Patriotic Education in a Global Age

Patriotic Education in a Global Age

by Randall Curren, Charles Dorn

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Should schools attempt to cultivate patriotism? If so, why? And what conception of patriotism should drive those efforts? Is patriotism essential to preserving national unity, sustaining vigorous commitment to just institutions, or motivating national service? Are the hazards of patriotism so great as to overshadow its potential benefits? Is there a genuinely virtuous form of patriotism that societies and schools should strive to cultivate?
In Patriotic Education in a Global Age, philosopher Randall Curren and historian Charles Dorn address these questions as they seek to understand what role patriotism might legitimately play in schools as an aspect of civic education. They trace the aims and rationales that have guided the inculcation of patriotism in American schools over the years, the methods by which schools have sought to cultivate patriotism, and the conceptions of patriotism at work in those aims, rationales, and methods. They then examine what those conceptions mean for justice, education, and human flourishing. Though the history of attempts to cultivate patriotism in schools offers both positive and cautionary lessons, Curren and Dorn ultimately argue that a civic education organized around three components of civic virtue—intelligence, friendship, and competence—and an inclusive and enabling school community can contribute to the development of a virtuous form of patriotism that is compatible with equal citizenship, reasoned dissent, global justice, and devotion to the health of democratic institutions and the natural environment. Patriotic Education in a Global Age mounts a spirited defense of democratic institutions as it situates an understanding of patriotism in the context of nationalist, populist, and authoritarian movements in the United States and Europe, and will be of interest to anyone concerned about polarization in public life and the future of democracy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226552422
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/30/2018
Series: History and Philosophy of Education Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 471 KB

About the Author

Randall Curren is professor and chair of philosophy and professor of education at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Aristotle on the Necessity of Public Education and coauthor of Living Well Now and in the Future, Why Sustainability Matters. Charles Dorn is associate dean for academic affairs and professor of education at Bowdoin College. He is the author of American Education, Democracy, and the Second World War and For the Common Good: A New History of Higher Education in America.

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Americanizing Curricula

In October 1917, six months following the United States' entry into World War I, the New York Times reported on the ways city schoolteachers and the mayor's "defense committee" had "systemized training" in "our language and customs." Characterizing America's "immigration problem" as "a many-sided thing," the paper claimed that the war created "a vigorous new interest" in responding to an influx of immigrants into New York City. "The men and women who are working for Americanization are emphatic in the statement that it is 'not war work,'" the paper reported. "The war has a good deal to do with it, and it has a good deal to do with the war. But, they explained, the city is awakening to a need that has long existed, that will go on existing, and that must go on being met." That need, according to local officials, was the fashioning of "good citizens" out of the "foreign-born" through education in American history, government, and especially the English language. "People can't fulfill the duties of citizenship unless they speak the language of the country," the Times reported. "It is a most important thing for the nation. Mere ignorance of the language tends to create segregation, and in this state of isolation the foreigners live."

Between 1890 and 1930, over 22 million immigrants arrived into the United States. Settling largely in urban areas, the newcomers came to comprise between one-half and three-fourths of residents in cities such as New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Boston. Among them were 3 million children who filled city schools to capacity. Indeed, in the fifteen years between 1899 and 1914, New York City public school enrollments alone increased by 60 percent, while the city turned away between sixty and seventy thousand students per year due to overcrowding.

During this period, immigrants increasingly arrived to the United States from southern and eastern Europe — namely, Poland, Italy, and the Balkans — regions with which most Americans lacked familiarity. Consequently, many came to believe that the demographic transformation these immigrants wrought undermined the nation's social norms and values. Leading schoolmen such as Stanford University School of Education dean Elwood P. Cubberley highlighted ethnic differences by contrasting the newcomers with previous immigrants from northwestern Europe, describing these "new" immigrants as "illiterate, docile, often lacking in initiative, and almost wholly without Anglo-Saxon conceptions of righteousness, liberty, law, order, public decency, and government."

As historians such as Paula Fass have observed, broad political and economic transformations such as the United States' transition from an agrarian to an industrialized nation as well as transportation advances that permitted increased immigration from greater distances both preceded and catalyzed this period of social change in America. Of the era, Fass concludes, the "industrial crisis of the late nineteenth century had also become a cultural crisis," one that revolved around "the meaning of American identity and state loyalty." With educators such as Cubberley disparaging immigrants' ethnicity and journalists such as Jacob Riis documenting "how the other half lives," it is hardly surprising that Americanization — by proposing to teach students both the knowledge and behaviors necessary for good citizenship — provided a popular response to the "immigration problem."

Americanization, however, was not encompassed by a single, coherent educational program. A variety of occasionally conflicting ideas and approaches comprised the effort to assimilate immigrants into the American way of life. Some educators believed that the values and customs immigrant students contributed to American society — their so-called cultural gifts — should be maintained and integrated, while others argued that foreign traits had to be eradicated before students could become proper Americans. Nevertheless, as historian Patricia Graham notes, while some teachers and administrators considered "the interests and welfare" of their students, "the force behind their effort was the national perception that these youngsters must grow up as patriotic Americans." The work of assimilation was thus inherently tied up with the schools' efforts to teach students to become patriots. As one delegate to a National Education Association (NEA) meeting declared at the end of the Civil War:

Our schools must teach our children to love their country, by acquainting them with its geography and history, the blessings derived from its form of government, the great men it has produced and the great deeds it has done. ... Above all, our schools must teach our children that that patriotism is not genuine which is bounded by corporate limits or state lines, but that only is genuine which holds as its own and would fight to protect every foot of land belonging to the United States of America. Let teachers remember that a monarchy may exist for ages among a hostile people, but that a republic must die if the love of its citizens for it once grows cold.

Conceiving of love of country as arising from an acquaintance with the country's merits, this delegate's patriotism was nationalistic in the sense that it embraced the entire jurisdiction of the United States — the word nation being sometimes used interchangeably with the word country. Patriotism and nationalism may also be distinguished, however, as George Orwell observed in an essay published at the end of World War II. Orwell identified patriotism as "a devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people." He identified nationalism, in terms inspired by the Nazi's embrace of Nietzsche, as "inseparable from the desire for power" and placing one's nation "beyond good or evil." "The abiding purpose of every nationalist," Orwell wrote, "is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality."

Perhaps no American at the turn of the twentieth century better symbolized Orwell's description of a nationalist than Theodore Roosevelt. Seeking to establish the United States as a world power, Roosevelt worked energetically as assistant secretary of the navy to expand the US naval fleet, which he believed essential to projecting an image of American might around the world (he would later, as commander in chief, order this "great white fleet" to literally circumnavigate the globe). The president was also an outspoken advocate of imperial expansion, a policy in which he personally participated in 1898 when he led the Rough Riders in the Battle of San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. In addition, Roosevelt expressed a tenacious loyalty to the United States throughout his life, especially when he issued such unwavering declarations as, "We will fight for America whenever necessary. America, first, last, and all the time. ... America against the world; America, right or wrong; always America." Yet as Orwell recognized, Roosevelt's nationalism conflicted with forms of patriotism demonstrated by many of his leading contemporaries, including William James (Roosevelt's former Harvard professor), John Dewey, Jane Addams, and W. E. B. DuBois.

Although these "cosmopolitan patriots," as historian Jonathan Hansen calls them, were all devoted to their country, they did not share Roosevelt's uncritical attitude toward the United States. Indeed, on more than one occasion Roosevelt and James challenged each other directly on the issue of national loyalty. In late 1895, James wrote a letter to his congressman, which he also submitted to the Harvard Crimson, strongly criticizing US president Grover Cleveland's hawkish response to a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana. "We have written ourselves squarely down as a people dangerous to the peace of the world," James claimed. Roosevelt responded with his own letter to the Crimson, challenging James's betrayal of "the honor and dignity of the United States." "James," Hansen concludes in relation to the exchange, "insisted that the nation's strength derived from the deliberations of an active citizenry; Roosevelt equated national power with military might."

With such widely differing conceptions of patriotism informing Americanization, it is hardly surprising that schools adopted a wide range of policies and prescriptions designed to transform students into patriotic citizens. Of the many elements of the school curriculum that contributed to this educational project, however, Americanization advocates identified and then promoted three as essential: instruction in the English language, instruction in civics and citizenship, and instruction in social studies, particularly US history.

Language, Civics, and Social Studies

Throughout this era, many Americans — natural born and immigrants alike — came to view fluency in English as a marker of citizenship. Consequently, they claimed that schools should teach students solely in English, a dramatic departure from earlier in the nation's history when school subjects were often taught in the dominant language of the local community. Given the large influx of German immigrants into the Midwest, for example, in 1839 the Ohio General Assembly gave legal authority to the already common practice of using German as a language of instruction in public schools. Louisiana followed suit with French in 1843, and seven years later New Mexico legislated Spanish-English bilingual education. These laws reflected America's multilingual society, with the early national government, for instance, publishing documents such as the Articles of Confederation in three languages: English, German, and French.

By 1920, however, xenophobic reactions to US involvement in World War I combined with prewar Americanization efforts to lead many states to either reverse previous statutes regarding foreign language instruction or write English language requirements into law for the first time. Such legislation may have been unnecessary. According to historian Jonathan Zimmerman, immigrant parents desired and even demanded that their children learn English, sometimes openly opposing immigrant community leaders who declared that students should study native tongues in order to maintain ethnic identities. In fact, many immigrant parents studied English at the same time as their children, with employers frequently supporting their efforts by allotting employees time to attend language classes during the workday. As a result of such widespread support as well as imposition, knowledge of the English language became a central part of what it meant to be an American.

Since then, and especially when Americans have perceived their "way of life" as under threat, proficiency in English has increasingly been interpreted as a sign of loyalty to the United States. Not only was German rejected as a "cultural gift" during World War I, for instance, President Woodrow Wilson characterized it as a "sinister tongue" that indicated treasonous intentions on the part of its speakers. Some states, such as Ohio, which had legally protected the use of German as a language of instruction in the state's public schools, responded to America's declaration of war by prohibiting its use. The primary result of these policies was a severe decline in the number of students studying German as a foreign language, from approximately 324,000 in 1915 to 14,000 by 1922. A related outcome was the overall decline in the number of students studying any foreign language, from 73 percent of secondary school students in 1915 to 22 percent by 1948. Throughout the rest of the twentieth century and up until the present, foreign language study has remained a minimal part of the public school academic program.

Coinciding with the push for English language instruction, many educators during this period supported the inclusion of civics or citizenship as a distinct subject in schools. When established in the 1830s and 1840s, the public schools — initially known as "common" schools because of the common educational experience that students were meant to share — taught a curriculum consisting primarily of literacy and numeracy. It was through these subjects that teachers sought to inculcate the traits necessary for students to become competent citizens. As historian Carl Kaestle has observed, antebellum educational reformers agreed that schooling should emphasize "unity, obedience, restraint, self-sacrifice, and the careful exercise of intelligence," all of which were considered characteristics of virtuous and moral citizens as well as necessary for the republic's survival.

Using curricular materials rich in moral lessons and exemplars, schoolteachers instilled these virtues through instruction in reading and writing. The New England Primer provided one such text during the colonial period, while during the first half of the nineteenth century students frequently recited from Noah Webster's Spelling Book. Of these various resources, however, William Holmes McGuffey's texts were probably the most well-known. Selling over 122 million copies between 1836 and 1922, McGuffey's Readers have been described as containing "moral lessons designed to teach appropriate behavior in a developing industrial society with increasing concentrations of wealth and expanding social divisions between the rich and the poor." Sales of McGuffey's Readers peaked between 1870 and 1890, with 60 million copies sold during these decades. Simultaneously, however, courses in the history of the United States and civil government began to be taught widely at the secondary level. A steady decline in the readers' sales ensued, as many educators determined that a more intrusive and explicit form of civics education was necessary to Americanize students to become patriotic citizens.

In addition to accelerating rates of urbanization, industrialization, and immigration, political corruption and scandal characterized America in the decades following the Civil War. Figures such as Boss Tweed of New York City's Tammany Hall became symbols of profiteering, fraud, and misconduct at all levels of government. Educators responded by seeking to establish courses intended to reaffirm traditional notions of civic virtue while emphasizing aspects of citizenship that clearly drew upon the attributes of many Progressive Era reforms. Among many others, these included an increasing trust in trained experts to develop appropriate public policies as well as the need for the state (especially its educational institutions) to play a more assertive role in the lives of Americans, particularly the foreign born.

Of the efforts to construct a distinct course in citizenship education during the Progressive Era, "community civics" provided the greatest departure from previous approaches to citizen formation. Whereas courses in US history and civil government had begun to appear at the secondary school level during the latter half of the nineteenth century, relatively few students attended school past the age of fifteen, leaving a large majority of public school students receiving little or no explicit instruction in civics. Proponents of community civics, therefore, designed their curricular program to be taught beginning at age six and continuing through age eighteen.

Equally innovative was the way that community civics redefined the "good citizen" in American society. Although community civics courses had been taught in a variety of forms for several years, their curriculum became formalized in 1915 through the work of the NEA's Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education. Appointing a special committee on community civics, the commission issued a report that defined the good citizen as "a person who habitually conducts himself with proper regard for the welfare of the communities of which he is a member, and who is active and intelligent with his fellow members to that end." Emphasizing citizens' dependence on "social agencies" as well as their need to cooperate with others toward "desirable social ends," committee members contributed to refashioning the role of the citizen from that of an individual who exercised political rights and fulfilled political responsibilities to a community member who acted in concert with others to meet community needs. As conceived in community civics curricula, the patriotic American acted in the "interest of others" or "upon a common interest."

In redefining the good citizen, committee members drew on ideas circulating among the era's many social reformers. Perhaps most importantly for schools, this redefinition expanded the citizenry to include children, who could be taught at a young age to act in ways that would contribute to achieving desirable social ends. As historian Julie Reuben describes, "By de-emphasizing voting and extending citizenship to children, the new civics courses claimed to define citizenship in terms 'broader' than politics. ... Educators who designed community civics thought that older political ideals that emphasized minimal government and maximum individual liberty and initiative were not well suited to industrial, urban society."


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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction One / Americanizing Curricula
Two / Heroes and Rituals
Three / Militarizing Schools, Mobilizing Students
Four / The Education We Need
Five / Cultivating Civic Virtue
Six / Global Civic Education Conclusion: Realizing America in a Global Age

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