History lesson from a street kid who learned about democracy in public school

History lesson from a street kid who learned about democracy in public school

There is no clause in the Declaration of Independence that exempts kids who go to prep school from respecting its basic principles. The ‘self-evident’ truths that Jefferson and Franklin chiseled into our emerging nation’s defiant proclamation are unalterable and not subject to devious interpretation by the privileged few.

I learned them early, on the Franklin Elementary School #3 cinder playground with Snookie Dalessandro and Rufus Patterson and Pawel Adamicz who asked us to call him Paul. Our backgrounds could not have been more diverse. But we stood together and recited the pledge of allegiance before we knew that a Republic was a form of government distinct from the private ownership of a king; before we had an inkling of the radical democratic experiment that gave birth to political equality and natural rights and sovereignty of the people.

There is nothing equivocal about “All men are created equal.”

The principle cannot be ignored by unrepentant misogynists who blithely deny that women are intrinsic to the universal definition of the phrase; or by the shameless elitists who measure the worth of a man by net worth and country club memberships.

There is nothing vague about the assertion of “Unalienable rights.”

There are no loopholes written into parenthetical phrases that say, ‘unless you’re Black or have a foreign accent or belong to a union or choose to have control over your body or want a decent school in your neighborhood.’

There is nothing ambiguous about a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

There are no descriptive adjectives such as ‘affluent or inherited or anointed or shrewder’ to pervert the meaning and sanction a self-proclaimed ruling class.

They must teach some form of revisionist history at the so-called elite Georgetown Preparatory School, where both Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch graduated in 1983 and 1985. Was a class on the origin of democracy part of the curriculum? At the public high school I attended we read Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet, Common Sense, written in 1776 at the beginning of the American Revolution to encourage common people in the Colonies to fight for independence and egalitarian government.

“Kings have no right to reign because if we could trace hereditary monarchy back to its beginnings… could we take off the dark covering of antiquity and trace them to their first rise… we’d find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang.”

My public-school education taught me, on the playground and in the voting booth - intuitively as part of the melting pot and automatically as a responsibility of our right to vote – to respect the basic tenets of democracy: political equality, natural rights and sovereignty of the people.

Which once again, brings me to the midterm elections. I’m suggesting that elitism is another characteristic to consider when assessing the candidates of the two political parties and deciding where to put the ‘x’ on your ballet.

In my opinion, as the recent Kavanaugh hearings clearly indicate, the privileged white men who run the Republican party are the antithesis of the vision held by our founding fathers.

Political parties can differ in their positions about how the country is run, but not how it is ruled. The people rule. I think the Democrats embody that fundamental bedrock of democracy. I don’t think that’s true of today’s Republican party.


Here are some good books to read if you are interested in the fascinating history of our country and the struggle to preserve the unique political experiment known as democracy.

“The Disruption of American Democracy,” by Roy Nichols, winner of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for History (and my revered professor at the University of Pennsylvania)

“1776: America and Britain At War,” by David McCullough. (a companion piece to McCullough's earlier biography of John Adams)

“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. (My favorite; a fabulous read)

Hamilton,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow. (Inspiration for the award-winning musical)

“These Truths: A History of the United States,” by Jill Lepore. (Just out with wonderful reviews… a Herculean task which I have just undertaken – over 800 pages!)

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