<< The Body Politic

UNO, Civic Education, and Patriotism

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Following up on last week’s “Teaching America: How Charter Schools Can Help Close the Civic Achievement,” David Feith (whose book Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education is out this week) interviewed one of the event’s panelists for The Wall Street Journal over the weekend. Focusing on Juan Rangel, the CEO of Chicago’s United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), Feith juxtaposes UNO’s political activism with what Rangel sees as the victimization of minority groups: the question, according to Rangel, is “Do [Hispanics] want to be the next victimized minority group in America, or do we want to be the next successful immigrant group?”

Rangel chooses the latter, and UNO’s collection of 11 charter schools reflect this. Serving 5,500 students, most of whom are both Hispanic and at or below the poverty line, UNO’s schools practice English immersion, and focus on teaching the students to assimilate into American culture and take their duties as Americans seriously:

America has “lost sight of what the public schools were intended to do and what we need to do to help students feel that they’re part of a whole,” says Mr. Rangel, whose Mexican parents immigrated in the 1950s, his second-grade-educated mother never having heard of the United States until his father announced their impending emigration. “We need to get back to what the purpose of a public school was intended to be. That’s to create not just educated and engaged citizens, but educated and engaged American citizens.”

And why are American schools generally falling down on this responsibility? “Some people might say because there’s an emphasis on reading and math. . . . But I think a bigger factor—and a more dangerous factor—is the political correctness around patriotism, around love of country. Somehow people view those things as kind of clichés,” says Mr. Rangel. “That’s more dangerous than any standardized testing that people complain about. We need to re-examine our values as a nation and re-examine whether we have the political will—or just the will—to engender a sense of love of country within our youth.”