How to Become an American
In the first half of the twentieth century, educators and Americanizers designed school curricula to instill a sense of shared national identity. eut access to and quality of education varied according to different groups' eligibility for membership in the polity. Indeed, access was a barometer of a group's suitability for membership and citizenship. For some groups, the expectation was that education would provide a smooth route to assimilation, while for others the opposite was intended. European immigrants and American Indians fell into the first category (though practice fell well short of design for the latter), African Americans into the second. Another group, annexed peoples, found themselves in an intermediary position, exposed to a half-hearted regime of Americanizing education.
The discussion in this chapter shows how assimilationist democracy unavoidably attached the most importance to building a singular sense of nation among its members and rode roughshod over democratic rights. This meant establishing a standard of assimilation toward which those deemed unassimilated had to strive. If this assimilationist model was applied independently of judgments about groups' eligibility to be members of the nation, then it need not have become an instrument of exclusion. But by its reproduction of group hierarchies, education became in practice a forum to express who belonged in America's “one people.”
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Publication information: Book title: The Liberty of Strangers: Making the American Nation. Contributors: Desmond King - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 25.
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