“I’M A PATRIOT because I love and value what America stands for,” says Dr. David A. Yeagley, a Comanche Indian and humanities professor at Oklahoma State University in Oklahoma City. “I value freedom, and I’m willing to fight for it.”
Next month, Yeagley takes his fight to the state legislature, which will consider his proposal to add an optional patriotism course to Oklahoma’s high school curriculum. Governor Frank Keating has endorsed the plan.
Yeagley dreams of taking his course national. “Patriotism has to be taught,” he says. “It doesn’t just grow out of the ground.”
Up to now, U.S. schools have done an exceptionally poor job of teaching it. A Zogby poll taken in June 2000 showed that nearly one third of American college students are not proud to be Americans.
“As an Indian, I feel it is my sacred honor to save the white man again, this time, from himself,” says Yeagley, who holds a divinity degree from Yale. “Before he gives this country away, thus defeating me twice, I want to try to save what he built out of my land.”
Indians saved the white man before, says Yeagley, when they helped the first settlers get established. Now they must save him again, this time from political correctness.
“White guilt is the biggest flaw in the American psyche,” warns Yeagley.As a Comanche, Yeagley feels no guilt over his ancestors’ deeds. “They were the lords of the south plains,” he says. “They kicked out all the other Indians. They had no tolerance for other Indians, no tolerance for white people, no tolerance for anybody except themselves.”
Comanche elders have been instilling that warrior spirit in their young, for centuries, through the stories and customs of their ancestors.
Unfortunately, says Yeagley, white Americans have failed to do the same. The fighting spirit that built this country has been allowed to fade.
The problem became clear to him last summer, when he assigned his class to debate the question of whether or not patriotism should be taught in school. After a two-hour discussion, the student jury voted no.
“They were afraid that skinheads and militia people would somehow get control of it,” says Yeagley.
Beyond such scare images from the media, his students had little concept of patriotism. Yeagley made up his mind to design a course that would fill the gap.
“America has held out this offer of charity for all, that everyone, including minorities, can have a better life,” says Yeagley. “But if you want to be kind to people and charitable and indulgent, you have to do it from a position of strength, otherwise you lose the ability to do any good for anybody.”
In their willingness to indulge even the most extreme demands of the Jesse Jackson crowd, white Americans are slowly giving up their strength, warns Yeagley.
“I think it’s demonstrable that, historically speaking, the most people get the best deal under this system,” says Yeagley. “I’m trying to come to the rescue here and say to the white man, look, don’t destroy everything you have. If you don’t want the country, give it back to me! Don’t give it away to someone else.”
Born of a Comanche mother and a white father, Yeagley has always been fascinated by the question of identity.
“I was curious to know what makes a people a nation,” he says.
Yeagley concluded that love is at the root of it. “It’s difficult to love an abstract idea, especially for young people. You love real things, the land, the people, the language, the food. Basic things.”
Yeagley wants to focus on those basic things in his proposed course, teaching a simple love and respect for one’s people and culture.
“Being willing to take your grocery cart back into the store instead of leaving it in front of somebody’s car, I think that’s patriotic,” he says.
During Yeagley’s classroom debate over patriotism last summer, one young man confessed, “Dr. Yeagley, I don’t think we have a clue of what you’re talking about. When I think of patriotism, all I can think of is my grandfather who fought in World War II. I think of old people.”
Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, Yeagley suggests. It is the elders who preserve the stories of the tribe.
“If an Indian wants to know what it means to be Indian, he asks his elders,” says Yeagley. “If you want to know what it means to be American, ask your grandfather. He’ll tell you.”