“America! America! God shed his grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!” —Katharine Lee Bates
Some years ago I was teaching scholars at John Adams Academy about “America The Beautiful,” all the verses. During the instruction I had a personal epiphany about the words and pattern. This song began as a poem by Katharine Lee Bates.
After a busy year of teaching and writing at Wellesley College in Boston, Katharine headed for the World’s Fair in Chicago with plans to next travel to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado for an educational retreat. She loved the stunning grounds of the “White City” built for the World’s Fair and the gleaming alabaster halls and palaces shimmering off the water of Lake Michigan.
Aboard the train en route to Colorado, she watched prairies and blue sky spread out for hundreds of miles. Reaching the Rockies, she noticed colors that were a breathtaking kaleidoscope of greens, gold and brown with deep purple and blue. She spent the next three weeks at Colorado College at the base of Pike’s Peak teaching the classics to young people. Before she left, a professor suggested they climb Pike’s Peak via prairie schooner and donkey. At the summit of 14,000 plus feet, the sky was a beautiful blue sapphire and a song and poem stirred deep within her. Her visit was a dream come true. The poem stayed in her notebook for two years. Then it occurred to her that by sharing it she could help others understand how wonderful America was.
On July 4th of 1895, her poem was published by a Christian Magazine, The Congregationalist. She gave her rights and song to America. It soon became a favorite for many. Please read and consider each line of this important work of art and patriotism:
O beautiful for spacious skies For amber waves of grain For purple mountain majesties Above thy fruited plain America! America! God shed his grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea Oh, beautiful for pilgrim feet, Whose stern, impassioned stress A thoroughfare of freedom beat, Across the wilderness! America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law. Oh, beautiful for heroes proved, In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine. Oh, beautiful for patriot dream, That sees beyond the years Thine alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by human tears! America! America! God shed his grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea.
Notice the beautiful imagery and story. America is a place of spacious beauty, freedom and goodness. Pilgrims came here, many under charters from the Crown. Others came for religious liberty. Many came for an opportunity to pioneer something new. Pilgrim feet endured the stern stress of pioneering across the wilderness to build their dreams of family, businesses, and community. America was never perfect, but over time we’ve mended many of its flaws and worked for noble goals. This is still a work in progress.
The Journey to Patriotism
In the month of July, I’ll be addressing patriotism—which is conceived in the hard work of citizenship. Webster’s dictionary defines “patriotism” as a “love of one’s country; the passion which aims to serve one’s country, either in defending it from invasion, or protecting its rights and maintaining its laws and institutions in vigor and purity. Patriotism is the characteristic of a good citizen, the noblest passion that animates a man in the character of a citizen.” The word “patriot” comes from the Latin “pater” meaning father. Mother stems from Latin natura or birth and life. As parents (notice the root of the word) jointly and naturally create life, they become families and, then, communities. Parents become natural defenders of their young. The health of our nation can be assessed by our patriotism in defending our unalienable rights, principles of freedom and the unlimited opportunities we enjoy. We must discover and elevate our roles as parents and servant leaders. We must cultivate those same desires in future generations.
Revolution in Education has multiple aims, but the most important is protecting our right to choose education and the liberation and empowerment of learning. This allows educated citizens as servant leaders to regulate their own lives and that of government with a natural will and patriotism to defend what we collectively hold most dear. “America the Beautiful” lays bare this stunning patriotic sequence. With this project, I hope to light the embers of education in you to inspire the same in your children and grandchildren. What could be more noble and imperative to our posterity and future?