School Climate & Safety

Education Experts Expect Resurgence of Patriotism In Nation’s Classrooms

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — September 26, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Flag-draped auditoriums hosted student assemblies, “God Bless America” messages bedecked hallways, and principals and speakers rallied students to be patriotic in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Schoolhouses from sea to shining sea were awash in patriotism, mirroring the sentiment that gripped much of the nation after the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Those events seem to have created an instant change in many places in the attitude toward civics education and the role of schools in cultivating patriotism, many observers say. What was once a mainstay of public education, but had lost significance and even become controversial because it was viewed as being at odds with a multicultural and inclusive message, came back in a stream of red, white, and blue this month.

Salt Lake City Urged to Close Schools During Olympics States' Test-Taking Schedules Feel Impact of Terrorism Islamic Schools and Muslim Youngsters Report Harassment Education Experts Expect Resurgence of Patriotism in Nation's Classrooms Students React to Crisis With Acts of Kindness-- Heartfeld and Practical First Lady: Teachers Need Help Grief Descends on School After Terror Hits Home Children's Media Tell Story of Attacks Frankly, But Carefully Attacks Alter Instructional Landscape N.Y. Schools Share Space; 8 Still Closed Terror Touches Schools

Some historians and educators suggest that any apathy toward the importance of the nation’s civic values and the national motto of “E Pluribus Unum” will be jolted, at least temporarily, by a renewed emphasis on the critical role schools play in teaching citizens about American ideals. But disagreement exists over just how much flag-waving is appropriate.

“This kind of love of country is important, but the problem with patriotism is that it often blinds us to the negative side of American history,” argued John Marciano, the author of Civil Illiteracy and books on how textbooks cover the Vietnam and Perian Gulf wars.

Beyond Individualism

Up until the latter part of the 20th century, schools were often looked to for building allegiance to the flag and cultivating a loyal citizenry. Early in the history of universal schooling, American textbooks were rife with patriotic narratives about the struggles of the nation’s founders to create a new republic. In the early part of the 20th century, some states mandated the teaching of the U.S. Constitution and the singing of “The Star- Spangled Banner” in schools.

Some states later required students to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school each day, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such laws unconstitutional in 1943.

During times of crisis, schools have tended to focus attention on common national beliefs and values, according to Margaret S. Branson, the associate director of the Center for Civic Education in Calabasas, Calif. “Those of us who lived through World War II experienced a greater feeling of brotherhood, and even during the Depression, there was a need to bring the country together,” she said.

Classroom lessons often reflected that public sentiment.

“Up until a certain time in history, Americans considered patriotism an essential public virtue, one that should be taught in school,” said Gilbert T. Sewall, the president of the American Textbook Council in New York City, which reviews the content of history and social studies textbooks. “It’s not gone, but certainly it’s been compromised. ... A lot of educators are allergic to patriotism.”

Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University, said that civics lessons in recent years have been awkward at best, highlighting individual rights and ignoring the responsibilities necessary for the success of a democratic society.

“Now, we’ve seen the overwhelming response of the American people who say they do believe in something larger than our own well-being as individuals,” she said. “This is absolutely going to have an effect on schools.”

Mr. Marciano and other educators say they are concerned such reactions could go too far and lead to collective amnesia about the nation’s often-bloody history both here and abroad. “To be a patriot, we need to also stand up when our government is wrong,” Mr. Marciano said.

In Ms. Branson’s view: “What we’re after with kids is not just being patriotic in a flag-waving sense, but understanding why they are patriotic, why they should be committed to basic principles of democracy. The young people of today have not seen the kind of cataclysmic events of previous generations. This is going to be a very sobering experience for them.”

Related Tags:


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Disparities, Bullying, and Corporal Punishment: The Latest Federal Discipline Data
As most schools offered hybrid instruction in 2020-21, Black students and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined.
5 min read
The image displays a lonely teenage boy facing away from the camera, sitting on the curb in front of his high school.
Discipline data from the 2020-21 pandemic era, released by the U.S. Department of Education, shows persisting disparities in discipline based on race and disability status.
School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center Where Should Students Be Allowed to Use Cellphones? Here’s What Educators Say
There’s a yawning gap between what's permitted and what educators feel should be allowed.
2 min read
Tight crop photo of a student looking at their cellphone during class. The background is blurred, but shows students wearing uniforms.
School Climate & Safety Explainer What Is Restraint and Seclusion? An Explainer
Restraint and seclusion are dangerous practices that are used to control students with disabilities, experts say.
8 min read
schoolboy sitting on a chair isolated in a hallway
School Climate & Safety Why These Parents Want Cellphones Banned in Schools
Educators say parents are often quick to push back on cellphone bans in schools, but this parent group is leading the charge.
3 min read
Students' cell phones are collected by school administration before the start of spring break at California City Middle School in California City, Calif., on March 11, 2022.
Students' cellphones are collected by school administration before the start of spring break at California City Middle School in California City, Calif., on March 11, 2022.
Damian Dovarganes/AP