CHICAGO — A Pew Research Center report — “Second-Generation Americans: A Portrait of the Adult Children of Immigrants” — recently verified something that has been the case throughout most of the nation’s history: Children who grow up in this country become proud Americans.
Prepare for that to change.
I say this as a daughter of immigrants who, like roughly six out of 10 adult children of these newcomers, considers herself a “typical American.” And like the overwhelming majority of second-gen Hispanics and Asians, I also believe the holiest of America’s promises — that most people can get ahead if they’re willing to work hard.
My peers and I didn’t get this way just based on our parents’ sunny dispositions. It was drilled into us by that great assimilation machine called public school. It’s an education system that, as I learned while earning a graduate degree in education, has its roots in the mission to teach students patriotism and moral values.
Well, just forget about it these days. Morals are not something that schools want to touch with a 10-foot pole. Even the watered-down character programs — such as “Character Counts!” — seem to be going extinct in favor of more general campaigns that merely implore students to “Just Be Nice” or put their “Values in Action!”
And patriotism in school is dead.
Take this headline that came to me from the Education Action Group Foundation, which has been described as either a promoter of sensible education reform or a tool of the far-right fringe: “Radical education officials try to impose anti-American curriculum.”
The e-blast claimed that Minnesota’s education officials are proposing new social studies standards that would “no longer require students to learn about Martin Luther King Jr., the War on Terror, the Soviet Union or the importance of patriotism.”
“Students would be required to learn about America’s ‘institutional racism,’ ‘the rise of big business,’ and the problems posed by an ‘unregulated capitalist economy.’ In other words, some want to change the curriculum so history instructors teach children that the United States is a bad country with an evil past.”
A level-headed independent thinker might wonder if such heated rhetoric is nothing more than the bizarre assertions of Ayn-Rand-worshiping conservatives. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to it.
As a second-generation minority who came of age with similar peers in urban classrooms that resembled a mini-United Nations, I can say that my schools taught us to love our parents’ adopted country with all our hearts. We grew up feeling as American as apple pie, even when we preferred comfort foods like leche flan or empanadas.
Today, as an ex-educator and the mother of two middle-school children attending schools staffed by left-leaning teachers trained more in the art of social justice than the science of pedagogy, I can tell you that when the current crop of school-age children of immigrants are grown, they may look at America as an imperialist, corporate-driven oppressor, not a source of pride.
In the name of inclusiveness, diversity, ethnic and gender studies, the education pendulum has swung to the point where, to read some of the worksheets that are given out as class work, you could forget that we are a nation molded by a group of enterprising founding fathers.
In the Howard Zinn “A People’s History of the United States” version of the past that most new teachers seem to have been weaned on, America was instead developed by wealthy, slave-owning white males whose real claim to fame was capitalizing on the Native American genocide that Columbus and the first colonists took part in.
Don’t laugh. This is not only how I’ve heard real teachers describe the roots of our nation, but almost exactly the terms in which social studies instruction was couched when I was going through formal teacher training.
We want to teach our students to think critically about their history, to be outraged at past wrongs. But too often, criticism is delivered to impressionable young minds with no real sense of historical context. The result is a constant drumbeat about how terrible America is.
In a nation where lawsuits are filed in order to avoid the supposed tyranny of having to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, the prospects for inspiring patriotism in our children are bleak. Prepare for the next wave of second-generation Americans to be far less admiring of their country than their predecessors were.
Esther Cepeda is a syndicated columnist and NBC Latino Contributor.