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College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

Activism IS Patriotism

Today, in America, questions frequently are raised about the “patriotism” of Americans. Some argue that devotion and loyalty to country, a hallmark of patriotism, is synonymous with agreement with those in power. Others suggest that the “sounds of democracy” are the expressions of independence associated with “voices of dissent.” I define freedom as the opportunity “freely” to offer an opinion and perspective that differs from the empowered, or even from the majority. It is a fundamental tenet of our democracy that all have a voice, with due regard and respect for the rule of law. Assuring these freedoms is the very definition of patriotism.

When freedom of expression is criticized, and journalists who are the personification of our freedoms as Americans to “question authority” are identified as the “opposition party” it is cause for concern. Certainly, when facts are confused with beliefs, and beliefs are based on ideology rather than truth, these concerns are amplified.

Phi Delta Kappan International, the respected association of education professionals founded in 1906, recently released its 48th PDK Poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools. This nationally representative sample of US citizens asked about a wide range of important topics pertinent to public education. One important finding was the response to the question: ”What do you think should be the main goal of a public school -- to prepare students academically, to prepare them for work or to prepare them to be good citizens?” Surprisingly, there was not a majority response to this critical question. In fact, 26% of those polled responded that the primary goal ought to be to “prepare students to be good citizens.”

As university professors, and in particular as educators of future educational professionals in our public schools, this finding must carefully be considered. Citizenship education must be one of our goals as educators. An important imperative for our schools is to educate good citizens – that means teaching our students about the principles upon which our nation was founded and the bedrock values that define the United States. Citizenship means modeling for our students’ activism that promotes policies, practices and actions consistent with our nation’s democratic traditions. John Dewey, more than a century ago, commented, that education is about teaching critical thinking. Dewey was correct. The implication for me is that critical thinking also is about the “freedom to be critical.”

Teaching our students about citizenship is teaching our students about activism. It is about promoting activism in the service of patriotism. It is about “truth telling” and fidelity to our historic American core values and beliefs. It is not turning our back on others when they are in need. Yes, it is about protecting the safety of our communities – yet, doing so in a manner that embraces the needs of others without compromising security. It is about our humanity as Americans.

Activism that promotes American ideals is patriotism. Activism that contradicts and opposes actions that threaten our core American values is patriotism. Activism and patriotism are linked. They are two sides of the same coin – the coin that is, metaphorically, America.

An America where all are invited and all are welcome is our tradition -- it is our collective core value as a nation. In fact, it is the very essence of who we are as Americans and what America is as a nation -- we are a nation built by immigrants. Nearly all Americans were birthed by parents with roots as immigrants. A disregard for immigrants and refugees who seek the safety of our shores only to be informed that they are unwelcome is tragic.

Now is a time when activism is required – it is essential. Our activism today is what will protect and defend our security as a nation tomorrow – nothing is more important than protecting the very essence of what is America. It is our responsibility as educators “to act” as patriots as we model and support citizenship education.

Mark R. Ginsberg, Ph.D.
Dean and Professor
College of Education and Human Development
George Mason University