My Patriotic Education

This happened last week, but I’m still thinking about it. The trick the president is trying to pull is outdoing himself constantly so each shock makes the previous one seem mild by comparison. How can one consider that he’s trying to control how children see the world’s biggest industrial-colonial-prison system, when it was followed up a few days later with refusal to give a direct answer about whether he’ll allow a peaceful transfer of power following an election loss? With so little national faith in the electoral system, will any of us even believe the results? Trump says if he loses, his followers certainly won’t, and I think that much is true. That’s another good trick when you’re managing masses to increase power and profit: mix a good amount of truth in with the lies.

As I describe my personal experience, I realize this may not be exactly what Trump has in mind when he calls for “patriotic education.” In fact, what he has in mind may be far more regulated, which is terrifying, but possible. I think it’s important to write about this because my education was spotty at best, indoctrination at worst, and this is exactly the kind of education that makes Americans so patriotic. The elements necessary include the suppression of information and racist tokenization. They include memorization of pledges of allegiance to symbols from early childhood, before it’s possible to think critically about what is being sworn away. They write off conflicting information as fake or revisionist. From what I can gather, this problem is only exacerbated when parents are in full control of their children’s access to information, not limited by any means to the homeschool table.

Every school day morning, when my siblings and I gathered around the dining room table for homeschool, it was time to get the American flag and say our pledge of allegiance to it. We kids took turns holding it up in reverence, putting our hands over our hearts, and most of us had the pledge memorized by the age of 2 or 3. Then we’d also say the pledge of allegiance to the AWANA flag. This was to practice for our Wednesday night AWANA meetings. At each AWANA meet, too, we said the United States flag pledge before pledging our allegiance to AWANA clubs. (For those who don’t know, my parents have since stopped homeschooling or participating in AWANA, so I am commenting on my own childhood experiences, not the present.)

AWANA is all-caps because is an acronym from a Bible verse, 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” It stands for Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, explicitly an organization designed to indoctrinate children early. I started at age 3, as one of the “Cubbies,” memorizing two full books of short Bible passages like “Jesus loves me.” Then between the ages of 4 and 7, I was in “Sparks,” named such because we were young children “shining” for Jesus “to light the world,” based on Jesus’ reference to calling his followers “the light of the world.”

I won’t put the US flag pledge here, but I can write the AWANA pledge from memory since it’s less well-known:

“I pledge allegiance to the AWANA flag
Which stands for AWANA clubs
Whose goal is to reach boys and girls
With the gospel of Christ
And train them to serve him.”

That was the beginning of each school day, followed by praying aloud as a group – mom and us kids. Not all of us had to pray, but at least four of us had to volunteer to take each kind of prayer my mother required. She went by ACTS – Acclimation, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The scapegoated kids were usually put on the spot to come up with something to confess in front of anyone, and we were scolded if our prayers didn’t seem genuine enough. By the time the pledges and prayers were over, we were expected to do Bible time, before listening to mom read aloud from a children’s illustrated historical fiction book while we colored pictures.

The first history book that comes to mind is Stories of the Pilgrims, written by Margaret B. Pumphrey and published by Christian Liberty Press. I remember it well, because we read it every November for as long as I can remember, leading up to Thanksgiving. What I remember about this book was that my mom had no problem reading it exactly as it was written, referring to the Indigenous people they encountered as “the Indians.” We always celebrated Thanksgiving as the history of the Pilgrims being welcomed into a new land where they would be free to worship.

We listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio constantly, along with the cohort of similar hosts including Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck (though Beck wasn’t conservative enough sometimes). We didn’t watch Fox News, not because we didn’t believe it reported with accuracy, but because we didn’t have TV. Our main source of breaking news was Drudge Report. There was constant exposure to rhetoric about taking back the country. America was awesome, and so was our family, and thinking otherwise was cause for great conflict.

While every holiday had a Christian perspective, including adding a Last Supper Communion cup of wine – er, sprite and grape juice – to our “Passover” celebration every Thursday-before-Easter, Independence Day was as big a deal as Christmas. The 4th of the July started in the early morning, when we started decorating the bikes and wagons so we could join in the children’s parade. Then we’d all gather for the big parade, which always concluded with lots of sirens. We always tried to see fireworks in the evening, too, and in my younger days mom would make special caramel popcorn for watching them.

The only thing I learned from my parents about slavery was that Abraham Lincoln was a great man for ending it. When I was perhaps 10, I told my mom to read the American Girl books about an enslaved child. They made her cry, but she never chose to include this crucial part of history with the other kids – maybe she didn’t know how to talk about it.

Our whole lifestyle had to do with supporting war, capitalism, and white supremacy. Patriotism looks like festivity for white people in this country, which is grotesque but true. It looks like pretending whole genocides didn’t exist. It’s disgusting to me now, but that is only because I have since learned how inaccurate my education was.

I can’t get to everything. I’ve been writing this post since yesterday. I need to wrap it up. My point in offering all of the above information is that part of systemic racism is educational neglect, and giving the power to educate to uninformed people. I do not believe any child can be sufficiently educated by only two people, particularly not by two people who agree enough about the world to be married to each other. Yet millions of people go through our public education system and are still left thinking that oppression is the problem of the oppressed.

Cognitive dissonance is going to be a real problem for all of us as things get worse on our planet. Our brains have not adapted to a rapidly changing world. As reality becomes more frightening, denial is more enticing. At the same time, denial will become more difficult to achieve.

I mention denial here because it is the key ingredient in keeping our system working the way it does. Evil happens because they don’t expect us to even believe anybody could be that evil…but the evil is everywhere: health insurance companies burying people alive with bureaucracy. Empty homes owned by the wealthy, while others go homeless despite their most dedicated efforts. Vast inequality, most detrimental to those who are the most disadvantaged. Police brutality to keep it all working the way it’s supposed to.

I don’t know what to say to help people get from a point where they embrace this country to realizing it’s an empire of exploitation. Perhaps it is impossible to cut past the extreme indoctrination. It’s not an education at all. It is the insistence that this country ignore its roots as a colonial power. It is the demand that we swear our loyalty without knowing what we’re agreeing to.

No longer do I stand to recite the pledge, nor do I sing the national anthem. It only reminds me of how I was told what to feel and think and believe. Now I am reading everything I can to inform myself about what really happened.

Unfortunately, whatever Trump is calling for has already taken place for millions of us. We were supposed to be patriots.