When I was growing up, "melting pot" was one of the terms we learned in our social studies class.
My textbook told me that America was the perfect example of a "melting pot," which is defined as "a place where a variety of races, cultures, or individuals assimilate into a cohesive whole."
The book explained that in the United States, we are all welcome to practice our own faiths and retain our own cultural beliefs. Diversity is what makes America a better, more interesting place.
This was a very comforting thought to me as a sixth-grader and even still today. It made me proud to live here.
But for others, it seems to have had the opposite effect. Take Pat Buchanan, for example. In his WorldDailyNet column last week, he said diversity is tearing our country apart and he denounced multiculturalism as "displac[ing] the old American culture."
"In what sense are we one nation and one people anymore?" he asked. "For what is a nation if not a people of a common ancestry, faith, culture and language, who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays and share the same music, poetry, art and literature?
"The European-Christian core of the country that once defined us," he continued, "is shrinking, as Christianity fades, the birth rate falls and Third World immigration surges."
It seems our public schools failed me. I should have been learning that there is just one "American" culture based on European traditions and one "American" religion, Christianity.
Fortunately, most historians wouldn't agree with Buchanan. Despite his rants, and those of others on the Right, I believe the majority of Americans accept and appreciate the different faiths and traditions that make up our country. We are not united around one religious perspective, but rather around the U.S. Constitution, with its guarantees of freedom for all.
That's an ongoing concern in Texas, where the State Board of Education is in the process of revising its social studies curriculum.
The most recent proposal considered by the board includes teaching sixth-graders in a world studies course about Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist holidays.
Currently, sixth-graders in the class are required to explain the significance of two Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.
The new proposal removes Christmas and Rosh Hashanah from the list and adds a Hindu holiday, Diwali. The review committee defended this change by stating, "The examples include the key holiday from each of the five major religions." (Diwali is also celebrated by some Buddhists, according to the Austin-American Statesman's report.)
Of course, despite this being a class on world geography and cultures, some still can't tolerate teaching American students about diversity.
"It's outrageous that the war on Christmas continues in our state and in our nation," said Jonathan Saenz, legislative affairs director of the Free Market Foundation. "This effort to mislead students about current society is shameful and must be stopped."
I don't understand how objectively teaching sixth-graders about five religions instead of three could be "shameful." The world includes people of many more religious traditions than that; what's the harm in learning about them?
In fact, in addition to being a lesson on world religions, I think this class illustrates to Texas students something even more important. Not only are these beliefs practiced all over the world, they are practiced right here in America.
It's a testament to our Constitution and its promise of religious liberty for all, and that's definitely a lesson worth learning.