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Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2001 /28 Mar-Cheshvan 5762

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports

Public education not patriotic -- FEELING patriotic? Support public education. That's the totally disinterested message of Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

As last week's deadline approached for filing briefs in the Supreme Court's school voucher case, Feldman took to the airwaves to tout public ed as the nation's salvation.

"America's public schools are one reason democracy has thrived. They bring together children of every race and creed. And while they learn their subjects, they also learn respect for each other -- and for the freedoms generations of Americans fought to protect."

Notice what Feldman did not say in her infomercial -- that public schools promote national unity by educating about our heroes and heritage.

For the teachers' lobby, America means pluralism, tolerance and nothing else. They want students to appreciate other cultures, not to feel pride in their own.

At its 2000 convention, the National Education Association (the other teachers' guild) endorsed multicultural education and global education, and decried official English for its "disregard (for) cultural pluralism."

While well-versed in the contributions of the Ibos and Incas, students are ignorant of the most basic facts about our history.

On July 4, 1999, the San Francisco Examiner published a revealing piece ("History taught in government schools? July 4th: Unclear on the concept"). A reporter asked Bay Area high school students which country America won its independence from.

Answers included China, Korea, Germany and Russia. Some thought the revolution happened in the past 50 years. One young lady wondered if the Fourth of July was somehow related to Pearl Harbor (when, under George Washington MacArthur, we declared our independence from the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere?).

Historian Diane Ravitch says students "need a better understanding of our own democratic ideals, where they came from, and how many sacrifices have been made by others to assure the present generation of Americans the basic rights and freedoms we now enjoy."

But, in place of civics lessons, public education offers cultural relativism. In the wake of Sept. 11, Deputy Chancellor of New York City Schools Judith Rizzo sneered: "Those people who said we don't need multiculturalism, that it's too touchy-feely, a pox on them. ... We have to do more to teach habits of tolerance, knowledge and awareness of other cultures."

Indeed, yes. We must teach tolerance of those who view Christians and Jews as "infidel dogs," as well as appreciation for the Wahabi view of women. All cultures are created equal -- those that spawned the industrial revolution and those that boogied to the beat of jihad.

When public schools venture into teaching American history, the result is often grotesque -- a mutant curriculum where Sacajawea takes on the significance of Thomas Jefferson, and our national epic is reduced to slavery, Wounded Knee and McCarthyism.

Most revealing is the attitude of many educators toward their country's flag. With America at war, some school boards want teachers to once again lead students in the pledge of allegiance.

An AFT spokesman says that while the group has no official position here, Feldman does not find the pledge objectionable. Many of her colleagues disagree. "Mandating patriotism is a really scary thing. It leads to nationalism and ultimately to fascism," squeaked Suzy Grinwold, a first-grade teacher quoted in the Oct. 12 Los Angeles Times.

A friend who's a substitute teacher in the Midwest says he's never seen a teacher lead the pledge. When he asked administrators why, he was told it would make immigrant children uncomfortable. They're not uncomfortable living in a nation built on the sacrifices of those who fought under the flag, and getting a free education to boot.

There is no greater threat to our survival than a generation ignorant of America's past and the ideals which form the foundation of national identity -- in other words, the products of public education.

By the dawn's early light of the foregoing, loyal Americans should get behind school choice. (Private schools could hardly do a worse job of promoting Americanism than their public counterparts.) It's the patriotic thing to do.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate