There is big debate among academics about whether patriotism and nationalism should be a goal of public education. On the surface, the debate is whether nationalism leads to nefarious practices (war, for example), or whether nationalism is a prerequisite for making a sacrifice to the community, which is a prerequisite for distributive justice.
I am very happy to link to Alasdair Macintyre’s book on this topic, After Virtue, because I was in a seminar in college called Theories of Justice, and I absolutely could not keep my eyes open. My need to go to sleep became so painful, and my efforts to stay awake were so huge that I actually started hallucinating in the class and I spoke out of turn, like a psychotic person.
I say this to tell you that in college, sticking to someone else’s schedule for learning was nearly torture for me, and then only reason I could even graduate was that I had all independent studies by my senior year. I look back and think: Of course I was going to homeschool my kids. I just didn’t know it.
Anyway, the debate about teaching nationalism in public school is most interesting to me because there is an assumed quid pro quo involved in the argument: that in exchange for the government providing a free education to children, the government gets to decide what is correct for citizens to learn.
Ironically, with our insanely terrible campaign finance laws, the rich people essentially decide who governs us. And the rich people don’t send their kids to public school.
So now we have a two-tiered indoctrination system where public school kids sit through nationalism diatribes masquerading as history so that they will be better at sacrifice (presumably for the 1% who pay less in taxes than they do). The rich kids, meanwhile, are able to buy their way out of indoctrination and can go on their merry way learning how to be rich kids.
I know I sound like a fringe thinker, but this is not so much because I am saying outlandish things but more because I feel the need to include everything I learned in college about establishing a republic, which is a lot, by the way, because that class with Alasdair McIntyre also featured Socrates and Plato and the boys they had sex with in the name of teaching who then went on to become philosophers.
So really I am mainstream thinking about government and education. In the New York Times yesterday there was an op-ed by Pamela Druckerman about how to become French. The conclusion is not so much that it’s a passport thing so much as a going-to-school thing. The French indoctrinate the students into being French citizens.
The French have a problem, of course: their language is going the same way that Latin did, only faster now in the Internet Age. In response to this demise, the French Academy outlaws many American words; for example, the word hashtag is banned. So when you see # in writing you must say mot-diese. (There is an accent over the e, which I am not going to figure out how to add because the language is almost dead anyway.)
So with a dying language and an overbearing government (or socialist, depending on your political bent) the French take for granted that one big purpose of the schools is to indoctrinate the children on what being French means.
Not so much in American schools. Druckerman’s piece elicited this response from a reader:
Decades ago, my parents were displaced persons living in Morocco. Shortly after my birth, they were finally able to emigrate: their choice was America or France. My father, who spoke French fluently and had family in France famously declared, “If we go to France, my children will never be considered French. If we go to America, they will be Americans.” His three children are very grateful for his wise choice.
The US is a melting pot. We accept anyone as an American citizen. And aside from racist crazies, we believe that if you get a green card, that’s it: you’re American.
So in the US we don’t need school to teach us to be citizens. Our ancestors came here, with no other place to live out their dreams, and they got to give it a shot in the US. We all come from that. It’s our common thread. Well, except for the Native Americans we continue to torture with preposterously inconsisten laws. (But that’s another post. Just letting you know that I can be politically correct when I want to be.)
Other countries need public schools to preserve their national culture. The culture of the US is ingenuity, bravery, pluck. Because that’s what it takes to leave everything in your home country and start over in the US.
We don’t admire hierarchy, rules, and order. Social mobility, diversity, and self-reliance require an educational system that encourages individualized thinking. We can’t teach that in schools, so we need to make sure school treasures it where we have it.