the problem with patriotic education
“Don’t mistake my criticisms of our country with my love for this country. Remember, there is a difference between patriotism and nationalism.
I love this country but my allegiance is not to this country or to its political leaders. Yes, I love this country and I will not shut up from urging it to become more humble, compassionate, and just…More reflective of the Kingdom of God.” – Eugene Cho
I read a news story last week that angered and saddened me. I read reporting on President Trump’s intention to create something he called the “1776 Commission” to help “restore patriotic education to our schools.”
The New York Times reported that Trump had “escalated his attacks on ‘left-wing demonstrators’ and ‘far-left mobs’ on Thursday, portraying himself as a defender of American heritage against revolutionary fanatics and arguing for a new ‘pro-American’ curriculum in the nation’s schools.”
Trump specifically took aim at the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project founded and created by Nikole Hannah-Jones. The project was released on the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the Virginia colony in 1619.
For a little background to explain my reaction, many years ago I learned about Howard Zinn and his book, The People’s History of America. It’s written based on the concept that “history is written by the victors.” Zinn presents distinct perspectives on American history, sharing stories that sound very different from what I was taught in school history classes.
Zinn’s book shares history through the lens of oppressed people, beginning with the history of the Native people who encountered Columbus in 1492, to the stories of enslaved Africans, immigrants, women and the working poor in our nation. I remember being angry that I’d never learned about these perspectives.
The idea that our history is “whitewashed” isn’t new. But I can’t help but feel angry that Trump and his supporters continue to push back on those who wish to tell the American story from a different lens – history that might look at our country with a critical eye – from the standpoint of something other than the white, land-owning men who were originally guaranteed freedom and rights when our young, idealist nation was founded.
I believe that what makes us great is truly a pursuit of justice for all. Not just justice for white people. Not just for men. Or for straight people. Or for Christians. But for all.
We must tell our country’s story honestly. Only an honest examination will allow us to look at our mistakes with clear eyes and a desire to push for better.
Poem by Langston Hughes. Performed by Abena Koomson-Davis.
Poets in Unexpected Places pop up at the holiday market in Union Square with poems in response to police brutality, a day after the non -indictment for the killing of Eric Garner.