Digital friend, distinguished professor, and ed blogger Jon Becker likes to quote a Thomas Friedman New York Times column from 4 November 2004. Friedman, describing his post election depression, says, "We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is."
The conversations about Barack Obama's broadcast to American schoolchildren (coming Tuesday) have proven both the truth of this, and the dangers we face.
This is not just laughable. Yes, of course it is "funny" that those who, ten months ago, would have howled in fury about "disrespect for the Commander in Chief in time of war" now insist on "disrespect for the Commander in Chief in time of war" (ah, what a difference a bit of skin color can make). And I suppose it is expected that the party of Mark Sanford and David Vitter objects to students being told about "personal responsibility." And, yes, I'm amused that I, who disagree with every thing the Obama administration has done re: education, who views the President, in educational terms, as "Bush III," has spent a week arguing for his presence in our schools, but... it isn't funny at all.
The United States is a fragile nation. Always has been. It really is more Yugoslavia than France, and has been from the start. In 1787 party-hardy New York, and feudal Georgia had little in common, except language, with dour Calvinist and mercantilist New England. They were joined together out of the need, in a colonialist world, for mutual economic and military protection, and the borders were somewhat random. Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations wasn't really interested for a long time. "Upper Canada" (what we now call "Ontario") probably should have been included. The Great Lakes region? Just a treaty bargaining chip. As I said, more Woodrow Wilson's bizarre ideas of nation-construction than any nation-state of the 18th Century, save perhaps Switzerland.
So, America's first hundred years were spent trying to either split up or stay together. Insurrections (meet John Brown, to whom The Battle Hymn of the Republic is dedicated, or just look at the Whiskey Rebellion), rebellions (Civil War), wars on native populations, internal occupations, attacks on neighboring nations in attempts to build patriotic fever, and huge struggles over minority group rights completely define the US through the third quarter of the 19th Century.
Like Spain after the Civil War or the United Kingdom after the 1707 Act of Union, things "settled down" afterwards, but really only on the surface. The "settlement" was essentially one of "leaving each other alone." So New York and California became socialist republics - free universities and hospitals - while the south re-feudalized (Jim Crow), and both were seen as "quaint" - the way Londoners view the Scots of the Hebrides and vise-versa. But whenever the cultures met - the Scopes Trial, the Civil Rights movement, the resistance to secular law, the response has been every bit as violent as anything the Basque Separatists have done.
And today, after two decades of everything from massive bombings to political assassinations, the US is as polarized about its President as it was in the winter of 1860. Not just because his skin color is seen as a threat by so many who feel "left behind" in this 21st Century, but because that skin color represents an America they do not believe in, and want no part of - urban, diverse, tolerant, with at least a hint of being a meritocracy. If your self-image is entirely tied to the privileges of being white and the notion that "granddaddy worked hard," none of this is good.
That the biggest explosion of the moment should come around the issue of school is no surprise. Our education system was largely designed to combat most of what "Obama" (the image) represents. US schools were supposed to "protestantize" the Catholic and "whiten" the Irish. They were supposed to train children in the culture as it existed. Everything from Catholic Bibles to any foreign or native languages were banned. Behavior patterns developed for Calvinist church services were made law in the classroom. Culture was transmitted through fantasy history.
And now a tall Black male, a big city guy, with an immigrant parent from "the dark continent," who was born in Hawaii (surely that can't be a state, unless we pretend - for purposes of those historical fictions - that it was in 1941), wants to "walk in" to your neighborhood school and talk to your children! If Barack Obama is not dangerous to children, then the America as understood by those "left behind" isn't real, and that is a hard thing for the barely educated (or educated in isolation) to comprehend or accept. So, he must be very dangerous indeed.
The map of the divide is not simple - no matter what liberals (American term) think. But the divide is very real. In today's global economy the US has no more reason to stay together as a nation than Czechoslovakia did. I know that most New Yorkers would rather be part of the European Union and I know that Oklahoma would rather be politically allied with Saudi Arabia (extraction economy, extreme conservative religiousity) - though few in either place could understand why.
Other bloggers have written excellent discussions of the educational issues involved, at Will Richardson, at SpEdTeacher, at Principal's Page. But I'm here simply to suggest that this is one more bit of evidence that the two parts of the United States are preparing their children to be the citizens of separate nations. And that divorce takes a big step forward Tuesday, noon Eastern Time.
- Ira Socol
- About Ira David Socol
- Freedom Stick and Firefox Accessibility
- The Change.Org Posts
- IdeaChat 11 February 2012
- Counting the Origins of Failure
- Technology: The Wrong Questions and the Right Questions
- Today's "School Reformers" vs Real Change for Education - I
- Today’s “School Reformers” vs Real Change for Education - II
- The Toolbelt and Universal Design - Education For Everyone
- "Evaluate that!" - Schools for Children