Happy 4th of July. I thought I’d celebrate by taking a look at the old Schoolhouse Rock video clips from when I was growing up in the 1970s.
These videos are still interesting teaching tools, both for what they include and what they leave out. History/Herstory is always an exercise in what is left out, as much as a piece of music is created by the notes that aren’t played, so our story is events not told, lives left off the chart, and voices not heard as much as what made it into the official record and what’s on the history test.
Many of us are wise to this now. We seek alternate voices and his/herstory from the underside. Titles such as A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present by Howard Zinn and Lies My Teacher Told Me:Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen are practically required reading now. The Schoolhouse Rock series lost some perspective and voices on its titles such as Elbow Room when it championed manifest destiny (for an alternative reading see 1491: New Revalations of the Americas before Columbus, among others), but tried its best on diversity on Melting Pot and supported the ERA it seems with Sufferin’ till Suffrage. There’s a line in the Melting Pot video that says “so any kid can be the President” and thirty years later it’s actually true. That’s pretty amazing. There’s a lot we can still do to improve this experiment, but it’s amazing it happened and is still going.
For all the ifs, ands and buts… that watching these videos from thirty years ago with a critical eye can generate, the videos also capture a wholesomeness and a hope that I think we all want America to have. They capture an ideal that is the promise of the founding documents. This spirit doesn’t make everything that’s imperfect with America go away, nor should it make us turn a blind eye to the work we still need to do, but I think the people who created these videos didn’t create them in some conspiracy to conceal or hide America’s ugliness from itself. Rather I think they were operating out of what came to be called when related to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, a “hope-based missional narrative” and they applied it, perhaps a bit naively at times to the civic religion and national story. This video was how I, like many people of my generation memorized the preamble of the Constitution and I still think the Constitution is a good thing (a bit forgotten at times in recent years, in need of some amendments again, but a good thing).