As America readies itself for the "anniversary" of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, innumerable education groups and experts are again bestirring themselves to tell schools and teachers what to teach their students on this topic.
Unfortunately, much of that advice is bad and some is awful. The most prominent vendor of dubious guidance is the mammoth National Education Association, which created a special web site for the purpose. Called "Remember September 11"-you can find it at http://neahin.org/programs/schoolsafety/september11/materials/lessonhome.htm on the Internet, though we don't recommend going there-it's a mishmash of pop-psychotherapeutics, feel-goodism, relativism and overblown multiculturalism, even more noteworthy for what's not there: history, civics, patriotism, etc. George Will went into this at length in a recent column, and we shan't dwell on it, except as Bad Example #1 of advice for educators. You can find plenty more of the same, courtesy of the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Council for the Social Studies, and other such "resources" for educators.
This has been happening since last September, and we remarked on it then. (See http://www.edexcellence.net/gadfly/issue.cfm?issue=90#1339 and http://www.edexcellence.net/gadfly/issue.cfm?issue=88#1316 for earlier Gadfly comments.) But with the passage of time, many things decay, and it seems evident that a deep rot now infects the conventional wisdom of much of the education field about the obligations of schools and educators vis-??-vis 9/11.
For a particularly noisome specimen, have a look at the Teachers College Record series on teaching about September 11th. This now includes a number called "On the Spirit of Patriotism: Challenges of a 'Pedagogy of Discomfort' " by Michalinos Zembylas and Megan Boler, who are, respectively, adjunct professor of teacher education at Michigan State and associate professor of teaching and learning at Virginia Tech.
If you want to understand why many Americans mistrust ed schools to impart sound ideas to nascent educators, read this essay, which includes this depressing statement: "Patriotism invoked during the aftermath of 9/11 represents not simply an understandable reaction of grief and loss but, arguably, the ethically questionable political manipulation of public sentiment. In the name of patriotism, these public emotions of grief and anger have been used by ideological forces such as mass media to support a radical legislative redefinition of civil liberties, military and foreign policies justified by careful definitions of who counts as a terrorist, and new justifications for racism."
And you wondered why patriotism is so conspicuously missing from the education establishment's 9/11 curricular and pedagogical advice? It's not just that the suppliers of that advice are concerned with kids' feelings. It's that they harbor doubts about patriotism!
But patriotism isn't all that's absent. Also in lamentably short supply are U.S. and world history, civics, character development and heroism. Such content has been replaced by psychotherapy, diversity and multiculturalism. Is it possible that the 9/11 guidance is but a window into what's happening to the K-12 curriculum more broadly?
This is a huge problem for American education and, more importantly, for America, if our education leaders are abdicating their responsibility to forge tomorrow's citizens with a copious understanding of history and civics, a well-honed capacity to distinguish right from wrong, clear-headedness about America's founding principles and why these appeal to millions but are hated by others, and a hearty appreciation for heroes (and the capacity to distinguish them from villains).
Fortunately, there are plenty of competent, patriotic educators now doing right by their students with scant heed to the nonsense emitted by their organizations. They know their stuff, care deeply for their country and are both serious and capable when it comes to forging children into knowledgeable citizens.
But what about the profession's leaders? Those who teach tomorrow's teachers? And those whose materials actually get used by practitioners who are not up to the task of developing their own?
We at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation set out to fill a small portion of this huge void. We did this with specific reference to September 11, but the resulting report has curricular implications that go well beyond that anniversary.
Entitled "September 11: What Our Children Need to Know," it can be found-newly posted on our website-by surfing to www.edexcellence.net. Its centerpiece is 23 short essays by a distinguished array of Americans, including educators, historians, political scientists and policy analysts. Some are Democrats, some Republicans. Some have a national perspective, some a state purview, some a local focus. We sought a range of perspectives but did not seek people who would repeat the conventional wisdom, who would psychologize the topic or whose reverence for tolerance dwarfs their appreciation of other compelling civic values. Above all, we sought people who take history and civics seriously, who take America seriously. They all responded to this question: "What civic lessons are the most imperative for U.S. K-12 teachers to teach their pupils, as the 'anniversary' of the September 11th attacks draws near, about the United States and what it means to be an American?"
Their advice ranges widely, as you will see, but most of it focuses on the solemn responsibility of schools and educators to help our children learn their nation's history, how precious and hard-fought our liberty is, what it's like in countries that don't share our freedoms, how to appreciate heroism and human excellence, and how to conduct themselves well as young Americans.
Besides expert essays and an introduction, the new Fordham report provides an extensive reference bibliography for educators seeking to learn more.
I hope you will examine it, perhaps even read it. We'd appreciate your comments. Even more, we'd appreciate your passing it along to teachers and others who might make use of it, on 9/11/02 to be sure, but also before and after. Nothing we publish is copyrighted so nobody needs permission to print, duplicate or forward it. Cross-link to it from your website. Make it your own.
"September 11: What Our Children Need to Know," Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, September 2002