Shmuley Boteach 58.
(photo credit: d)
Science and math. Science and math. President Barack Obama’s new mantra is
science and math. If only America’s students focused on science and math, he
told us in his State of the Union address, then we’ll be as innovative as China
and will no longer have to farm out the building of wondrous handheld gadgets.
The gods of science and math will make our economy blossom.
from the president’s new, post-midterm vision for America is any mention of the
rot in values that is causing our decline. The reason we don’t excel in
education is not because our schools focus on philosophy and the humanities to
the exclusion of science and math, but rather because we are becoming a pack of
ignoramuses watching inane TV shows, following the lives of mostly decadent
celebrities, and engaging in an endless orgy of consumption. Our problem is not
that we read too much Nietzsche and too little astrophysics, but rather that our
character is becoming corrupt.
The solution for America is not to raise
an army of sterile drones, engineered into productive obedience by a government
that emphasizes equations. I have no interest in living in China; communist
totalitarianism dare not be our model. Rather, our solution is to reembrace the
values that made America great: thrift, hard work, close-knit families, a
pioneering spirit, entrepreneurship, a love of adventure, fearlessness, a
rejection of indolence, faith-based ethics, a God-centric society, and a belief
in spreading freedom and democracy.
Thomas Jefferson knew tons of science
and math. So did Benjamin Franklin. But George Washington did not. No historian
claims that Abraham Lincoln knew calculus like Einstein. The point is that
science and math made some Americans great, but were passed over by others who
were equally great.
But what all these men possessed in abundance was a
sense of mission. Whether it was a hatred of oppression and tyranny, or a desire
to see the dynamic American spirit supplant the ossified European aristocracy,
or contempt for brutal institutions like slavery, they all embraced America as a
great idea, a living dream, one that could lift men and women and inspire
IS ANY of that greatness captured in Jersey Shore or in MTV’s
new ode to childhood corruption, Skins? Is American exceptionalism evident in
the millions trampling each other at the crack of dawn to get 20% off a new HDTV
on Black Friday? Was American greatness in evidence at the recent Golden Globe
Awards, where the most ‘beautiful’ among us got up to thank hairdressers and
fashion consultants, but not a single star thanked God, with the sole exception
of Ricky Gervais, who thanked God for being an atheist? The obsession with
celebrity is especially startling. Our founding fathers did not idolize humans.
That’s what the British, French and Russians did, lifting ordinary mortals to
positions of ‘divine’ grandeur. Rather, the founders idolized God alone – faith
in Him was stamped even on our money – and brooked no shallow
Yes, Mr. President. We need better schools and more
accountable teachers. But more than anything, we need new values undergirding
the schools, the parents and the teachers. So long as we have books out like Amy
Chua’s Tiger Mom
, which says the only thing that matters is getting your kid
into Yale and to play violin at Julliard, we are going to have a nation which,
even if it remains wealthy and prosperous, will still be selfish, self-absorbed
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OBAMA SURPRISES me. How much science or math does he
know? He was elected because he inspired people with oratory rather than
engineering. He gave them a renewed vision of American greatness – something
that most mathematicians and nuclear physicists would be hard pressed to do. How
appalling that the limits of his vision have now come down to simple, shallow
Without proper values, we will squander whatever wealth we
generate. Without proper values, we will produce world-renowned scientists who
don’t know how to stay married, and who have no relationship with their
children. Without proper values, one generation will make all the money and the
next will waste it.
Many looked to Obama as the embodiment of a new
American dream, one of hope and change. But is this the hope we waited for? The
hope that our kids will work on the next iPhone? Was the change we waited for so
utterly literal that it refers to coins? I thought the Pilgrims risked drowning
because they wished to have the freedom to develop their full godly potential,
unencumbered by European prejudice. If it was money they wanted, they should
never have left the fleshpots of Europe.
Yes, America is still the
wealthiest nation on Earth, thank God, and yes, I like money as much as the next
person. But if life is simply about accumulation, and if this great nation
embraces the soulless Chinese society as a model, where wealth is not
accompanied by a reverence for human dignity and where a family is allowed to
make millions but to have more than one child is a forbidden nuisance, then I
say their wealth is a curse, a curse which I reject, and proudly proclaim “in
God we trust” and “God bless America!” The writer is founder of This World: The
Values Network and has just published
Honoring the Child Spirit: Inspiration and
Learning from Our Children (Vanguard). Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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