Archived Opinion

Knee-jerk patriotism, sadly, is gaining ground

Knee-jerk patriotism, sadly, is gaining ground

Gag orders regarding what can be taught in schools are becoming all the rage in many conservative states. Like the “don’t say gay” measure in Florida, these laws try to eliminate or sometimes guide discussions — mostly about about race and sexuality, but also politics — to the point that they are just bad for our schools and students.

I’ve argued in this space before that frank, open and age-appropriate discussions of important cultural flashpoints are crucial to the kind of education that best prepares young people for the world we live in. As I was researching for this column, I came across a piece by Joe Killian. He writes for NC Policy Watch, a decidedly left-leaning news site that is part of the North Carolina Justice Center. 

That said, Killian captured my feelings about how legislators across the country are trying to impose their politics into what public schools and universities can teach. I know that many disagree with the premise and conclusions in some research — like The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” for example — but the way to show its fallacies and potential shortcomings is to talk and debate those conclusions, not forbid it from being taught. Ignorance is not a form of education, it’s a path to mediocrity.

Here’s a lengthy excerpt from Killian’s piece: 

Last month PEN America, the non-partisan non-profit that just celebrated 100 years of protecting free expression, published its latest roundup of educational “gag order” legislation across the U.S.

The organization is actively tracking a national wave of bills, many now becoming law, that make patriotism compulsory and restrict what can be said, read or taught about race and American history. “Every state in the country has education-related laws on the books designed to produce patriotic, civic-minded students,” the group wrote in its March 30 report. “But what legislators are doing now is different.”

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“Instead of simply requiring students to learn about, say, the Mayflower Compact or the importance of democracy, lawmakers are attempting to censor what they consider to be ‘anti-American’ ideas, regulate instruction on slavery and racism, and prohibit conversations about contemporary injustice,” the organization wrote. “In other words, the purpose of these bills is not simply to cultivate patriotism. Rather, it is to make patriotism — or more specifically, a knee jerk and uncritical form of patriotism — compulsory.

“Unlike previous historical waves of such legislation, including those that required teachers to take loyalty oaths or students to recite the pledge of allegiance, PEN says current legislation has focused on race and LGBTQ issues.

“Though the new wave of bills began at the K-12 level, an increasing number of bills now target public universities, as well. And while none of these bills have yet become law in North Carolina, Republican politicians in the state have called for them.”

Anyone who has spent time in our schools and universities know that they are remarkable places where eager minds are thirsting for knowledge. We need teachers who stoke those young minds, but shackling them with these needless laws has the opposite effect. Most of these bills — and I would encourage all to visit PEN America website — are more political ideology than reasonable education legislation. In the world’s freest and most open society, they just don’t belong. 

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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