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.”

Related Items

“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..)

Leave a comment


  • Scott, talk about mis-informed! There is no "Don't Say Gay" bill. You should stop listening to main stream media talking points. Anyone that thinks a kindergarten age child should be exposed to ANY kind of sexual material or talk has a serious issue! Children should be left alone to be children and any institution including the government SHOULD be gagged if that is what they intend. Oh, and a man is a man and a woman is a woman, you can put feathers on a frog but that doesn't make it a bird! Make no mistake, God will judge those that try to mess with his children.

    posted by Ralph Robinson

    Monday, 04/11/2022

  • Can you cite where “Don’t say gay” is used in the Florida law? I have read the entire text of the bill and can’t find it anywhere.

    posted by Allen

    Saturday, 04/09/2022

  • So you and your paper support teaching homosexuality to 5 yr olds? Dad state of affairs.

    posted by Keith Kelley

    Thursday, 04/07/2022

  • There is no "Don't say gay" bills anywhere. What those bills do prevent is grooming. If anyone has a problem with such a law, then they need to find another field to work in anyway.

    posted by Quartermaster

    Thursday, 04/07/2022

  • Couldn't agree more with the article's premise. Also revisionist/apologist history is a huge problem.
    Also: anyone who would suggest that colleges are leftist, anti-capitalist hellscapes obviously never went to college. 1) Conservative & religious student groups are loud. 2).Have you seen what it costs to go to college these days? There ain't no collectivism on that tuition bill!

    posted by Dan Rathers Chin

    Wednesday, 04/06/2022

  • Scott McLeod, you are one really mixed up dude. What is wrong with you? Our schools and universities are not remarkable places but centers for brainwashing young minds with Marxism and immorality.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Wednesday, 04/06/2022

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.