A while back, one of my friends made the comment that they don't seem to teach patriotism in schools any more. As this friend and I are on pretty much opposite ends of the political spectrum, this seemed to me a topic fraught with danger and I made some non-committal reply and the conversation went elsewhere. But the question has remained with me.
I thought back -- was I taught 'patriotism' -- love and devotion to my country -- in school?
We said the Pledge of Allegiance every day. We sang America the Beautiful, The Star Spangled Banner, and My Country, 'Tis of Thee. (We also sang Dixie, but that's another discussion.) We memorized the Preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address. In eighth grade Civics, Miss Lucas taught us the basics of how our government works. And we read and memorized patriotic poems like "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" and "In Flanders Fields."
It's in a government's best interest, isn't it, to ensure that its children grow up to love and support their country? But on reflection, all that pledging allegiance and singing patriotic songs seems uncomfortably reminiscent of the methods used by totalitarian regimes -- the Red Guards, Hitler Youth, the blind devotion to the Dear Leader demanded of North Korean citizens.
Of course, our indoctrination was less extreme. For many of us it was just background noise, the default mode. We lived in the USA, therefore we were proud citizens. USA! USA! We're Number One!
For many of us it was the Vietnam War that forced us to come to terms with the the blindly 'patriotic' mindset of "My country, right or wrong, is always right." Could one disagree with the war one's country was fighting and still be patriotic? Was it true that our flag decal wouldn't get us into heaven anymore?
If they don't teach patriotism in the schools today, it may only be that due to the pressures of constant testing, patriotism, along with Art and Music and Recess had been ditched in favor of reviewing the materials of upcoming tests.
Or it may be that, like religion, there is no one size fits all.
It's too hard to agree on what patriotism is or what's the best way to create patriots. And what kind of patriots anyway -- blindly obedient to and supportive of the state or knowledgeable and questioning?
Some states (I'm looking at you, Texas) mandate that their history books downplay the unpleasant aspects of the past -- little things like slavery, genocide, imperialism -- in order to portray America as an ideal nation, one that a patriot can be proud of.
To me, this smacks of Soviet revisionism, of the constant re-writing of history in Orwell's 1984 (do they still teach 1984 anymore?)
It's a knotty problem, this patriotism thing. Personally, I'm in favor of knowing the worst of the past, in hopes of doing better in the future.
And, on sober reflection, I think I'd much prefer our children be taught Civics -- how our government works and how it can be changed by voting.
What do you think? I'd especially love to hear from anyone with ties to our school system -- is patriotism taught and, if so, in what form?