that we need more emphasis on other cultures in our classrooms. In
Sunday's Washington Post, Judith Ripp, Deputy Chancellor for Instruction in
York City school system declared, "Those people who said we don't need
multiculturalism, that it's too touchy feely, a pox on them." She went
on, "I think they've
learned their lesson. We have to do more to teach habits of tolerance, knowledge
awareness of other cultures."
Now, this is not exactly a sensitive expression of the multicultural argument,
but I think
we could all agree that in the twenty-first century, it is important that
our children know
about the great events and inspiriting ideas of the cultures of the world.
of learning for world history here in Texas--the TEKS, as they are known--expect
students to be able to "compare the historical origins, central ideas,
and the spread of
major religious and philosophical traditions including Buddhism, Christianity,
Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism; and to be able to identify examples
religious influence in history and contemporary world events."
This is an important requirement--but it was important on September 10th.
To say that
it is more important now implies that the events of September 11th were our
it was our failure to understand Islam that led to so many deaths and so much
destruction. And this is not the case. As Muslim leaders around the world
the terrorists who highjacked airliners and used them to murder thousands
were not following the words of the Prophet, but instead were violating some
most sacred precepts of Islam.
The deputy chancellor's suggestion that "we have to do more to teach
tolerance" also implies that the United States is to blame for the attack
11th, that somehow intolerance on our part was the cause. But on September
was most manifestly not the United States that acted out of religious prejudice.
Osama bin Laden told ABC news that his mission was "to purify Muslim
land of all
non-believers." This was the intolerance that manifested itself on September
11th in the
person of fanatics intent on causing as much pain and suffering as possible.
Let me affirm again that our children as they go through school and college
about the cultures of the world. They should know classical works of Western
like the Iliad and the Odyssey that the Dallas Institute has so lovingly taught
teachers. There are classical works from other parts of the world, such as
of Confucius and the Bhagavad Gita, and modern works they should know about:
novels of Chinua Achebe and Naguib Mahfouz, the plays of Wole Soyinka, the
Octavio Paz, the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges. There are so many graceful and
ways to connect to the human story, and surely we have a duty to make our
aware of them.
But if there were one aspect of schooling from kindergarten through college
to which I
would give added emphasis today it would be American history. We are not doing
good job of teaching it now, as a recent survey of seniors at the nation's
top liberal arts
colleges and research universities reveals. Scarcely more than half, the survey
"knew general information about American democracy and the Constitution."
majorities were ignorant of facts that high school seniors should know: Only
could identify George Washington as the American general at Yorktown; fewer
quarter knew that James Madison was the "father of the Constitution."
The same Washington Post article that quoted Judith Rizzo, the New York
chancellor, cited a study indicating that our colleges and universities are
committed to "internationalism." Let me suggest that if there is
a failure here it is lack of
commitment to this nation's history. Of the 55 elite institutions whose seniors
polled in the survey described above, not one college or university--not a
one--required a course in American history.
At a time of national crisis, I think it is particularly apparent that we
need to encourage
the study of our past. Our children and grandchildren--indeed, all of us--need
the ideas and ideals on which our nation has been built. We need to understand
fortunate we are to live in freedom. We need to understand that living in
liberty is such a
precious thing that generations of men and women have been willing to sacrifice
everything for it. We need to know, in a war, exactly what is at stake.
We should teach our children how hard the establishment of this country
was. One of
the documents they should read is Of Plymouth Plantation, in which William
describes how the pilgrims "brought safe to land . . . , fell upon their
knees and blessed
the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean."
Bradford went on to report on "this poor people's present condition":
Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before
in their preparation . . . , they had now no friends to welcome them, nor
inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses or much
less towns to repair to, to seek for succor. . . . And for the season it
was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to
be sharp and violent and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to
travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what
could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness?
It was a risky thing, coming here, and it was a risky thing a century and
a half later when
fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Rush, one of
signers, wrote of the "labors and fears and sorrows and sleepless nights"
suffered, and of "the pensive and awful silence" as they stepped
forward to sign what
was believed by many of them to be their death warrants.
So many were willing to risk so much because they treasured freedom. The
wanted to worship God in their own way. The founders, as Jefferson so eloquently
wanted to secure "certain unalienable rights," among them "life,
liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness." The founders had the amazing idea that this could be accomplished
through representative government. Instead of a king ruling over them, the
would be sovereign.
Our children should realize that the founders were flying in the face of
history with this
idea. Earlier attempts at Republican government had been on a small scale
or had been
short-lived. But the founders had the conviction that they could do what had
done. They would provide the world an enduring model of a way of life in which
potential would blossom and human happiness thrive. After the British were
George Washington wrote that "the citizens of America . . . are from
this period to be
considered as actors on a most conspicuous theatre, which seems to be peculiarly
designed by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity."
These are things our children should know. And I don't think it would hurt
a bit when we
teach them about the Constitution to use the word "miracle." There
were so many
interests pulling in so many directions, that the successful result seemed
miraculous to both Washington and Madison. Catherine Drinker Bowen's fine
the Constitutional Convention is called, appropriately enough, Miracle at
One of my favorite historians, Bernard de Voto, wrote to Bowen that the
accomplishment of the Constitutional Convention was so astonishing that the
have danced in the sky when the delegates gathered.
What we tend to do nowadays is tell about the failures of the Constitution,
and, to be
sure, we should. The document did not end slavery. It did not provide women
to vote. But it did provide a framework that endured while we struggled--and
succeeded--in living up to our ideals. Our children should know that, too.
As I read about the founders, I am struck by the emphasis that Jefferson
in particular, put on religious freedom. Both men had seen the pernicious
government-prescribed belief and determined it would not be part of the new
things. Jefferson believed that one of his greatest accomplishments was authorship
the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Madison got the Virginia Statute
later carried through the Congress of the United States the Bill of Rights,
established freedom of religion as the Constitution's first amendment.
Our children need to know what an achievement it was to enact laws declaring
individuals could be trusted to form their own opinions. The Virginia Statute
Freedom, Madison said, "extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making
laws for the
human mind." The issue was not only religious freedom, but intellectual
is great and will prevail if left to herself," the Virginia statute reads.
"She is the proper
and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict,
human interposition [she is] disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument,
Anyone who tries to account for the remarkable creativity of this country
consider the forces set in motion when the United States of America decreed
government could not tell people what to believe or what to think. The freeing
individual energy and ideas that has resulted has been unparalleled in human
to imagine Thomas Edison, or Steven Spielberg, or Jack Welch, or Bill Gates
oppressive society. It's inconceivable that they would flourish. The fact
and entertainment, and business have prospered so remarkably is proof of the
our ideas and our children should understand this.
They should also know about the role we have played in the world, about
how we have
inspired others to seek freedom and gone up against tyrants. Bryan Appleyard,
in the London Sunday Times on September 23rd, assessed our role this way.
ponder exactly what the Americans did in that most awful of all centuries,
the 20th," he
They saved Europe from her barbarism in two world wars. After
the second world war they rebuilt the continent from the ashes. They confronted
and peacefully defeated Soviet communism, the most murderous system ever
devised by man.
And the Americans who were on the front lines when we did this acted with
generosity of spirit. In his book Citizen Soldier, Steven Ambrose describes
how it was
in 1945 when twelve-man squads of teenage boys armed and in uniform struck
into people's hearts all around the globe. "But there was an exception,"
a squad of GIs, a sight that brought the biggest smiles you ever
saw to people's lips, and joy to their hearts. Around the world this was
true . . . because GIs meant candy, cigarettes, C-rations, and freedom.
America had sent the best of her young men around the world, not to conquer
but to liberate, not to terrorize but to help.
We have benefited mightily from our way of life, but so has the world. Our
children should know these things as we set out to defend America, "assured
of the rightness of our cause," in our President's words, "and confident
of victories to come."
Thank you for inviting me to be here with you today.
Copyright © 2001 by Lynne V. Cheney
All Rights Reserved
Lynne V. Cheney, wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney,
was the W.H. Brady, Jr., Distinguished Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
She was Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 through
1992. She has a Ph.D. in English, has taught at several colleges and universities,
and was a senior editor at Washingtonian magazine. She is the author of several
books and formerly co-hosted the Crossfire TV show on CNN.