The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important statements on human liberty ever written. Not only did it launch the American Revolution, but it also inspired freedom fighters all around the world. From Frederick Douglass and the struggle against chattel slavery to Winston Churchill and the battle against totalitarianism, the ideas of the Declaration have been a rallying point for humanity’s champions.

But how would you summarize the document in as few words as possible? It’s a question worth pondering as we celebrate the Fourth of July.

Here is how I would summarize the Declaration in just two words: People matter.

People have inherent dignity – we are created equal, “endowed” with “unalienable” rights that belong to us as human beings. People are made to live freely and pursue a good life, what the writers of the Declaration called “happiness.” People are entitled to participate in the ordering of the political community through their own consent. People are designed to govern themselves, not to be ruled over by outside forces in which they have no say. And people are worth sacrificing for – worth the mutual pledge of “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

As we celebrate American independence this year, we can look forward to the big 250th “Semiquincentennial” celebration in 2026, just three short years from now. America 250 will be an opportunity for all of us to renew our commitments to our fellow Americans. How can we best elevate the Declaration of Independence in our own day? How can we celebrate the value and dignity of the people in our respective corners of America? How can we stand up for dignity, freedom, and opportunity? What will we “mutually pledge” to one another in our own critical hour?

I have no doubt that the most important thing we can do to achieve all this is to teach the rising generation the principles of freedom articulated in the Declaration. Unfortunately, though, our country is doing a poor job of this.

American civics education is in a state of disarray. Recent news of abysmal test scores proves that our students are falling behind. A civics education deficit is emerging. If we allow the decline to continue unabated, America is in danger of forgetting the Declaration’s truth that people matter. If our children are never taught the basic principles of our Constitution, then they will never participate fully in a government of citizens.

My organization, the Jack Miller Center, is fighting to reverse the decline. We are providing K-12 teachers with vital training so they can educate their students with actual primary sources instead of biased textbooks. We are supporting cutting-edge scholarship on the American political tradition at elite colleges and universities across the country. And we are advocating for a renewed emphasis on civics in classrooms everywhere.

On the Fourth of July, many families celebrate our independence by getting together at a barbecue and reading the Declaration aloud together. This tradition is a beautiful representation of what we need civics education to be. At the end of the day, the folks on the front lines of civic renewal are parents. After all, the Declaration teaches us that people matter. The republic is made a little bit more alive every time moms and dads have conversations with their kids about our country’s incredible history.