President John Kennedy spoke those words fifty years ago. A hundred years from now those words will still be ringing, even as most of everything else is forgotten from this time in American history. For a brief moment our country was truly exceptional. We were exceptional in ways that no other country before or after has shown.
Sadly, just ten years and three months after Kenney’s speech our Moon project was done. But what a splendid ten years it was in our country. Young people today have very little understanding of that time. Yes, they know we landed on the moon but little else. Some know more about Apollo 13 than Apollo 11 because the trials and tribulations of Apollo 13 was shown in the movie of the same name.
Our duty to the generations of Americans who follow us is to help them understand what it means to be an American. Therefore, it is important to talk about American Exceptionalism in action. The founding of our country was truly exceptional. We were one of many countries who had slaves but we gave that up. We are now a country truly without racial bias. That is exceptional.
Our leadership in World War II was exceptional and arguably the very best moments so far in this country were in our Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. We need to make American Exceptionalism a core aspect of our public school curriculum. For one thing, around 400,000 people worked on the space program so there are plenty of people who still remember when America was leading the world.
It was a hot summer night in Las Cruces 43 years ago on July 20, 1969, when my friends and I sat spellbound watching man’s first steps on the Moon. I was a sophomore at college and even though I was not in engineering, I was quite aware of the enabling of this great feat by the American system of education. Yes, some of the initial work was laid by the Germans in World War II, but it was an exceptional moment as Americans constructed the methods of going to the moon and returning safely.
It was not without cost. Before our first steps on the moon, our Astronaut core lost eight members, none in space itself, but eight men lost their lives while part of this grand adventure. We spent 24 Billion dollars going to the moon, but it was spent in America. It was spent by Americans on Americans for America. It was the best 24 Billion dollars we have ever spent.
Yes, we Americans continued to go into space above the Earth, but the last trip to the moon was forty years ago. There are less people each year learning to fly airplanes. Less of them are thinking about being an astronaut than forty years ago. We have lost our identity as explorers.
Every school child should have the opportunity via a flight simulator to learn how to pilot an airplane. Some say we do not have time for them to do something as splendiferous as that, students must sit quietly at their desks getting ready for the accountability tests so that the teachers can be judged. No sir! Let students do things that challenge them and their curiosity.
The success or failure of public schools is not during the year that students are in school, it is how they live the rest of their lives. Teach American Exceptionalism, make the public students of today part of that quest and point the students toward worthy challenges, “…not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…” as Kennedy said.
Make America truly exceptional.
Dr. Michael Swickard is co-host of radio talk show News New Mexico 6 to 9 a.m. Monday - Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org