There’s been a lot of dust-up over the fact that sometimes, Barack Obama doesn’t wear a flag pin on his lapel. So in hopes of assuring people that he really, really is patriotic, he delivered this speech yesterday about patriotism, in which he emphasized the role of schools in turning kids into good Americans:
The loss of quality civic education from so many of our classrooms has left too many young Americans without the most basic knowledge of who our forefathers are, or what they did, or the significance of the founding documents that bear their names. Too many children are ignorant of the sheer effort, the risks and sacrifices made by previous generations, to ensure that this country survived war and depression; through the great struggles for civil, and social, and worker's rights.
This reminds me of some debates I’ve seen involving patriotism in schools. Just as some people think Barack Obama should always wear his lapel pin, some legislators think classrooms should display the U.S. flag, and students should have to say the Pledge of Allegiance (which contains the sometimes controversial phrase “under God”). For instance, in Arizona last year, many school districts had to raise private funds to pay for a new requirement that they hang a flag in every public-school classroom, grade 7 and up. Even John McCain has weighed in on the merits of saying the Pledge in school.
These debates seem to suck up a lot of political energy in statehouses, and it seems to me that there’s a bigger issue than whether a presidential candidate wears a flag pin, or, in the case of schools, whether classrooms must contain a U.S. flag, or whether students must recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps a better use of political capital would be to argue the merits of civic education in schools, and where the lessons of history and patriotism can be squeezed in amidst all of the demand for more math and science.