01/15/2013 05:20 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2013

Team America

The republic is not a football game. It is not team Democrat against team Republican.
Recent presidential campaigns constantly overused the analogy. We saw the Obama Truth Team on Facebook and @TeamBarackObama on Twitter, pitting their forces against America's Comeback Team and @TeamRomney. Perhaps this type of competitive spirit is understandable in a political campaign, but why does the sports team rhetoric continue in such force after the election?

The news media is all-aflutter this month as Obama builds his "team" for the second administration. The New York Times described the nomination of Jacob Lew for treasury secretary as completing the transformation of Obama's "economic team." In discussing Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense, the Washington Post declared that "Obama -- and his team" were ready to engage in a confirmation battle. A new Pew Research Center poll asserts that Obama "won" the fiscal cliff debate.

There is now a Team Boehner website. Carter Eskew's Washington Post editorial asked who was having the worst new year: Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys or John Boehner? And Republican strategist Kevin Madden acknowledged that his former boss, John Boehner, had taken "a hit" over the fiscal cliff debate, but "he's going to get right back up, get back into the huddle and get his team ready for the next play."

The United States of America is not a sporting event. When we act like it is just a contest, there is no real winner, only a loser: the republic. I would never argue that it is bad for Americans to be sports enthusiasts, but we have to stop carrying the sports analogy over into the governing of our nation.

Let's stop teaching our children that sports is the analogy for everything in life. It isn't. Life just isn't that simple. Still, we reinforce that notion over and over again in our school and family life. We emphasize winning all through our school systems -- from elementary to university. We ascribe heroic status to winning teams. We enroll our children in team and competitive extracurricular events where the purpose is to achieve victory rather than excellence. Even school debate teams couch their rules and language in terms of winning and losing.

The vital life-giving debate within our communities, our states, and our republic is not built on "debate team rules." Nor is it a contest. Our children must understand that engaging in that civic debate is complex, subtle, and nuanced -- that our successes are measured in coalitions, not in conflict; in excellence, not in a won-lost record. We all have a responsibility to work toward that excellence by improving our communities and our nation. We need to pay attention to what is going on, not just in Washington but down the street. We need to demand that our leaders set the right kind of example for our children. We need to set that example for our children at home.

It all starts at home and in school. The de-emphasis of American history and civics education over the past several decades has not helped us build a strong republic. Schools have lost sight of their purpose in our republic -- to create qualified citizens. We -- the citizens of the republic -- must begin today making the revitalization of American history and civics education a priority.

Communicate with your elected officials -- local, state, and federal. Tell them it's important. Ask your school administrators, school board, and local officials about the American history and civics curriculum in your schools. There are great resources available. Make sure that educators in your community know about projects like The Virtual Republic where students can debate current issues. Justice O'Connor's is a great online interactive civics lesson. Support Model Congress and Model UN programs in your local schools; they provide a great hands-on experience for students.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood is fond of saying that our American system is a messy business. It is a struggle. It takes hard work to make it successful. Our children's future lies in embracing all the complexity and messiness of our ongoing American debate. We cannot fail. In our republic there is room for only one winner: team America.