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Sue Lani Madsen: We may need a miracle

What better movie to watch in triple-digit temperatures than “Miracle,” the 2004 retelling of the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team pulling off a miracle on ice. The Soviets were on a 16-year winning streak for the gold and hadn’t lost a game in Olympic competition to anyone since 1968. The American men’s team hadn’t beat the Russians in 20 years, and had been outscored 117 to 26 in 12 games between 1960 and 1980. Not even the NHL All Stars could beat the Russians that season.

But history was not destiny, and the young American team won the gold medal.

It wasn’t just the temperature that brought the movie to mind, it was a series of Letters to the Editor sharing a common theme of negativity toward a column highlighting the words of the American’s Creed on a plaque dedicated by the Lewis and Clark High School Class of 1926. Pointing out we have an RCW requiring the teaching of patriotism clearly triggered some readers. Good history curriculum teaches failures as well as successes, but it’s become a cliché on the progressive side that anyone promoting positive threads in American history must be in favor of suppressing “real history.”

It’s a classic strawman attack. Conservative principles don’t support teaching only the good and suppressing the bad and the ugly. It’s about teaching history in the larger context of a shared creed with a goal of E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one – the original diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) statement. Unfortunately, the current trend in progressive DEI training and curriculum development is rooted in critical social justice theories which create division instead of unity.

“Miracle” is full of metaphors for making diversity a strength and overcoming the past, two characteristics of good history instruction. Diversity is only a strength when it appreciates individual contributions, nurtures a sense of belonging and supports progress toward a shared goal in spite of the past.

Coach Herb Brooks knew he had to overcome the human tendency to tribalism to build a team out of a diverse group of ambitious and talented individuals. In the movie, Coach Brooks keeps asking the young men to say their name and who they play for. The answers come back loud and strong. University of North Dakota! Boston College! University of Minnesota! Until finally during a hard night of intense conditioning, the team breaks through the tribalism. Mike Eruzione! United States of America!

Coach Brooks does not minimize past failures, how tough their opponents are or how remote their chances of success as they practice for the Olympics. He also doesn’t dwell on it. The focus is on the mission and the team.

The opening sequence of the movie plays out over a montage of then-current events in the decades from 1960-80. The headlines sound eerily familiar – rampant inflation, a demoralizing withdrawal from a foreign embassy, presidential scandals, civil rights unrest, war in Afghanistan, out-of-control gas prices, a defiant Iranian regime, election concerns and worries over who’s got nuclear weapons.

It includes a speech from President Jimmy Carter that resonates today: “The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America. The confidence that we have always had as a people, is not simply some romantic dream, or a proverb in a dusty book, that we read, just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea of which founded our nation and has guided us in our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else. We’ve always believed in a thing called progress.”

Progress requires teaching patriotism with a narrative that neither ignores past failures nor implies a chain of uninterrupted successes. A complete American history has to include the first use of federal troops against citizens, undertaken by President George Washington and his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. Fortunately the insurrection ended without bloodshed. It was an action foreshadowing the divide between rural and urban interests and led to the beginning of the two party system.

A complete history also must include Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address, which warns of the perils of the spirit of geographical and political factionalism already threatening the eight-year-old republic. The writing is a powerful message pleading for unity, and was brought out and read before the U.S. Senate during the Civil War to boost morale. Since 1888, the centennial anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, the Farewell Address has been annually read aloud in the Senate chamber as a reminder of our shared values. It’s a good piece of writing which should be at the core of any American history curriculum, and it shouldn’t take a miracle to focus on the mission and the team.

And that’s the point of RCW 28A.405.030 requiring public schools to “impress on the minds of their pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, temperance, humanity and patriotism.” Anyone who objects to teaching the good stuff is welcome to lobby for its repeal. Hopefully there’s no constituency for teaching only the bad and the ugly.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at

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