Failing Liberty 101: How We Are Leaving Young Americans Unprepared for Citizenship in a Free Society

Failing Liberty coverThis
slender book is an elegant and heartfelt plea for educators (and other
adults) to pay far more attention to the moral and civic formation of
young Americans in school and beyond. Author Bill Damon (professor of
education at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution) is
probably the country’s wisest, most learned, and most thoughtful
observer/critic/analyst of civic and character education, its absence,
and the consequences of that absence for our kids and nation. You won’t
find tons of new data in these pages (for numbers, look here) but you
will find an astute and deeply alarming discussion of why we’re doing
such a crummy job of preparing our daughters and sons for “citizenship
in a free society” and of how and why we could do a whole lot better. In
Damon’s words, “What the American Dream means to young people today is
more than a matter of passing cultural trivia. If the Dream means
little, or if it is confined to its most base connotations of quick
materialistic gain, we cannot deny that our society’s prospects have
grown dimmer within our lifetimes. If, on the other hand, young
Americans come to appreciate some of the deeper meanings that the
American Dream has held for hopeful citizens over the centuries; if they
come to understand the role of liberty in fostering this hope; if they
learn that liberty does not come easily or automatically to any society,
but requires particular social conditions and the dedication of
citizens to main; and if they are educated to develop the virtues and
the character required for living responsibly in a free society, THEN
the American Dream will remain intact for them and for future
generations to come.”

William Damon, “Failing Liberty 101: How We Are Leaving Young American Unprepared for Citizenship in a Free Society,” (Menlo Park, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2011).

Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.