Sunday, April 23, 2006


In a recent column in Solon, writer Nina Burleigh relates her experiences in sending her son to a small-town school. She was forced to do this after spending two years in Paris because her apartment in comfortable, liberal New York was sub-let so they had to move into their vacation home in Narrowsburg.

They only planned on spending the occasional weekend in Narrowsburg without mixing with any of the locals. In fact, the locals made her very nervous.
Still, for the first few months, we felt uneasy. Eighty of Narrowsburg's 319 adults are military veterans and at least 10 recent school graduates are serving in Iraq or on other bases overseas right now. The school's defining philosophy was traditional and conservative, starting with a sit-down-in-your-seat brand of discipline, leavened with a rafter-shaking reverence for country and flag. Every day the students gathered in the gym for the "Morning Program," open to parents, which began with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a patriotic song, and then discussion of a "word of the week." During the first few weeks, the words of the week seemed suspiciously tied to a certain political persuasion: "Military," "tour," "nation" and "alliance" were among them.
When they found out that that the teacher and most of the other parents were religious, they actually panicked.
When we later learned that the cheery kindergarten teacher belonged to one of the most conservative evangelical churches in the community, we were careful not to challenge anyone or to express any opinion about politics or religion, out of fear our son would be singled out. Instead, to counteract any God-and-country indoctrination he received in school, we began our own informal in-home instruction about Bush, Iraq and Washington over the evening news.
Here is an example of her in-home instruction:
In simple language, I told my son that our president had started a war with a country called Iraq. I said that we were bombing cities and destroying buildings. And I explained that families just like ours now had no money or food because their parents didn't have offices to go to anymore or bosses to pay them. "America did this?" my son asked, incredulous. "Yes, America," I answered. He paused, a long silent pause, then burst out: "But Mommy, I love America! I want to hug America!"
Note - this conversation took place in December, 2004, over a year after the invasion of Iraq. Except for sporadic fighting in insurgent strongholds, most of the bombing at the time was being done by the insurgents.

Since then the school closed due to financial problems. The writer's family found the rural life too boring and moved back to the safety of Manhattan's Upper West Side. She says of her son's new school:
not surprisingly, the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer part of his morning routine. Come to think of it, and I could be wrong, I've never seen a flag on the premises.
About her son's brush with patriotism, she says:
Only once it was gone did I realize that, after our initial discomfort, my husband and I had begun to see our son's patriotism as a badge of innocence. His faith was a reminder to us that the reason we are devastated by the war in Iraq and the Bush presidency is that we too love America. We too want to believe in its potential for good and brotherhood.
There are several insights to be learned from this article. One is that liberals hate indoctrination as much as conservatives. It never seems to occur to her that the church-going people of Narrowsburgh would be just as shocked by her son's new school as she was by their school. She has her own ideas about what should be taught to children and wants her child raised to echo her views. In most colleges it is her views that are being pushed. She never questions indoctrination place in the classroom.

There is a bit of class snobbery going on also. She is in a position to buy a weekend house for $50,000 and live in Manhattan. The median income in Narrowsburgh is $45,000. She can't stand to live there for more than a day or two per week. When it first came time to enroll her son in school, she asked around but none of the people she associated with had ever set foot in the school.

She presents he issues with America as all relating to George Bush but there are indications that they run much deeper. The students sang the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. Guess which one chokes her up? (Hint - it's not the one that celebrates war.) Just being around so many veterans seems to make her nervous. I would bet that these attitudes go back further than the Spring of 2003.

Another issue - she grew up believing in America. She even says so. Yet somehow she managed to outgrow it.

What should we be teaching our children in school about America? And at what age should we begin? Is kindergarten too early to be teaching current events? I think so. The events in Iraq are much more complex than Burleigh is even willing to acknowledge much less explain on a 5-year-old's level.

My opinion is that, as a nation, we cannot continue to survive unless we teach some degree of patriotism. This is our national self-esteem. If we teach our children that America is worse than murderous dictatorships than what will be our future? Even Burleigh claims to have some good feelings for America. Are her feelings for our elected leaders so strong that she gave up all hope for her country because her candidate lost?

Or is Burleigh mis-representing her own feelings? Does she reserve her positive feelings for Blue America such as her neighbors in Upper West Side of Manhattan?

Strange. One of America's strong points is supposed to be our freedom of expression. That means that you acknowledge that your neighbors may not hold the same values that you do. They might attend church and show their children "Veggy Tales". They might have served in the military and not be ashamed. They might even have voted for Bush.

None of this is for Burleigh.

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