Teaching Patriotism

Paul E. Peterson
Year of publication: 
March 17, 2022
Education Next

History is happening this moment. A country is defining itself. Authentic, inspiring patriotism is surging through the Ukrainian people. Whatever happens next, President Volodymyr Zelensky personifies patriotism, honor, courage, dedication. If Ukraine survives as an independent nation, as the U. S. Secretary of State promises, 2022 will ring for decades, probably centuries, as Ukraine’s greatest historical moment.

Now we know why civics is best taught as history. Civics is not about learning to write a letter to the editor or registering to vote. Nothing wrong about that, but civics, fundamentally, is learning one’s history as a country—just how it came to be, why it is as it is, and what makes it worthy.

There is no need for history to be slurpy or untruthful. Defining moments are riveting, stirring, thrilling, passionate, definitive. When Zelensky appears before the U. S. Congress—if only virtually—we feel compelled to listen: “I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths.”

This is a teaching moment, a time for the American history instructor to remind students that when John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, he and his fellow Patriots understood then, like Ukrainian leaders know today, the concept that “We must all hang together or surely we will hang separately.”

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