Head of Stone or Feet of Clay?

by Steven Washer

What is the measure of a man? Judging by the scale of Mt. Rushmore, we might say that the measure of a real man is a bit hard to live up to. Why, George Washington’s nose alone measures 20 feet across. And while Lincoln’s mole is only 16 inches wide, I imagine it might give any plastic surgeon pause. The point is that we tend to raise our heroes to a height that even they would find ridiculously hard to reach. Even so, how do we live up to a standard that by now has been mythologized to the point of uselessness? After all, why encourage a child to live up to a standard that no human could possibly achieve?

Tear down the image?

It might seem that the answer would be to tear the image down and remake the hero in our own image; in the popular nomenclature, make them men of clay. This is an equally destructive and useless option. Why encourage mediocrity? In this world we need heroes more than ever.

Discover the hero within

The answer is simply to make our heroes real, as real as possible. When a person sees the utter humanity of a revered idol, does it push the idol away? On the contrary. It makes them even more appealing, more accessible. More human. It’s really a beautiful thing. But it is not without risk.

I hate change! Well, who doesn’t?

There are many people who live in fear of change. Children are like that. They like routines. They require security. Handled without sensitivity, making an idol too real can make a child insecure. We once had a student criticize a performance because we pointed to several times in our distant history when the US government made choices that hurt a great many people. He felt that this undermined our entire country at a time when we needed “pride” in our self-image. Leaving aside the question of how pride helps a country in a collective way, the bigger issue is that the child needed to hold on to his illusions more than he desired to know truth. This is an issue that needs to handled with sensitivity by every teacher who has the responsibility of teaching history, as well as many other subjects that touch on the core of what it means to be human. Kind of a big job, isn’t it? Tell the truth, but tell it so that it can be received and remembered.

Time is a great teacher, too

I like to think that that child who walked away with his shaky prideful dreams eventually came to a deeper understanding of his country. Not monuments of stone, but men of the earth, not an impossible dream, but a worthy and (almost) unattainable reality.

Constitution Now is all about the goals of thinking rationally, creatively, and generously. What more could you ask of a child growing up in the 21st century?



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