Tuesday, March 18, 2008

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.

24 Comments:

Blogger Amerloc said...

Gee. Wonder what Daniel would say about kids in Texas following the Pledge of Allegiance with the Pledge to the Texas flag, as mandated by the legislature...

3/18/2008 4:33 PM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

Pledge is required by law here in Missouri as well. All children are required to raise their voices about 60 additional decibels on the "under God" part.

(OK, that last sentence was just me playin' with Dennis!)

3/18/2008 5:04 PM  
Blogger EHT said...

It takes more than the pledge to develop a nation with patriotic citizens.

Within James Lowen's book "Lies My Teacher Told Me" he clearly shows through a study of various textbooks there WAS a trend and had been for many, many years to teach children America the Great, America, the beautiful. Even the titles of various textbooks prove the point. I say "was" because in the last few years years I believe educational resources are doing a much better (not perfect) job of telling a "whole" American story and not just the nice happy-happy parts. Also I'm not a huge Lowen tree-hugger, but when someone makes a valid point I'll support him/her. Many of the books he used were severely outdated at the time of his study.

That being said we know that serious history teachers never just teach from the text especially when there are so many other valuable resources out and about to use like personal journals and letters of real people.

Early in our history patriotism was taught where America was great and could do no wrong. Today we understand that students should be taught the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to understand their country. If curriculum is structured correctly students can analyze and can understand the context of good and bad events in our history relating them to their own times.

In my opinion true patriotism can only come when citizens accept all of their history not just chosen snippets.

I teach history. I don't teach patriotism, however, I hope that through my teaching students find feelings of patriotism.

3/18/2008 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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.
...
But I would guess (and hope) that these are things that private, and even some homeschools do.
"

Hey, I can contribute!

Yes, some homeschools focus on American heroes at the elementary level. In my case this is partially by design and partially because these are the non-textbook history books you'll find for kids of my child's age. Also non-US heroes (e.g. Simon Bolivar, Sequoyah, Geronimo, Joan of Arc, Marco Polo).

My child is learning history without history textbooks, so I don't have a lot of insight into them, but I *can* say that the 1950s-60s history books we *do* have (and we have a lot ...) seem to be a lot less 'the US did no wrong' than what I have read is supposed to be true about the same era textbooks.

I would be surprised if a majority of homeschoolers said a daily pledge of allegiance ... it seems kinda silly when there is only a few people around (but this is just a guess).

-Mark Roulo

3/18/2008 7:01 PM  
Anonymous daniel simms said...

I consider forcing children to say the pledge of allegiance in school the same thing as forcing them to say a prayer in school, which is not acceptable. And it doesn't matter if 99.99% disagree with me, I still say it's not acceptable.

Dennis, I think of the American people in general as the most kind and generous and industrious people on earth. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I still think that way. However, the elites, by which I mean the politicians, lobbyists, corporate fatcats, mainstream media and other politically powerful individuals and institutions, have nothing but my contempt. They make it very difficult for me to be even a little bit patriotic. They disgust me.

These are the people that play war games with our young men and women by sending them to die in conflicts such as the one going on now in Iraq (which also has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians). They use our tax dollars and abuse our trust to give out favors and privileges to their friends and associates in high places (quid pro quo, of course). They hold people in military prisons without trials and subject them to torture, and tell us that they need to do this to make us safer from terrorists. They subject what should be a free market to their idiotic meddling, and when things get screwed up, which is all the time, they tell us that we need to rely on them to fix the mess - the mess that they created in the first place. And it wouldn't have mattered if Gore had won in 2000 or Kerry in 2004, or if the republicans still controlled congress or if the republicans had never controlled congress. That's how American politics works.

We're not getting closer to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, we're moving farther and farther away from them. The Consitution isn't doing what the founders told us it would do, which was limit the power of government. Our "experiment" with limited government is a failure. We're getting very close to a time when the government can do whatever it wants to whoever it wants. This is not what I want to be pledging allegiance to.

3/18/2008 8:10 PM  
Anonymous daniel simms said...

Sorry for my rant, Dennis, but I am just sick with grief over the direction America has been going for a long time now. Especially our foreign policy. It is a disgrace. We should be leading the world by example, not forcing other nations to do things our way.

3/18/2008 8:41 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mrs. C., although I understand the legal rationale to the challenge of "under God" in the Pledge, I am not thrilled by it. It's just one more thing to turn more people against public schools. When I look at the make-up of the Supreme Court, however, I think they will probably okay leaving the Pledge the way it is.

EHT, it's great to hear from you again. It sounds like you and I are pretty close on this one, and I would guess Amerloc is right in there, too.

Mark, you are a smart guy! I wrote my own AH textbook about ten years ago, so I haven't been checking out the regular high school ones lately. My government and economics ones seem pretty fair and balanced, though.

Daniel, thank you for your comment, and if it was a rant, it was an interesting and sincere one. It's 4:40 here in Warroad, and I've got my morning routine to get to. I want to think about how to respond, so I won't get back to this until this evening. I hope you don't mind. (I'll bet there might be a response or two in the meantime.)

3/19/2008 2:47 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

It is indoctrination. However, I don't think this makes it impermissible per se. The government is not forbidden from expressing any opinion, it is merely forbidden from expressing an opinion on religion.

While permissible, I don't think it's particularly prudent. It does have a rather authoritarian air to present the Pledge in kindergarten (and I'm sure it isn't explained to children that they don't actually have to say it). It's also overinclusive and badly worded. There are foreign children in our public schools as well -- children of intra-company transferees, for example, who are pledging. Why? There's no reason to have non-citizens pledge allegiance. Realistically, a pledge of allegiance by a non-citizen is feckless anyway -- if their native country drafted them into the army and declared war on America, clearly they'd be legally obligated to violate their pledge. A pledge is a promise of future perfomance that may not be possible.

Saying the kids don't analyze it is a worthless argument (not that anyone here's done that, but I've heard it before). By forming it badly, we're encouraging lack of analysis, we're encouraging a glossing over of important points.

I think the pledge (which should not, actually, be a pledge) should be something that's worked towards in the course of education. Perhaps they should only allow daily official recitation in high school. There should be a recognition that primary school children are too young to form any kind of serious alliance to an ideal. Consider, Primary school children are asked to pledge allegiance to something while getting few or none of the benefits. Primary school children do not get free expression, freedom from search and seizure, do not get the right to confront witnesses against them, do not get a right to remain silent or have a jury of peers, and have no vote for who their teacher should be. They can be summarily punished on hearsay evidence by unelected autocrats. If you teach children to pledge under those conditions, what's to prevent them from pledging to a totalitarian state?

3/19/2008 7:09 AM  
Blogger peteandluke said...

A pledge is a sign of loyalty, of fealty to a higher cause... to a state, to a nation, to a group of people. I understand the arguments for and against the Pledge of Allegiance, but I think I would have to fall in with the "keep it" group, simply because I think most of our young people, yes even in high schools where they think they are adults, need to experience loyalty to something greater than their own stomachs. (What's for lunch, SeƱora?)
Amy P.

3/19/2008 7:59 AM  
Blogger peteandluke said...

I would like to qualify my previous post a bit.

Our country, our state (there was a war fought over which comes first) deserves our loyalty. After all, we daily benefit from being here and we do not live alone to ourselves. These children would not be receiving the blessing of education if it were not for the bounty and blessing of this great country. And yes, it is great. Everyone who leaves it for a little while knows this.

However, I would add that loyalty does not mean that we stop thinking. And discussing. And voting. Maybe that's the biggest problem: instead of reading, thinking and talking, we're watching "Dance with the Stars" or the latest episode of "Survivor".

Just a few thoughts... I'm still enjoying spring break in my housecoat.

Amy P.

3/19/2008 8:14 AM  
Anonymous daniel simms said...

By the way, Dennis, that 1961 quote was repeated by Justice H. Walter Croskey in the recent California homeschool ruling. I didn't catch that when I made my comment in your homeschooling post. So that ideology still stands in our courts.

3/19/2008 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

When I was in elementary school, we used to start every day with "O Canada" and every assembly with "God Save The Queen." I'm not sure if that's still the case in my old elementary school, but I know Canadians on the whole are less patriotic than Americans (as evidenced by the different crowd reactions to the national anthem at sports games).

3/19/2008 10:20 AM  
Blogger Teachjoep said...

As a fellow HS History teacher, I would agree with you that our primary objective ought to be to teach our students to think. I agree that we should teach History "warts and all", and in fact think the students enjoy hearing the dirty little secrets a bit. As a profession of History teachers,I think we strayed for awhile and only taught the bad. I think we've worked back to the middle as far as teaching both the good and the bad.

I also make it clear to my students that I think the U.S. is still the greatest country on earth, though we have work to do.

On the subject of the Pledge, I'd love to get rid of it. We say it every day before announcements (mid-morning, before lunches start) We started saying the pledge daily about ten years ago. Now, who would like to be the first politician (or school administrator/school board member) to suggest we no longer say it every day?

3/19/2008 2:23 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Daniel, my one major beef with the elites of this country is that I think they tend to be quite arrogant, but obviously, I'm not nearly as anti-government as you are. The framers of the Constitution had a very dim view of human nature, and I think they did as good a job as possible in building in checks against governmental power. I believe in a mixed economy. I do not have enough faith in business to trust them to operate for the benefit of the rest of us on their own. And I also believe that most of the things the government is doing that it wasn't doing in the past are good things. Those are things that I believe, but I KNOW this: I'm not going to change your mind on any of it! But it's still fun talking with you about it.

By the way, Daniel, is there a convenient way to get hold of that article you've been talking about? I assumed I could find it somewhere on the Internet, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Crypticlife, I understand your points, but I still disagree with you. I think having young kids start out with a mindset that their nation is something to be respected is a good thing. As long as we are as honest as we can be in the way we teach history as they get older, I would not call that indoctrination. But saying the Pledge with high school students just doesn't grab me.

3/19/2008 2:49 PM  
Anonymous daniel simms said...

Dennis, just google "John Hasnas" and go to his home page. Then select publications and then select publications again. Scroll down through his articles which are listed on the right hand side of the screen. Happy reading!

You might also want to read "The Myth of the Rule of Law", but I won't press my luck in urging you to.

3/19/2008 3:12 PM  
Blogger Peter Thies said...

Students should be taught to admire and to have allegiance to this country. Leading them in the pledge is no different than teaching them ethics. The pledge embodies what Americans believe and what they, as young Americans, should believe.

3/19/2008 3:36 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Fair enough, Dennis -- having kids say the pledge doesn't bother me tons (other than the under god bit, but that's not the point here), but let me put it another way.

The people who are really, really proud to say the pledge aren't people who were born here and have been doing it all their lives. It's naturalized citizens, who are often doing it for the first time as adults. Even if they naturalize as children and don't understand the words, they understand the import in a way kids who've been doing it daily since kindergarten rarely do.

It would be great if we could reproduce that at least once for each citizen.

3/19/2008 3:58 PM  
Anonymous daniel simms said...

Dennis, a free market economy may not be perfect, but it's far superior to a mixed economy. Under a free market economy there is a natural balance between the interests of consumers and the interests of producers. Consumers would not need to trust business to operate for the benefit of the rest of us, which is not how human nature works anyway. To keep businesses in line under a free market economy consumers have an extremely powerful weapon - to only deal with businesses that give them the best value. The free market can be very cruel to those businesses who abuse their customers.

What we have now, under a mixed economy, is a huge system of government granted privilege. Government licensing requirements allow the politically connected to exclude competition, which keeps many poor people from being able to establish the livelihood that suits them best (such as driving a taxi or braiding hair). Minimum wage laws hurt the most inexperienced workers, especially first time job seekers, by making it less likely for employers to be able to afford to let them learn on the job. Import quotas and restrictions hurt American consumers by giving them less choice. The people who are best served under this system are those with the most political influence.

A free market economy encourages people to voluntarily interact with each other for mutual benefit. A mixed economy allows politically powerful people to manipulate the rules for their own benefit, and at everyone else's expense.

But I'm pretty certain that I didn't change your mind, Dennis. I tried.

3/19/2008 8:30 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Daniel, I think laissez-faire worked fine until the development of big business in America, but it's something I have no desire to go back to. I am familiar with the arguments against minimum wage, but I definitely think that on balance it's better to have a minimum wage. And now that our economy seems headed what for might be a nasty recession, I'm glad we've got a safety net to prevent it from getting even worse.

Obviously, the biggest difference you and I have is on education. I think of my own three kids, and I can't imagine how they would possibly be better off if they had grown up under a system that you advocate. You know what? I think I might do a post on that! Doggone, you've done it again!!! Thank goodness for you and Joanne Jacobs!

3/20/2008 3:03 AM  
Anonymous daniel simms said...

Dennis, thanks for the conversation. Even though you and I strongly disagree in many areas I get the impression that you are a profoundly decent guy, and I appreciate that.

If I come across as fanatical, I have to say that I just can't help it. I have a passion for freedom. Intellectual freedom, spiritual freedom, and especially economic freedom. The freedom to do anything except abuse the freedom of someone else. As an agnostic, my spiritual views are probably the polar opposite of Mrs. C's. But I hold that she has the right to be as spiritual as she pleases, and the right to raise her children to be as spiritual as she wants them to be. To me, freedom is more important than anything else, and life would not be worth living without it.

3/20/2008 5:10 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Daniel, thank you for your very kind words. I must confess that when I first began blogging, I could be nasty at times, but that doesn't work very well for me. I called TMAO and idiot, and ended up having to eat those words. TMAO and I have very different philosophies, but the man is definitely not an idiot. Then I tried trading insults with KDerosa. Guess who ended up being the loser in that battle? As Clint Eastwood once said, "A man's got to know his limitations!"

3/20/2008 2:38 PM  
Blogger Deb S. said...

Dennis, I'm with you on this one, and I think EHT nails the critical issues on this one. I'd much rather see our children taught critical thinking, history, and a good citizenship component.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend.

3/22/2008 8:42 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Hi Deb! Great to hear from you!!! Now, I know I'm right. :)

3/22/2008 11:26 AM  
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