On the Flag Salute and Patriotism

 

Every morning in America, school children stand up to pledge allegiance to the American flag. By the time I meet them in my class, they are 15-16 years old and have been doing it for years. In the past I have asked my students, “Why do you pledge allegiance to the flag?” Most simply respond that they are expected to, or they may get in trouble if they don’t. Many have said they do it out of respect for the troops that have died for the flag, but there is nothing in the pledge that says anything about the military. Somebody has obviously told them this. I ask, “Have you ever thought about what it means?” Most students haven’t thought twice about it. “Why do you think you’re expected to do it?” They all have some kind of response related to showing respect. They have had this drilled into their heads that it’s disrespectful to America or the soldiers protecting our freedoms, not to pledge allegiance to the flag. I ask my kids if they even know what it means to pledge allegiance to something. Many do not.

There are words for slogans repeated over and over without critical thought like jingoism, propaganda, and indoctrination. There are even teachers and administrators that berate children publicly for failing to stop and say the pledge mid stride in the halls, the classroom or administrative buildings. I personally know of one student who was threatened by an administrator with calling in the school sheriff on her. Never mind the Supreme Court says that she doesn’t have to recite it. Why is this done?

What’s interesting is how clear this is to us when we characterize others. Our World History book discusses Fascist Italy during the 20’s and points out quite clearly how young students were taught to recite slogans to glorify the state as part of fascist indoctrination. I say this not to assert that America is full blown fascist because students pledge allegiance to the flag, but there is a parallel, and the goal is the same, to develop a blind, unthinking devotion to the state. I think the popular word is patriotism.

What does it mean to be patriotic? Patriotism means, “devoted love, support and defense of ones country”. I love my country if that means the neighborhoods I lived in, my family and the people I grew up with, I had a great childhood in America. The natural land and the people I have met here for the most part are worthy of love, support, loyalty and all that. But that’s not what it means. It means America’s institutions, laws, government and economic system. In this case, hell no, I don’t love America.

According to the pledge of allegiance, the flag represents the American republic. Should the citizenry pledge allegiance to its government? Absolutely not, that is fascist in nature. Such an act is contrary to common sense. If anything, the republic should pledge allegiance to its citizenry.

What patriotism means in practical terms is support for the ruling class’ institutions whether they are right or wrong. The military, the business class, American mythology, exceptionalism and the belief in the idea that god somehow favors Americans. If the criminals in charge of this system blow people up in far reaches of the world, rob the public, jail as many Blacks and poor folks that they possibly can, exploit the poor of the world, I should still offer them my dying loyalty. That is what most people mean when they say patriotism, I think. If that is patriotism I am not patriotic. Perhaps nationalism is a better term to use. The whole concept of the nation state is loaded with ideas that support bourgeois rule. Patriotism and nationalism are basically loyalty to the ideas, institutions and rules, of the ruling class.

The more you scrutinize all this, the more you see that it is all empty rhetoric and bullshit. Who has been unpatriotic according to the ruling class? Abolitionists, slave rebels, civil rights activists, black panthers, Vietnam draft resisters, the labor movement, communists, socialists and plenty of others who fought for justice against the so-called patriots who want to enslave and oppress. I want to be on that side of history. Patriotism in America means collusion with white nationalism, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, racism and a bunch of other things I don’t wish to be identified with.

Do we even live in, “one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all?” What a joke. There is no such thing as an American, “one nation”. Particularly class, race and even gender divide us. There is no liberty and justice for the poor in general, particularly black and brown youth, while the wealthy can do whatever they please to whomever they please because they run the joint. We should cease to pledge allegiance to the flag in class without some healthy discussion as to why it is done and if it should be done. Use this time as a way to discuss the larger issues of nationalism, patriotism, propaganda and whatever else you can connect to it.

Propaganda in Social Studies Curriculum

 

Social Studies is political in nature. It is not the same as Mathematics or Science. Two hydrogen molecules and oxygen will always make water. No two ways about it. History, on the other hand is subject to bias and interpretation. Mainstream education is far from objective; there are certain lies, omissions, interpretations that support the status quo. Michael Parenti used the term “unanimity of bias” to describe what is often mistaken as objectivity, but is really giving a pass to the agreed upon bullshit perpetuated by ruling class interests. To really be objective is to detach oneself from the evidence and view it on its own merit and come to a conclusion. The problem is, the texts that are used as the backbone of most social studies curriculum are full of loaded language and propaganda, particularly in regards to our quasi state religion, anti- communism and towards radical social movements. There are many examples but there are a couple that demonstrate the problem clearly. One is the democracy vs. Communism dichotomy to explain the Cold War. Another is the selective use of terms like ‘aggression’ and ‘violence’. True objectivity includes unpacking all the nonsense and propaganda packaged as education. Though objectivity is paramount, it is also necessary to encourage our youth to take a stand based on their objective and subjective conclusions. They have to find their place in history and know what traditions they are continuing and what side of history they want to stand on. We, as educators must do the same.

The Cold War was basically the capitalist world, led by the American ruling class, attempting to maintain their newfound power in the post WWII world by containing the spread of communism or any radical idea or notion that threatens capitalist interests. Of course the capitalist world, was dubbed the ‘free world’, regardless of how free the people actually were. What makes them ‘free’ is their domination by capitalist interests. The point is for us to assume that whatever the US or its allies is doing is in the interests of freedom, no matter how gruesome the results.

This era is defined in mainstream US education as a competition between competing ideologies, Capitalism vs. Communism. The term capitalism is often swapped out for democracy. Democracy vs. Communism is a false dichotomy. Democracy is a vague term to describe a system in which people have some say so over policy either directly or indirectly through elections. Democracy has nothing to do with capitalism, a system in which, the means of production are owned by private interests for profit. In fact, their only correlation is a negative one. Objectively speaking, the more capitalist a society is, the less democracy there is, because power and wealth is concentrated, giving the ruling class more power and control over institutions and leaving masses with less. This is the case of many of the societies the US supported during the Cold War. The point of this ideological manipulation was for people to associate whatever the US was doing at the time with defending, supporting democracy, when in fact it was capitalism they were defending, most times against the actual democratic forces who were threatening capitalism.

Communism is a political, economic, social movement, ideology and method to understanding the world primarily through a class analysis. It goals are to create a society with no classes, public ownership of the means of production and the dissolution of the state, using socialism or the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition from capitalism to communism. This process can be democratic or not, but capitalism, cannot be democratic by its very nature. The goal of the whole Democracy vs. Communism framework is to paint this episode in history as some battle between good and evil. Who are the good guys? Us, of course. This persuades people to associate communism with the opposite of democracy, tyranny. If the US is fighting for democracy, Communism must represent tyranny, this is especially important if the communist forces represent the democratic interests of the people in that society. Even if the movements were not communist, the very fact that they sought to change or reform the social, political, economic order can alone put them in the crosshairs of Washington’s deadly foreign policy.

Language is used to mystify the nature of American institutions and to distort history. In the current textbook used at my school site, there is a subtitle labeled, “Axis Aggression Goes Unchecked” in the chapter covering the buildup to WWII. This in itself is no cause for alarm. The problem is that no textbook would ever refer to anything done by America or its allies as ‘aggression’, no matter how aggressive it actually is. Indian wars, imperialist expansion, slavery, invasion, none of these crimes is described as aggression in educational resources. The term ‘communist aggression’ surfaces as well, however there is no such thing as ‘capitalist aggression’, not because it doesn’t exist, it is simply not acknowledged by mainstream doctrine. The term does not fit the ideological framework quietly being forced upon students and teachers alike. Only ‘enemies’ of America can be labeled aggressive.

This was done domestically as well, painting any movement that sought to empower the poor as socialist or communist, thus demonizing them and positioning the ruling interests as democratic and giving them a pretext to repress popular movements. The term ‘violent’ was used to discredit freedom movements as well. Groups like the Black Panther Party and figures like Malcolm X and Robert Williams were deemed violent simply for advocating-self defense. The police would never be described using such language, even though it is much more fittingly applied to them than any radical social movement. I’ve brought up the Black Panther Party in class and had students ask if they were racist, or killed white people? This has systematically been planted in people’s minds, because the actual history is so different. We are meant to view freedom fighters as violent and the agents of repression as somehow on the defense. We have to flip the script.

All this serves to legitimize the illegitimate, to give cover to crimes against humanity perpetrated by this system that we are educating our youth to fit into. It is crucial that we help our students point out propaganda techniques and model how to challenge them. As educators we are in part, expected to transmit the values of this society to the youth. This is collaboration with a system based on lies. If we want to help students develop a tolerably accurate view of the world, we actually have to teach against our textbooks and other educational resources, meaning we have to actually know our shit and teach with some political clarity. We must position ourselves against the dominant narrative being advocated by the system we work in. We must model how to challenge mind numbing, manufactured consent and encourage students to do the same. A historian has no country, and it is best that we reject building a simple historical narrative that fits into a narrow nationalist, patriotic framework. Our students should think like human beings, not Americans.

academic underachievement of oppressed nationalities

 

Academic underachievement among historically oppressed people in America is not just an academic matter, the problem does not stem from lack of adequate instructional techniques or vocabulary strategies. It is rooted in the very dna of the American social order. It grows naturally, it is a seed that was planted and the roots of injustice nurtured it throughout American history. This is but one symptom of the general oppressive conditions that people have been forced to live in. The historically oppressed sectors of the population will make up the bulk of the bottom end of most social indices from services provided from American institutions (education, health care, law enforcement, etc.), rates of disease, infant mortality, homicides, prison statistics, wealth and income an of course academic performance, in category after category, African American as well as Native and some Latin American groups are disproportionately represented at the bottom.

To view the same minority groups at the bottom of educational achievement statistics as simply an educational issue in the glaring presence of a similar trend that spans every measure of living standards is willful ignorance. The intelligent question to ask is, “Is there a pattern of systemic oppression undergirding all these issues- particularly among African and Native Americans- that could explain this trend?” The dominant narrative would have us believe that the very ethnic groups that were terrorized, traumatized and psychologically attacked for generations by this American ‘democracy’ are at fault for their failure to collectively succeed under that same system.

There is supposedly no connection between the centuries of violence, exploitation and imposed ignorance heaped upon the African and indigenous people on the one hand and their underachievement in the very society that committed the crimes against them on the other. If we are educators, we should encourage our students to ponder on these connections and question the prevailing ideas that help to oppress them and question the legitimacy of such a system that promotes them.

Many educators are unaware how much historical baggage African American youth carry into the classroom. The social studies curriculum does not help, but exacerbates the problem by mystifying the connection between the relative wealth of white people and the poverty stricken condition of African people in America and throughout the world. These two scenarios are projected as totally unrelated. The condition of Africans in the world is treated as just something that happened. Somehow Africans are at the bottom of society in America and the world and in need of perpetual help while the legacies of white supremacy, slavery, capitalism and imperialism, which created such stark inequality are glossed over as something that happened in the past and has no bearing on the world today. There is a clear connection to anyone who bothers to investigate.

What conclusion are students supposed to come to in regards to their intellectual capacity, when they are bombarded with images, even in school, that flaunt their perceived social, economic and educational inferiority, completely divorced from the conditions that created it?  No explanation is given as to why oppressed students live in substandard condition compared to folks in wealthier white communities. It is treated as if present conditions are not linked to any historical process. ‘It just is the way it is, because some people are industrious, thrifty and hard working’, the eye level analysis is, if one lives in a poor community they must be just the opposite, lazy, content and shiftless.  In order to be like the folks who live well, one simply has to take on the proper characteristics and attitude.

That’s the line; there is no attempt to connect the historical theft of resources, exploitation, racist policies, de-industrialization, and a bunch of other things to current present day conditions. The youth are usually left with the most obvious, eye level conclusion, that something must be wrong with them, especially if  they are told that they live in a democracy, and  we can all be whatever we want if we try hard enough, without any historical analysis to explain the unequal conditions. They aren’t going to spontaneously  provide a historical, class and racial analysis, they just look around and judge the world based on what they see.

The intellectual inferiority of non-Whites has been a hallmark in the belief system of America since its inception. It is a myth that has been institutionalized and propagated by every American institution. It is an idea that has shaped American culture and history. The culture thar black and indigenous people, have been socialized in has systematically taught them to believe this myth, and creates an inferiority complex in relation to whites, especially in the classroom. This has been a cancer passed down generation to generation.

For those psychologically traumatized by America, it is necessary for their collective mental health and self-image to be able to learn the causes of their current condition and not be left to ponder on their inferiority. This is where teaching becomes political. It is our job as educators to bring these youth to health by encouraging them to realize, the conditions among the oppressed are not due to their cultural dysfunction, but to an oppressive system that has victimized them for centuries. We do this not because we simply want to build up oppressed youth and make them feel good at the expense of the dominant system, but because it is true that the so-called shortcomings of oppressed populations in America are largely a legacy of institutionalized racism, oppression and the mechanisms of modern capitalism.

The schism between oppressed students and the educational system was fabricated by the educational system itself. African American students are more likely to be suspended by a large margin as early as pre-school. Study after study confirms that teachers prefer white students to non-Whites. Black youth are also viewed as being older, thus more threatening and less innocent and thus receive harsher consequences for similar behavior as White students. Teachers, according to studies begin to feel threatened by black students as early as the 4th grade. This creates an adversarial relationship between the school system and the student. The student may not even be able to articulate the problem, but may be more likely to act up in class. It is strange how this information is not considered in inquiries into the underperformance of students from oppressed backgrounds.

The problem of educational discrepancies among the oppressed is not an educational problem it is a deeper societal problem linked to all the other discrepancies. The general view in society of black youth as potentially threatening, less intelligent and unrepentant is also prevalent in schools. The same oppressive forces acting on black youth and other oppressed nationalities in other spheres of life are in motion in the educational system. They are criminalized and punished disproportionately just as in general American society. They are assumed culturally deficient and in need of civilization. The educational system is one arm of oppression in a matrix of an entire system based on class and race oppression. So, we cannot simply fix the educational system without changing everything else, it is attached to an entire system of capitalism, racism and imperialism which reproduces inequality. If we want a different outcome, we need a different system. We need a revolution.

Introduction

Greetings,

Welcome to Rebel Teacher, a blog that explores how the educational system works to perpetuate society’s status quo.  It encourages everyday teachers, students, parents and community members to challenge the  dominant paradigms of capitalism, imperialism, racial and gender oppression. The job of the educational system in any society is to reproduce the values of the ruling class. These values are always harmful to the historically oppressed classes and nationalities at the bottom of the social pyramid, the poor, women, descendants of African slaves, indigenous nations and immigrant communities. They are also harmful to the oppressed masses of the planet who are bled dry to make a comfortable life in the imperialist countries.

Nowhere, in any high school social studies textbook that I have ever seen, is there any fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of the global conquest and rule of the imperialists or even a realistic depiction of the genocide and enslavement that brought them to power.  As a result, the oppressed are taught to revere the historical murderers and enslavers of their ancestors, the so called ‘founding fathers’, and ‘pledge allegiance’ to the symbol of that oppression every morning. This psychological, mind fuck creates a situation in which the oppressed view their own people and communities as somehow deficient and instead of fighting this system -that is guilty of every crime they toss the oppressed in jail for- they seek to join it. It is our responsibility as educators and stakeholders to be able to recognize the subtle and overt messages that legitimize capitalist, imperialist oppression and encourage our youth to question them.