A Thoughtful Patriotism. (in Focus)
Stevens, Robert, Social Education
ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, the United States was attacked. The toll of deaths was staggering at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the rural landscape of western Pennsylvania. September 11 may be remembered as a second "day of infamy." Both attacks--the December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack and the September 11, 2001, attack--came from the air and without warning. The images were eerily similar. Black billowy smoke rose in great plumes through the twisted steel of the bridge of the USS Arizona with "Old Glory" still flying over the destroyed U.S. fleet, the spirit of its seamen not vanquished. And on September 11, great plumes of acrid smoke wafted through the steel skeleton of the World Trade Towers. The American flag went up immediately. As was the case for the Pearl Harbor generation, our patriotic spirit was rekindled.
September 11, 2001, will become a national day of mourning and remembrance. The courage of the firemen and women, police, soldiers, and citizens who witnessed and participated in rescue operations galvanized a spirit of patriotism not felt since Pearl Harbor. The tragedy of this single day seems to have moved us as a nation from an attitude of individualism back to a sense of community. As social studies teachers, what lessons will we teach our students about September 11, 2001? And how will we promote patriotism to a younger generation?
One lesson is that, as a nation, we are not immune from world conflict. For the past several decades, we have watched world events unfold in the comfort of our living rooms; images from drought-stricken Somalia, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, terrorist attacks in the Middle East, and catastrophic earthquakes on the Anatolian Plateau. On the 11th, we rapidly moved from detachment to involvement; instead of studying or observing history, we became part of it, and our challenge as social studies teachers is to help our students make sense of history. In his essay, "What Children Should Learn," Paul Gagnon insightfully reminds us that "the big story is not the push to modernize but the struggle to civilize, to curb the bestial side of human nature." (1) He continues:
Because human evil exists, good intention has never been enough. It takes brains, courage, self-sacrifice, patience, love--always with tragic consequences--war itself to contain the beast. Against the twin temptations of wishfulness and cynicism, history says that evil and tragedy are real, that civilization has a high price but that, too, is real, and has been won from time to time. In history we find ideas, the conditions, and the famous and ordinary men and women. Making it possible. (2)
So we, too, are at war. We find ourselves no different than our forefathers when they chose to form a new government or the Pearl Harbor Generation-at least in the sense that, just as they did not know what the outcome would be or what sacrifices would be made, we do not know, either. One fact is certain, however: Our students need to be taught well. It is dear that as the United States executes a "new style war," a war that involves political, financial, as well as military strategies to defeat a nebulous enemy, we must continue to teach those democratic values that support our current patriotic fervor.
We know that values taught well to the young will stay with them throughout life: "Political scientists have found that civic attitudes and patterns of behavior formed when young tend to persist throughout adult life." (3) The "Greatest Generation"--what Robert Putnam has called the "civic generation"--has remained unabashedly patriotic and pervasively participatory.
My generation, deeply suspicious of government, came of age during the Vietnam War and Watergate. Our patriotism (and some would argue we had none) was not duty and obligation to the government, but rather duty to respect the U.S. Constitution. …