Arlington Speaks: Things Every American Should Know

Throughout December, you might have seen the big poster boards near the elevator at Robbins, inviting anyone to contribute their ideas of “Things Every American Should Know.” The idea for this display came from the essay “How to Be American: Why cultivating a shared cultural core is more important than ever—and why such a project serves progressive ends” and the What Every American Should Know website (where anyone can still add an entry).

Though the original intent was to solicit lists of specific historical figures, events, documents, places, or ideas that are markers of civic or cultural literacy, contributors took a much broader view – and that’s wonderful! Many of these things need not be specific to Americans, but apply to all people.

Here are a few photos of the display:


“What is on a globe?” Knowledge of geography is important!


“Reach out and help! Don’t wait: just go and help!” & “Our Constitution and democracy does not work without the active participation of its people.”


“Always vote! Your vote does matter!” (Note how people added to and commented on each other’s ideas, circling and underlining, and in this case, adding a checkbox!)


“Children are the teachers of the parents, not the other way around.” & “Respect political differences” & “Black Lives Matter” & “How to Love”


“How to listen to people we don’t agree with: Empathy is not agreement.”


“Be curious not judgmental,” attributed to Walt Whitman


“Freedom of speech” & “Beauty comes in all shapes + sizes” & “That words are powerful – especially those of the president – and they should be used wisely.” & “The U.S. Presidents”


“Listen to the poor before trying to help them!”


“Unless your ancestors were Native Americans, everybody’s family were immigrants at some time…Be compassionate to others, please.”


“How we dress does not mean yes” & “True democracy is not easy” & “Understand world languages to really understand others’ pains and pleasures over the world”


“To unlearn your biases” & “A person is a person, no matter how small,” attributed to Dr. Seuss


“Be the change you seek in the world. In community we rejoice.”


“All men are created equal + independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent + inalienable among which are the preservation of life, liberty, + the pursuit of happiness,” attributed to Thomas Jefferson


“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Overwhelmingly, responses to this prompt displayed empathy, compassion, and consideration. Arlingtonians also invoked the wisdom of others, including Walt Whitman, Dr. Seuss, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read the original blog post introducing this display: “Ten Things Every American Should Know.”

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