Policymakers | General Education

Return George Washington to the spotlight

JOURNAL SENTINEL   |  February 21, 2013 by Anne Neal Petri

I cannot tell a lie: George Washington must find his way back into the spotlight.

Two hundred years ago, all Americans knew Washington’s example. His bravery, leadership and impeccable character encouraged a boldness of spirit that the world has seldom seen since.

Throngs gathered to see him during his travels throughout the new nation. His birthday was a major celebration, and many homes displayed his image.

Today, things are different.

Washington’s birthday is virtually forgotten, now part of that bland holiday called Presidents’ Day, which we commemorated on Monday. The teaching of the American founding and its lessons continue to descend on the list of priorities.

According to a survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, college graduates today can more readily identify Lady Gaga than they can the general at Yorktown or the father of the Constitution.

This decline in Washington’s visibility and relevance in our lives should give us all concern.

Why does George Washington matter? Because his life still reflects the epitome of American leadership and character. He should be relevant to each new generation. The character he demonstrated–strong moral values, undaunted courage, solid and consistent judgment, unabashed patriotism and his complete commitment to his country–never go out of style.

Washington’s actions defined civility during an uncivil period, as he showed how one person’s example and deeds can make an enormous difference. He was our first national hero, and his leadership was critical to our early success as a nation. His personal traits should be studied, celebrated and emulated as timeless hallmarks of conduct. He must find his way back into the spotlight.

We at Mount Vernon are attempting to do that. This fall, we will open a national library for the study of George Washington–designed to promote scholarship on his leadership and character. And Wisconsin can be proud: The inaugural fellows include a Wisconsin scholar, Sandra Moats of the University of Wisconsin–Parkside.

But we must do more. That is why we are urging Americans to join the campaign to return Washington to America’s classrooms. Gov. Scott Walker has proclaimed George Washington Day on Feb. 22, Washington’s actual birthday.

Business and community leaders, teachers and students, members of the military and families can find inspiration in our first president’s strong, steadfast example.

In today’s uncertain world, we need Washington’s steadying influence more than ever.

Bringing Washington back into the spotlight is immensely important to the future of America. Long may he be “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”


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