Staten Island Advance, July 1, 2019
In this season of fireworks, you can impress your friends by dropping this tidbit: Gunpowder, which causes fireworks to explode, was invented in ancient China by Taoist experimenters trying to create an immortality tonic.
Their attempts at man-made eternity failed. But their invention helps us celebrate a principle that has outlived generations, but whose continued strength requires our eternal vigilance. Freedom.
The purpose of July 4 commemorations—fireworks and all—is wrapped up in our founders’ passion for the right to self-determination (i.e. freedom or liberty). This right was won through the profound sacrifice of early Americans and entrusted to us with the charge that we not only guard it but also bequeath it to our children.
Often taken for granted is a phrase from the Declaration of Independence that states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
As an educator, I often challenge students to memorize these words, as they represent our nation’s mission statement; they summarize the propositions to which Abraham Lincoln said our nation is dedicated; and they signify the revered ideals that our nation’s founders battled and died for right here in the countryside of the Northeast.
Our national heritage of self-determination has propelled some of America’s greatest achievements and compelled us to right some of our most grievous wrongs. Indeed, this principle played a critical role in motivating the abolition movement, empowering the suffrage movement, and inspiring the civil rights movement.
In a time when July 4 is often celebrated without much fanfare for our Declaration’s impact on these historic movements, we should encourage students to understand its significance to American freedom.
Only by doing so can we ensure today’s youth know the nature and origin of their rights and teach citizens to respect the equality and dignity of others.
For us today—the heirs and stewards of freedom—July 4 should inspire a re-commitment to the principles of our Declaration. And particularly for those of us engaged in the educational arena, it should mean championing the right of parents to educate their children with the values and worldview they believe is best for them. If this basic right is denied by a government charged with securing our rights, then liberty perishes, and the promise of July 4 becomes a distant memory.
So, as we enjoy fireworks this week—thanks in part to a failed attempt at immortality—we can use the bursts of color to initiate conversations with our children about the great meaning behind these wonderful displays of light in the night sky.
Christopher P. DeSanctis is Head of School at Gateway Academy in Staten Island, NY and a part-time Adjunct Professor at Sacred Heart University’s Department of Government, Politics and Global Affairs. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.