WANT TO SEE THIS FILM? PBS is broadcasting American Creed nationally on Tuesday, February 27, 2018. Times and dates may vary by region. Plus, in this case, there’s an extended version of the film that is available via PBS links. For more information, check out the PBS website for this documentary.
Review by DAVID CRUMM
This week, PBS is doing what public TV does best—debuting a heart-felt appeal to all Americans to come together and participate in a national conversation. The debut documentary is called American Creed, but this really is the pilot of a “multi-year, multi-partner national public engagement.”
Here at ReadTheSpirit, we fully endorse this effort and urge our readers to watch the first film—and encourage friends, neighbors and colleagues to discuss what is unfolding. For longtime ReadTheSpirit readers, we can add: The values discussed here mirror many of the values documented by the University of Michigan’s Dr. Wayne Baker in his landmark book, United America. For more than a decade in thousands of online columns, ReadTheSpirit has been telling readers that we all share far more than what may seem to divide us.
When you tune in American Creed, the first thing we recommend is: Stick with it!
If you’ve just come away from two weeks of the Olympics, you may feel anxious that this story unfolds without a lot of dramatic music or thrills and spills of super-human athletic competition. This isn’t a high-impact police drama. It’s not a Marvel comics slugfest.
American Creed starts in a Stanford University classroom where we meet a diverse array of students and the series’ co-hosts: Pulitzer-prize-winning historian David Kennedy and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They’ve become friends, they explain, because they’re both on the Stanford faculty—even though they are opposites in many ways.
That’s Big Idea No. 1: At their best, American schools bring opposites together for a common purpose. American Creed then shows us various scenes from schools nationwide and argues that, especially for minority families, “education becomes the Holy Grail” for advancement and inclusion.
This debut documentary moves on to heart-felt stories about other Big Ideas that unite us—focusing on institutions that bring diverse men, women and children together.
One of the most compelling is the story told by Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist Junot Díaz, a Dominican-American who grew up in an impoverished neighborhood and, to this day, remembers how a librarian changed his life. She was “a woman who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish who took this kid who couldn’t speak a word of English and spent the time to make sure that I understood all of my rights and privileges in a library. … Every single person could take out as many books as any other person. The public library is a concept as American as jazz, man!”
And so the story goes: Big Idea No. 3 is that the American military, at its best, is a community that unites Americans from diverse backgrounds.
Of course, many of these institutions are quite literally under assault these days. Historically, these institutions also responded to minorities with bias and barriers. But Rice and Kennedy are arguing that, today, they are some of the most important institutions if our “fragile experiment” as a nation hopes to hold together for another generation.
Kennedy points out what years of Pew Research Center data also documents: “We’ve lost faith in our society and its institutions and the leadership in those institutions. … Name the institution and we think less well of it than we did in our parents’ day.”
“We have a shared sense of the fragility of our enterprise as a people,” he says.
Rice agrees: “I hear more and more people saying we’re coming apart.”
That’s why they’ve collaborated on this PBS project, they say. In Kennedy’s words: “We need stories that show us the ideals that hold us together.”
Here at ReadTheSpirit, we heartily agree.
Care to read more?
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