July is a month of celebration and criticism across United States history. The 4th of July may be best known for fireworks, but it is also a date associated with the statement of ideals and our failure to meet them. The American Declaration of Independence was signed by slaveholders. And, it withheld from many others, including women and Native Americans, the rights of citizenship.
In subsequent decades and centuries, the language and ideals of the Declaration have been used as criticism and as a force for change. In 1848, for example, women and men in Seneca Falls, NY penned a Declaration of Sentiments including women as citizens. And, in 1853, a signer of that Declaration, Frederick Douglass, refused to celebrate an Independence Day that did not include him as an independent human being.
Such July moments remind us of the value of critical reading and writing. They remind us of the power of what we do. Indeed, the voices of criticism and hope in the mid-19th century also emphasized the value of education and of access to education.
As we move toward the opening of the 2014/2015 academic year, we celebrate those moments when steering between reality and utopia require persistent effort. In my own thinking, Robert Bellah’s book, The Broken Covenant, which explores the relationship between contradictions and hope, has been formative. Learning to understand that relationship is central to liberal education and to Shimer.
The great conversation is much more than conversation: it is the opportunity to build a better future.
Susan E. Henking