Should public schools teach patriotism?
Daniel Simms and I have had a running argument about whether or not American public schools "indoctrinate" students. In the comments section on an earlier post, Daniel pulled this quote out of the woodwork from a judge's ruling in 1961 and threw it at me:
"A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and nation as a means of protecting the public welfare."
That brings up two interesting questions: Should public schools teach patriotism? and: If we do, does that amount to indoctrination? When I've seen lists of things that schools should do, teaching patriotism has usually been included. I would guess that about 90 percent of the public would agree with that. But Daniel thinks we shouldn't. Well, you know what? At my level, which is high school, I agree with Daniel--kind of.
I believe that it is my job to impart as much knowledge as possible to my students. I believe it's also my job to encourage them to use that knowledge to think for themselves. I don't believe it's my job to teach them what to think. In fact, that seems to go against everything that I am trying to do.
A few years ago, not too long after 9/11, our school board issued an edict that all teachers were supposed to lead their classes in the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of class at least once a week. I did that for the first few weeks, but then I just kind of forgot about it, and I haven't done it since. I was very uncomfortable doing the Pledge in my classes. One reason I was so uncomfortable was that I am a high school teacher, so I had never done that before. As strange as this might seem to some, it didn't feel "American" to me. It felt forced and phony.
As our old friend Richard Nixon used to say, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I believe in the United States of America. I believe we are the greatest country in the world, and there is nowhere that I would rather be. I believe in the things the Declaration of Independence says, and I think the Constitution was a work of genius. And although I know our country is less than perfect today and has done some horrible things during our history--slavery, treatment of Native Americans, treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, some of the things we've done in our foreign policy--I believe we are a decent people, that our political leaders usually try to do the right thing, and that during our history, in fits and starts, we have gradually moved closer and closer to living up to the things that the Declaration of Independence calls for.
But I don't believe that it's appropriate for me to try to sway my students to my point of view on that any more than it would be appropriate for me to try to sway them to my religious or political beliefs. I would rather teach American history as honestly and as fairly as I can, even with all it's warts, and let my kids come to their own conclusions about what kind of country we are. I'm confident that if I do that, most of them will develop a healthy respect and appreciation for our country. And if they don't, that's their choice.
When I start talking about what goes on and what should go on at the elementary school level, I am getting out of my wheelhouse, but I'll take a stab at it anyway. I have no problem with elementary classes opening up their days with the Pledge of Allegience. It seems to me that that goes along with teaching a healthy respect for authority. I also have no problem with focusing on American heroes at the elementary level--in fact, I'd like to see them do a lot of that.
I suppose that Daniel would consider that proof of the indoctrination that he talks about, and maybe it is. But I would guess (and hope) that these are things that private, and even some homeschools do. Public schools don't do those things because we are an arm of the state; we do them because we believe they are the right things to do.