I READ with great interest all the articles on patriotism and education in the April 2006 Kappan. If I may identify a theme that runs through them: "authoritarian" patriotism is bad; "democratic" patriotism is good. Put another way, "blind" patriotism is bad; "constructive" patriotism is good.
Who would speak or write in favor of "authoritarian" or "blind" patriotism? Within a few paragraphs, the writers have skillfully tilted their readers toward their point of view. But, darn it, even the research on California high school seniors doesn't match up with what is desired. These darn kids just don't get it: we need to be much more open, accepting, peaceful, and nurturing to the rest of the world; we need to be just like Canada!
Well, maybe the kids do get it after all. Maybe they understand that we face an enemy today that is dedicated to our annihilation. Maybe kids know that, if our enemies don't have the means yet to inflict even worse injuries on us than they did on September 11, they certainly don't lack the will. Maybe the kids also get it that the words expressed by some of our elected leaders and some unelected spokespersons that argue against the war on terror show up on Arab television the following day and provide powerful motivation for the throwbacks to the seventh century to continue the fight. Our kids understand instantaneous communication, and maybe they don't want to say something that will be used against our military forces.
Maybe our kids do believe that such demeaned acts as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and hanging a U.S. flag in a prominent place are small gestures on their part to show their support for brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers who are taking up arms against a determined foe.
Are our kids acting as a result of "authoritarian" influences? Or "blind" obedience? Are they falling into "us versus them" thinking? Have they all been robotically programmed to march mindlessly to the tune of the government?
I have spent 30 years working in our public schools, and my experience suggests that students today are just as thoughtful and capable of critical thinking as students were 40 years ago. But today, even if I conceded that the current federal Administration was attempting to limit dissent, there are new and alternative sources of information offering the widest array of opinion in history.
And with all this information available, those darned students still seem to lean more toward what most of the Kappan authors would identify as "negative" patriotism. …