Thoughts come first. If we entertain them, they turn into attitudes and actions. Thoughts are also contagious. When they spread, they permeate a people and transform them. The United States came to be after philosophers like John Locke catalyzed it. “All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” These thoughts were Locke’s and the country they produced a century hence prospered until conflicting thoughts from Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and others slowed it down. During the last few years of my teaching career I emphasized how thoughts shape America, for well or ill.
Study of such thoughts and actions has shaped me as well. I’ve come to favor some philosophies over others and that affected how I viewed history and, in turn, it affected how I taught it. I strove for objectivity but felt compelled to disclose my biases to students early in the school year. No thoughtful person is completely objective and students should be aware of their teachers’ biases. Because I wrote a weekly column published in local newspapers, my biases were out there anyway. I told them I was a Catholic Christian, conservative in both my religious and my political views. Then I taught them what the political spectrum was, then reduced it to one page and gave it to them for reference.
It also became necessary to disclose that I believed in objective truth – that there was indeed an objective reality that we humans perceive imperfectly. When I paused to feel out how that concept was sinking in, I realized before very long that I was preaching to the choir. Students not only understood, but wondered why I would take time and trouble describing what they considered so obvious. Of course there was such a thing as objective truth. They knew it intuitively. They were eighth graders and hadn’t been to college. This concept hadn’t yet been purged from their minds by pseudo-intellectual, relativist professors. They were uncorrupted.