I’ve my doubts about America. As a Catholic, my first loyalty is to a religion that predates and guarantees to outlast our Republic, that was disfavored for a lot of our historical past and could also be headed into disfavor as soon as once more. American anti-Catholicism is way from the worst evil on this nation’s historical past, nevertheless it nonetheless instills a particular obligation to take critiques of our Anglo-liberal-Protestant inheritance severely, whether or not they come from radicals or traditionalists or each.
But in relation to introducing American historical past to my very own American kids, none but older than 10, I’ve realized that we’re giving them a reasonably patriotic schooling: journeys to the battlefield at Concord; books like “Johnny Tremain” and the d’Aulaires’ biographies of Lincoln and Franklin and Pocahontas; incantatory readings of “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
One of my son’s favourite books is an account of Lewis and Clark’s mission that pairs extracts from diaries with vivid illustrations. Laura Ingalls Wilder might have been canceled a number of years in the past, however she’s a dominant literary determine for our daughters. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” performs in our minivan, and when my eldest daughter tries to win arguments by declaring “I’m a free American!” I let the declare stand, slightly than answering her with Catholic critiques of liberal individualism.
I ought to say that we additionally ship doses of realism about slavery and segregation and the significance of seeing historical past from the attitude of the defeated, from the Tories to the Sioux. (Though many older texts comprise these views, nonetheless un-P.C. their type; tragic realism shouldn’t be the unique province of the early twenty first century.) And we aren’t home-schoolers; our patriotic schooling interacts with what our children study in class and decide up by way of osmosis in our progressive state and metropolis.
But having written not too long ago in regards to the race-and-history wars, I feel it’s value speaking about what makes patriotic schooling precious, even when you finally need children to have vital distance from the nation’s sins.
Here I need to disagree mildly with David French, the well-known conservative critic of conservatism, who wrote for Time journal not too long ago chiding mother and father who’re “afraid children will not love their country unless they are taught that their country is good.” The love for nation we instill, he argued, shouldn’t relaxation on American innocence or greatness; slightly we must always love our nation the best way we love our household, which suggests “telling our full story, the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
To which I might say, sure, however … you most likely need to really feel a sure safety in your kids’s household bonds earlier than you begin telling them about each sin and scandal.
Admittedly there are households the place that isn’t potential, as there are political contexts the place younger children must know darkish truths upfront. But we aren’t residing in Nazi-occupied France, and there may be simply sufficient good in America, previous and current, to put a patriotic basis, in order that extra grownup types of information are formed by a main sense of loyalty and love.
Moreover, with households the folks you’re supposed to like are often there with you, and to some extent you possibly can’t assist loving them even of their sins. Whereas the nation’s previous is extra distant, phrases and names and sophisticated legacies, not flesh and blood. So if historic schooling doesn’t start with what’s inspiring, a way of actual affection might by no means take root — risking not simply patriotism however a primary curiosity up to now.
I encounter the latter downside so much, speaking to progressive-minded younger folks — a way that historical past isn’t simply unlovable however truly fairly boring, a grim slog by way of imperialism and cisheteropatriarchy.
Whereas when you train children first that the previous is stuffed with individuals who did exceptional, admirable, brave issues — acts of endurance and creation that appear past our personal capability — then you possibly can build the notice of French’s bad-and-ugly organically, filling out the image by way of center and highschool, leaving each a love of nation and a fascination with the previous intact.
And beginning with heroism doesn’t simply imply beginning with white folks: From Harriet Tubman to Martin Luther King Jr., the story of the African-American expertise is probably the most straightforwardly heroic American narrative, the pure core of liberal patriotism — one thing liberalism understood on the time of Barack Obama’s election, however in its revolutionary and pessimistic temper appears at risk of forgetting.
This thought of a patriotic basis hardly eliminates controversy. You nonetheless have to determine at what age and in what approach you introduce extra element and extra darkness. This is as true for Catholic doubts as for radical critiques: I’m unsure precisely the best way to body Roe v. Wade and abortion for my older children.
In this sense French and others to his left are right — there isn’t any escape from exhausting historic truths, no easy method to elevate educated Americans.
But nonetheless I really feel no nice problem letting my kids start, wherever their schooling takes them, with the previous acquainted poetry: Here as soon as the embattled farmers stood / And fired the shot heard around the world.