Teaching About America

Published February 1, 1999

With many parents not knowing much about America, it is essential for schools to teach their children what it means to be an American. More than nine out of ten parents (92 percent overall) responding to a recent Public Agenda survey say it is important for schools with high immigrant enrollments to concentrate on teaching students about the heroes, traditions, and beliefs of the United States.

Since learning about America is not something parents expect to occur naturally as children grow up, almost four out of five (79 percent) say that society must actively teach children what it means to be an American. Only 9 percent of parents are worried that children from non-white, non-European backgrounds will feel alienated by stories about the men, most of them white Europeans, who founded the United States.

In fact, an overwhelming 87 percent of parents think that–given the wide diversity of student backgrounds today–it is more important than ever for public schools to teach all children about the Founding Fathers and how the United States was established. Many parents spoke about the need to instill in their children a sense of pride in the fundamental goodness of their nation–not jingoism, but restrained patriotism.

“They are going to be citizens of the United States. You could be proud and teach pride in the United States and our system of government without saying it’s the only way, it’s the best way. And that’s what I would hope the schools do.”
Mother from Dayton, Ohio

“You don’t want to teach that Americans are better than everybody else, but you do want to teach that this is the better place. Not that we are better than anybody because we are Americans, but that the way we do things in comparison to others is better. If the schools don’t do that, you are going to have children coming out of school that don’t really understand what it is to be an American.”
Father from Secaucus, New York

“If you go to a teenager and ask them who won World War Two, they’ll say, ‘Is that a Star Wars Game?’ It just amazes me, with this younger generation, how lame or stupid they are. I blame that on the public schools. That was a major event not only for the United States, but in world history. If it starts getting diluted through the next generation, who knows?”
Hispanic father in San Jose, California