Back in September, President Trump announced several initiatives under the heading of arguing for “patriotic education.” Some in the media and online pushed back against the speech, citing worries that it presaged control over curriculum from Washington D.C., or that the President was attempting to strip some of America’s darker moments from history classrooms. Can you identify which of these three statements about the Trump administration’s “patriotic education” initiative is false?
A. The United States is currently failing to teach younger generations the civic knowledge that past generations took for granted.
B. States and localities independently set curriculum standards, including for social studies, American history, and civics.
C. The idea of “patriotic education” is incompatible with the American traditions of freedom of speech and thought.
A. TRUE. Unfortunately, this one is true. Only one in five Americans under the age of 45 can pass the citizenship exam that immigrants do when they become naturalized citizens. This exam tests rudimentary facts about the American system, such as naming the three branches of federal government or asking about the duration of a Senator’s term, but Millennial and Gen Z respondents are often not familiar even with the civic basics. However, younger graduates of the education system do have strong negative feelings about their country, with majorities condemning the U.S. as a racist or unequal system.
B. TRUE. So far, nothing about the President’s commission or EOs on “patriotic education” threatens the independence of school districts and states to independently decide what their students should learn. However, the President’s initiatives do shine a spotlight on controversial materials recently making their way into classrooms across America, including the historically-debunked 1619 Project and other textbooks or learning aides that go way beyond teaching about America’s sins and instead seek to erase attachment children may have to their country by painting it as irredeemable.
C. FALSE. Perhaps in an authoritarian country, this would be the case. But in the United States, our public school system was initially created to ensure that the citizens of our republic understood enough about it to thoughtfully self-govern. Noah Webster, one of the country’s first education experts, wrote that the education system in America should “begin with the infant in the cradle, let the first word he lisps be ‘Washington.’” Patriotism, in the United States, means living up to the duty impressed on us by the founders to keep the republic they bequeathed.
Of course a patriotic education in a free country like ours includes teaching students not what to think, but how to think. Teaching American patriotism doesn’t mean brainwashing students into blind nationalism, but rather it means instilling a healthy respect for America’s founding principles of liberty and justice for all. Students (and teachers) are always free to draw their own conclusions about whether America has done a satisfactory job in its quest to become a “more perfect union.” But that shouldn’t preclude the education system from teaching civic basics and an accurate account of American history, so that future voters understand the system they will grow up to participate in, and can make informed decisions.
For more resources on how to talk to kids about patriotism, check out this IWF publication.