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Patriotism and Education Patriotism and Accountability: The Role of Educators in the War on Terrorism Citizenship education, according to Mr. Noguera and Mr. Cohen, means providing students with the knowledge
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Patriotism and Education Patriotism and Accountability: The Role of Educators in the War on Terrorism Citizenship education, according to Mr. Noguera and Mr. Cohen, means providing students with the knowledge and skills to think critically about their country s actions. By Pedro Noguera and Robby Cohen WHAT ARE the responsibilities of educators while our nation is at war? This is not a question that comes up at most conferences or workshops on education, even though anyone familiar with our work as educators knows that it is nearly impossible to avoid taking a stance on the issue. Should educators be expected to promote patriotism and support for the military effort in Iraq or Afghanistan? If our students seek our advice and counsel, should we encourage them to enlist? Or should we tell them that the decision is theirs to make? What about the Patriot Act? Should we urge our students to accept curtailments of our civil liberties as a necessary sacrifice in the war on terrorism, a war against a stateless enemy that is not confined to a particular territory? Or should we PEDRO NOGUERA and ROBBY COHEN are professors in the Department of Teaching and Learning at New York University, New York City. APRIL warn them of the potential dangers that may arise when any government is allowed to invade the privacy of its citizens? Ignoring these questions does not allow one to escape taking a stand. Even if you are uncomfortable speaking out for or against the war, it is important to understand that in times such as these we cannot pretend that education is apolitical work. Particularly now, when accountability has become a national mantra, we believe that educators must hold themselves accountable for ensuring that students acquire an intellectual grounding in history, civics, and culture that will enable them to develop informed opinions about the war, about U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, and about the implications of the war for civil liberties in American society. Silence and inaction are nothing more than a form of complicity with the status quo. The war is raging now, and those who do not express opposition are in effect demonstrating complicity if not support. People Iraqis, Afghanis, and Americans are dying, and decisions are being made in Washington that will affect our future. Our schools are being used as recruiting grounds for the military because No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires schools to provide military recruiters with access to schools and student records. 1 Our schools are not required to provide antiwar groups with equal access, so it seems clear that our education system is tilted toward war rather than peace. During the 1960s, universities and colleges were the sites of demonstrations and sit-ins when campus administrators provided the federal government with access to student records for the military draft during the Vietnam War. Today, the use of student records for military recruitment provokes relatively little protest. Fear of terrorist attack, fear of being perceived as sympathizing with terrorists or enemies of the U.S., and the undocumented but enduring belief that the war in Iraq will prevent terrorists from attacking us here all combine to make it increasingly difficult for individuals to take public positions against the war. Sensitivities are also heightened whenever American men and women (actually one-third of those serving in our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are not U.S. citizens) are deployed to fight in a foreign land, and this too contributes to the chilling effect on domestic dissent. However, as educators, we have a special responsibility to encourage critical thinking among our students. Indeed, citizens who think critically are essential for the functioning of our democracy. We ought not to allow our nation s schools to remain cogs in a war machine, nor should we allow ourselves to become unwitting supporters. LINKING ACCOUNTABILITY AND PATRIOTISM Over the past decade there has been a new emphasis on accountability in our nation s schools. NCLB has required schools to produce evidence that students are learning (as measured by performance on standardized tests) and that when they graduate from school they possess basic competencies in math and literacy. While many educators (including both of us) applaud certain aspects of NCLB, federal education policy under President Bush has been increasingly linked to other Administration initiatives, including the war. Thus educators are being held accountable in new ways. As a result of this linkage, the stakes are increasingly high for teachers, administrators, and students. Educators who support the war, the President, and the policies of the Administration may experience little difficulty doing what they can to embrace the military effort and NCLB with patriotic enthusiasm. They may do so either because they trust the President and his policies or because they believe that obedience and loyalty are essential when the nation is at war. They may have no qualms about promoting a similar brand of patriotism among their students and encouraging them to enlist in the military, even if they do not encourage their own children to do the same. Others may secretly oppose the war and the policies of the Administration but fear making their opposition known. Perhaps they fear being accused of disloyalty or being seen as a troublemaker. Or perhaps they are concerned that if they speak out they will be censured, fired, or worse. It is not surprising that many who oppose the war (and polls show that a majority of Americans no longer support it 2 ), who question the rationale and logic used to justify the military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and who regard NCLB as a threat to the integrity of public education may be reluctant to express their views openly. In some parts of the country, critics of the war, including prominent politicians, journalists, and celebrities, have been castigated for being soft on terrorism, and their patriotism has been questioned. Just before launching the war in Afghanistan, the President declared, You are either with us or with the terrorists. When the lines of debate are drawn so starkly, 574 PHI DELTA KAPPAN even passive neutrality may give rise to suspicion. Yet educators who prefer to avoid controversy and who would rather remain silent on these polarizing issues may find a stance of neutrality difficult to maintain during these tense times. When the National Education Association is called a terrorist organization by one secretary of education and when the state superintendent of Connecticut is described as un-american by another, simply because both have been critical of NCLB and other aspects of federal education policy, it is clear that a link between war and education has been forged. It may seem odd and even unfair for one s attitudes and positions toward the war to be linked to one s position on NCLB and federal education policy, but these are not ordinary times. While no one wants to risk being questioned by the FBI, blacklisted, or detained (or even deported if one is not a U.S. citizen) for taking public positions that are regarded as unpatriotic, it is important for us to remember that the right to dissent is an essential part of our democracy. It is also important to remember that, as educators, we have been given the great responsibility of imparting knowledge that will prepare our students to become citizens in this democracy. This is not a responsibility that can be taken lightly. ACCOUNTABILITY AND DEMOCRATIC CITIZENSHIP As accountability has become the leading policy fixation in education, it might be helpful for educators to think of patriotism and citizenship in terms of accountability as well. Given that our nation is at war in at least two countries, shouldn t educators be accountable for ensuring that all students have some understanding of why we are fighting, of whom we are at war with, and of what is at stake? Citizenship education is important in every society, but there is no place where it is more vital than in the U.S., the world s preeminent military power. Our government spends far more on the military than does any other nation. We have military bases and troops deployed in more than 100 foreign countries and hundreds of nuclear warheads ready to be launched on the order of the President. A nation with so strong a military and so vast a military presence must have an education system that is equally strong in teaching its future citizens to think critically and independently about the uses of American power and about the role of the American military in the world. Unlike most military superpowers of the past, the U.S. is a democracy, and the results of our elections can influence the global policies we pursue. Since the rest of the world cannot vote in our elections, even though their fate may be determined by the outcomes, it is up to us, as citizens and as educators, to ensure that our teaching fosters the kind of informed debate and discussion that is necessary for the functioning of a healthy democracy. Such an approach to teaching must include a willingness to discuss controversial issues, such as the nature and implications of American imperialism, our role as a global power, and our ongoing desire to intervene in the affairs of other nations. Every student in our nation s secondary schools should be exposed to both sides of the debate about how the U.S. uses its power in the world. All students should be able to understand the rationale given for American troop deployments and military actions abroad, and before graduating, they should be able to write a coherent essay exploring the merits of various courses of action and putting forward their own perspective on the ethics of U.S. foreign policy. To acquire this form of political literacy, our students must have an understanding of American and world history that goes far beyond regurgitating facts and dates or passing state history exams. They must also understand the complexity of politics in ways that exceed the typical offerings of the mainstream media. In short, they must learn, as Paulo Freire once admonished, to read the world so that they might have a clearer understanding of the forces shaping their lives. Let us use the concept of imperialism to illustrate how these educational goals might be pursued. The American Heritage Dictionary defines imperialism as the policy of extending a nation s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations. To determine whether it is appropriate to apply this term to the actions of the U.S., students would need to be exposed to a thematic approach to the history of America s territorial expansion, its ascendance to global power after the Spanish-Cuban-American War, and its emergence as the world s foremost superpower in the aftermath of World War II. Such an approach to history would compel students to grapple with the meaning and significance of economic and political changes rather than merely to recall a chronology of isolated facts. It would also enable students to comprehend the significance of blatant con- APRIL tradictions in U.S. foreign policy. For example, many Americans do not realize that the United States once supported many of the groups that now are part of al Qaeda (including Osama bin Laden himself ) when these individuals and groups were carrying out acts of terrorism in Afghanistan in opposition to the Soviet occupation of that country. They also may not know that Saddam Hussein was once a U.S. ally and that we supported him in his war against Iran, even when we knew he was using chemical weapons against the Kurds. 3 We should teach history in ways that make it possible for students to make sense of contradictions such as these. Indeed, we must do so if our students are to appreciate the complex social processes that led to America s rise as an imperial power. This does not mean that we should engage in an unfair bashing of the United States. One way to avoid this is to provide readings that offer a variety of points of view on the same subject. However, even as we strive for balance and fairness, we should provide our students with the analytical skills to critique and evaluate the information they are exposed to so that they can develop a logical and historically grounded framework for comprehending present conflicts and foreign engagements. To have a context for understanding the present war in Iraq, every student should know that war and violence were central to the founding and early development of the United States. What began as 13 states on the East Coast of North America eventually expanded from sea to sea through a process of conquest and conflict. Students should understand that, while some historians view this expansion in positive terms, as the growth of a liberty-loving republic, others see it as having been achieved by the near genocide of Native Americans and by the seizure of immense western territories from Mexico. 4 Similarly, to appreciate the significance of President Bush s assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for taking the nation to war, it would help students to know that similar tactics have been used in the past. The 1846 clash of U.S. and Mexican troops on lands that historically had belonged to Mexico; the sinking of the battleship Maine off the coast of Cuba in 1898, which Americans, without evidence, blamed on Spain; and the alleged but never confirmed second North Vietnamese attack on U.S. vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 are examples of controversial rationales that were used to take the nation to war. Understanding the nature of these historical controversies namely, who wanted the war, who opposed it, and why would help students to appreciate the significance of the ongoing debate over how and why the U.S. entered the war with Iraq. Accountability in teaching should also include ensuring that students have the ability to process the news and information they are exposed to each day so that they can understand how the war is being conducted and develop informed opinions about it. To be intelligent citizens today, students should be able to use the daily reporting from Iraq from mainstream and alternative sources to question and critique the claims of the Administration, such as Vice President Cheney s recent assertion that the insurgency in Iraq is in its last throes. The parallels between such claims and the equally misleading claims made by the Johnson Administration during the Vietnam War are worth exploring, as they offer historical precedent as well as evidence that the Republicans have no monopoly on this kind of spin. As the saying goes, In war, truth is the first casualty. Students should understand both the risks involved if the U.S. leaves Iraq before peace and democracy are established and those involved in staying longer. Again, the parallels to Vietnam are haunting. Making sense of such issues and arriving at an intelligent, well-thoughtout point of view requires an ability to critique arguments and opinions that are presented as facts and to recognize misleading statements. In a recent essay titled War and the American Constitutional Order, Mark Brandon asserts that, as of 576 PHI DELTA KAPPAN 2004, Americans had been involved in wars or military actions in 182 of the 228 years since the colonies declared independence in He also points out that U.S. military actions became much more frequent in the 20th century. Remarkably, from 1900 to 2000 there were only six years in which the U.S. was not engaged in some form of military action. Today, we are pursuing an open-ended commitment to a global war on terrorism that knows no national or temporal boundaries. Critics such as Andrew Bacevich write of a new American militarism whereby the nation s political elite, infatuated with the capabilities of high-tech weaponry and emboldened by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the lack of a countervailing superpower, has embraced military action as a first rather than a last resort to advance U.S. interests. 6 Our students need not accept Bacevich s arguments, but they do need to know enough about American history to be able to critique and debate them. Why has the U.S. been so reliant on military force for so much of its history? Do other nations have similar histories? What rationales have Americans used in the past to justify going to war? How do we reconcile this long history of U.S. warfare with the fact that U.S. territory has so rarely come under attack from foreign powers? Our students need to engage questions such as these with an understanding of history and with a critical frame of mind. It is also well past time for U.S. schools to confront what is new about this latest U.S. war. This is the nation s first preemptive war. By conventional standards, the U.S. could well be seen as the aggressor in this war, since it invaded a far weaker state not in response to any immediate threat or attack on Americans but in response to a presumed threat (Iraq s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction) that later proved to be nonexistent. Students need to grapple with the whole idea of preemptive war and its international implications. If the U.S. is entitled to wage such a war, attacking weaker nations whenever it construes a potential threat from them, then do we accord this same right to other major powers? Can China, for example, be given a green light to invade Taiwan if China s leaders believe that this smaller nation poses a threat to its security? Our efforts to ensure that our students understand the war we are fighting should also include discussion of how our troops conduct themselves during the war. We must help our students to understand how it was possible for prisoners of war to be abused and tortured by American forces in Iraq and why it is that Amnesty International has referred to the prison at the Guantánamo military base in Cuba as the Gulag of our times. Here the linkages between past and present can be made by simply asking why it is that the U.S. owns this naval base in Cuba. We should encourage our students to debate who should be held accountable when atrocities such as these come to light. Those who torture, those who supervise and command them, both? They should know why the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners during war were adopted and why America s designation of certain prisoners as unlawful combatants represents a threat to Americans who may be captured. Likewise, similar kinds of questions must be asked of the Iraqi insurgents and of the terrorist groups whose suicide bombings and attacks on civilians have created the worst horrors of the war. The extent to which our civil liberties should be curtailed as a result of the war on terrorism is yet another topic that should be fully explored. Is the Patriot Act fundamentally different from Sen. McCarthy s search for Communists during the Cold War years? Was President Roosevelt s decision to intern Japanese Americans during World War II similar to or different from the mass detentions of Muslims who are still being held without trial or legal representation throughout America today? With police searching bags at airports and security agencies possessing new powers to order wiretaps on Americans, students need to assess whether the national security rationales for these acts can stand up under critical scrutiny. The Middle Eastern focus of much of the war on terrorism poses a serious challenge to our schools, because most students indeed, most of our citizens lack the kind of understanding of the history and culture of the region that would be needed to understand the complex issues. Not many public schools teach Arabic or have teachers with expertise in the history of Islam. With such educational deficien
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