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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

For a more perfect union

Image result for we the people

Elementary schools have contributed to national discord by neglecting to teach American history and civic principles, writes E.D. Hirsch Jr. in Democracy Journal.

America is not a melting pot, but a mosaic that’s held together by “our national language and its public culture, including laws, loyalties, and shared sentiments, that make the language intelligible,” he argues.

Over the past six decades, changes in the early grades of schooling have contributed to the decline of communal sentiment. Under the banner of “Teach the child not the subject!” and with a stress on skills rather than content, the decline in shared, school-imparted knowledge has caused reading comprehension scores of high school students to decline. . . . (Ignorance) not only weakened their ability to read and communicate; it has left them with weaker patriotic sentiments, and with a diminished feeling that they are in the same boat with Americans of other races, ethnicities, and political outlooks.

“Both multiculturalism and multiple-intelligence theory” have “caught on like wildfire in recent decades,” writes Hirsch. Schools stress individualism rather than community.

More recently, one’s individuality has become conceived through “intersectionality.” A child is to be understood as an intersection of multiple essential groups and tribes—“Hispanic and gay,” for example—not as an “American,” which is assumed to be a nonessential trait.

During and after the Vietnam War, opposition to nationalism came to be seen as “a higher patriotism, as an effort to make our nation fairer and better,” writes Hirsch.

As a result, the sentiments of “Our country right or wrong,” and “Our country is the greatest in the world” (not very admirable sorts of jingoistic nationalism) got replaced by a recitation of the ways that our country failed to treat everyone as an equal, and how it mistreated whole classes of its people: American Indians, blacks, women, Japanese. “Our country is pretty bad.”

Some Massachusetts schoolchildren told NPR’s Judith Kogan they’d never heard of My Country ‘Tis of Thee,  America the Beautiful or God Bless America.

Kogan interviewed teachers who explained that songs like “The Star-Spangled Banner” were too militaristic, and that “God Bless America” mentioned God. Other patriotic songs, they said, were too narrowly nationalistic, and might offend children from other nations and cultures.

Hirsch wonders “what is wrong with America the Beautiful, which aims to ‘crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea’?”

If that’s not good enough, he dreams that Hamilton‘s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, will write a rap-hip-hop song “celebrating the stars-and-stripes national community.”

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