The democratic experiment of America, as Alexis de Tocqueville argues, depends in large part on the quality of how we associate with one another, how we address our common challenges: how we regard one another in public moments — as well as our private ones.
Associating with one another, in good faith, and taking informed action to accomplish the common good is the sum and substance of meaningful patriotism.
Last week the President of the United States weighed on a plan to promote “patriotic education”, specifically focusing on a “pro-American” curriculum, and defunding schools that focus on critically examining the lasting effects of some of the country’s original sins — particularly chattel slavery. It is remarkable and ironic — in the midst of a contentious and momentous presidential election that will decide so much about the future of this country — to hear such a perspective advanced at the National Archives Museum at a conference focused on history.
First, what is at stake in this discussion is not merely defining what belongs in our curriculum and classrooms, but rather who belongs in America. Implying that a probing focus on America’s challenges is unpatriotic suggests that those directly impacted by those challenges are not somehow out of the mainstream or otherwise not able to associate with other Americans in full standing.
Second, it is important to note that the US federal government does not have jurisdiction over school curriculum. This was a symbolic act.
Generation Citizen strongly condemns this blatant political effort, and any future local or national effort, to whitewash our country’s history. Our choices are not hagiography or an unalloyed narrative of oppression. Our complex history deserves analysis, not unidimensional applause.
We promote Action Civics, a pedagogy in which students learn politics by engaging in politics in their local communities. Through this work, our students engage in comprehensive root cause analysis on problems that they care about. This root cause work involves learning about the powers and traditions of local government and critically understanding the way that the United States of America has continually excluded certain segments of the population from our political process. That work also entails recognizing that the current form of our democracy still oppresses too many of its own citizens and residents.
For us, this is the promise of Action Civics, and education: our young people pushing for a better democracy through understanding the challenges, foundations, and sins of our past. It is this promise and yearning for a more perfect union that symbolizes the best of this country, not efforts to glamorize America’s past. It is this same promise that was exemplified by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose entire life was marked by a push for gender equality, in the midst of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Our young people are pushing for a better future and country every day, recognizing in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. This reality of recognizing the promise and failings of the United States of America at the same time are truly patriotic education.