I learned to read, write, spell, make friends and recite the Pledge of Allegiance at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. My love for America took root there and that foundation helped lead me toward running for U.S. Congress to represent the great Minnesotans in the Third District.

Over 34 years after my final day of school at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School (in Hoffman Estates, Ill.) I was nearing completion of 20 years service in the U.S. Submarine Force. I held a small retirement ceremony for family and close friends.

Of the thousands of great Americans with whom I had the honor to serve on four submarines, one aircraft carrier and 17 other duty stations, four shipmates were able to make the trip to Minnesota for the event. I was thrilled to see them, some of my best friends in the world.

Looking back at pictures from that day, I noticed something for the first time: my Navy friends' diversity. Standing together were a white guy from Louisiana, a Black guy from the Virgin Islands, a Black guy from New York City, a brown guy from New Mexico whose family is from India — and me. Despite our varied backgrounds, we all share the same value of patriotism.

I do not think most Americans believe that those who go to a school named after Thomas Jefferson turn out to be racists. I do believe that what our kids learn in school — specifically what they learn about our nation's history and how they learn to view their classmates — is incredibly important.

The critical issue for America's future is not the names on our schools. It is how the kids who attend, say, Ella Baker Elementary School today will view their country and relate to their peers, shipmates, colleagues, neighbors and fellow Americans over the next 34 years. Will they view them for who they are or for what they look like?

In the article "Minneapolis school board changes names of Sheridan, Jefferson schools" (April 13), Jefferson Principal Holly Kleppe is quoted saying, "Ella Baker represents a large majority of our student population." The idea that "representing" someone is solely or largely dependent on race or sex contradicts American ideals and is a concerning message to deliver to elementary school students.

President Joe Biden, of course, is the leader in promoting this new woke progressive-regressive enlightenment concept by first defining the race and sex requirements of key appointments before actually identifying the individuals he is nominating.

To what end? Is the "awokening" occurring today, in which everything is viewed through a prism of race and identity politics, moving the country in a good direction? A recent poll from Quinnipiac asked, "If you were in the same position as Ukrainians are now, do you think that you would stay and fight or leave?" Just 45% of Americans ages 18-34 said they would fight, while 66% of Americans ages 50-64 would stay and fight for America.

Unfortunately, the woke ideas that crept into American universities a decade ago, and have now spread throughout the entire American education system, appear to be impacting whether Americans believe our nation is worth fighting for.

I look at it from a personal perspective. Will today's woke-influenced education make it more or less likely that in the future, a diverse group of five individuals who served their country together, who looked as different as my friends and me, would become lifelong friends and celebrate their common service?

Sadly, I believe the answer is, less likely.

I am Tom Weiler. I went to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. I served in the U.S. Submarine Force for 20 years. And I am running for U.S. Congress to represent Minnesotans in the Third District — Minnesotans who look like me and Minnesotans who do not look like me. I hope to represent all Minnesotans in the Third District in Congress.

Tom Weiler, of Plymouth, is a Republican candidate in Minnesota's Third Congressional District.