2001-12-05 / Editorials

Patriotism In The Classroom: Mom, Apple Pie And School

By Jeanne Allen

Patriotism In The Classroom:
Mom, Apple Pie And School

"Let freedom ring" has been sounded from every corner of the globe, and what a wonderful time to be a student when schools and community leaders have unabashedly praised the tenets upon which this nation stands.

It’s hard to believe in light of all that’s happened that there is actually a debate about what we should be teaching our children. Most normal Americans would fret if they knew that there was actually a group of intellectuals and educators that see the events of September 11 as something we did to ourselves.

Said Deputy Chancellor of the New York City schools Judith Rizzo, "Those people who said we don’t need multiculturalism, that it’s too touchy-feely, a pox on them. I think they’ve learned their lesson. We have to do more to teach habits of tolerance, knowledge and awareness of other cultures."

Really? Is that the problem? We need to teach our children that a bunch of crazy fanatics running planes into buildings in sacrifice for Allah is something to tolerate? That we have to respect the differences in politics that cause some regimes to starve, assault and abandon women and children?

I don’t think so.

Lynne Cheney, a scholar and the vice president’s wife, chastised educators whose response is blame America first. She pointed out that many state standards emphasized a variety of cultures. "If there were one aspect of school from kindergarten through college to which I would give added emphasis today it would be American history. We are not doing a very good job of teaching it now, as a recent survey or seniors at the nation’s top liberal arts colleges and universities reveals. Scarcely more than half knew general facts about American democracy and the Constitution. Of the 55 elite institutions whose seniors were polled, not one college or university--not a singly one--required a course in American history. At a time of national crisis, I think it is particularly apparent that we need to encourage the study of our past."

More wisdom is heard from Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and historian Diane Ravitch, who pointed out in their October 4 e-mail letter "The Gadfly," that diversity is America.

From Finn: "Educators must face a basic decision about the message they seek to impart to children. It either includes patriotism or it doesn’t. Some would steer a middle course by suggesting to children that diversity and tolerance are the same thing as patriotism. It is not patriotic to emphasize the positive value of America’s diversity?

"Of course it is. Diversity is part of the lesson needing to be taught. But so is love of freedom and the fact that it has enemies who loathe it. So is the fragility of a free and diverse society, and the central obligation of that society to defend itself against aggressors. So, too, is respect for heroes, including those who froze at Valley Forge, who stormed the beaches of Normandy, and who perished while trying to rescue terrorist victims in lower Manhattan. It has become a compulsion to pull down America rather than celebrate and defend it."

From Ravitch: "Some educators have reacted by calling for changes in the curriculum. Their immediate response was that we have to change the curriculum to make our students more tolerant, as if our students were the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. But it was not Americans who piloted the four hijacked airplanes, and it was not American bigotry that targeted innocent people for death and destruction.

"We need to do a far better job of teaching both American history and world history. Certainly students need to know about the major civilizations in the world, but they first need a better understanding of our own democratic ideals, where they came from, and how many sacrifices have been made by others to assure the present generation of Americans the basic rights and freedoms that we now enjoy. In the absence of deep civic knowledge, our students will be unprepared to figure out where we stand, what we believe in and what we must defend. Or even who ‘we’ are. As schools respond to the crisis of our age, a good place to begin is by finding out what is meant by the phrase ‘We the people.’"

So if you agree that our children, and probably adults, too, need to learn the sacrifices that brought us all we have today, you might want to do something about it.

*Educators could easily supplement the traditional history textbooks that are a mile wide and an inch deep.

*Administrators could reject the pablum that often passes for history and purchase from more content-based publishers.

*Policymakers: Does your state have standards to ensure that children starting as early as the first grade are taught about formative events in U.S. History?

*And, of course, there is always the content-rich Core Knowledge curriculum that awaits any innovative education leader.

You can find more resources about patriotism and American History on our web site at http://www.edreform.com/mom, or call (202) 822-9000. We hope you’ll visit.

Jeanne Allen is president of the Center for Education Reform, a national, independent, non-profit advocacy organization providing support and guidance to individuals, community and civic groups, policymakers and others working to bring fundamental reforms to their schools.

Remember Pearl Harbor

To The Editor:

December 7, 2001 is the 60th anniversary of the sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. On that day, December 7, 1941, more than 3,000 Americans lost their lives. Let’s hope they did not die in vain.

Walter Orlowsky


Seeks Dad’s Friend

To The Editor:

Tonight, [November 27] purely by chance, I entered my father’s name on the Google web site and up popped Gilbert Masson’s wonderful letter about my father, Charles J. Sellhorn.

My dad died in 1956 while we were living in Valley Stream, New York. We had previously lived in Astoria, on 27th Street. My mother, Ethel, and I moved to Minnesota shortly after his death. He was buried at Long Island National Cemetery.

I am so touched that there is another person in the world that loved my father almost as much as I did. He was a wonderful man. I was nine years old when he died and I still miss him every day.

I would love to find Gilbert. Can you put me in contact with him? Thank you for writing this wonderful story.


Martha Sellhorn Wondra

Long Lake, Minnesota

God Belongs In School

To The Editor:

Separation of God and state is not the same as separation of church and state.

American tax payers are paying some $400,000 for the Chaplains’ Offices, so that the chaplains are there to open the legislative sessions with a prayer to God for guidance. And even give guidance in the legislators’ private lives.

But in our schools, where the nation’s future leaders outlook on life is molded, the word God is forbidden.

Our leaders should stop this shameful hypocrisy. The Founding Fathers believed in God, but did not want the new Republic to discriminate anyone because of one’s religion, (the way to serve God), as was happening in England and many other countries in the world.

Separation of religion (church), and state is not the same as separation of God and state. The Native Americans, Moslemism, Judaism, Christianity all encourage to honor and serve God, the maker of Heaven and earth, but in different ways.

Our God should be honored in our Constitution, as it is in the Declaration of Independence. That should put an end to these frivolous lawsuits, and allow prayers, and if the tax payers so desire, like for the legislators even chaplains for the school children.


Eino Salminen

Lancaster, New York

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