On Patriotism: Pledging Allegiance by Joel Westheimer

On Patriotism: Pledging Allegiance by Joel WestheimerPledging Allegiance: The Politics of Patriotism in America's Schools by Joel Westheimer
Published by Teacher College Press on February 1, 2007
Pages: 219
Source: I purchased a copy of this book.
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What does it mean to be "patriotic" in the United States after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? And how have the prevailing notions of patriotism-loudly trumpeted in American media-affected education in American schools? In this wide-ranging and spirited book, renowned educational leaders, classroom practitioners, as well political activists answer these questions with insights, opinions, and hard facts. Contributors focus on critical issues related to patriotism and democracy in education including the social studies curriculum, military recruitment in schools, and student dissent. They investigate the ways our schools have changed since 9/11 and examine the efforts of educators who refuse to toe the new "patriotic" line. This timely volume provide a provocative yet grounded exploration of how schools are mediating national patriotic sentiments.


I’ve been grappling with the idea of patriotism lately, as “social studies” is incorporated into my 6-year-old’s education more and more. My search to find balance led me to the Zinn Education Project (thanks, Shannon!) where I heard about a collection of essays edited by Joel Westheimer, Pledging Allegiance: The Politics of Patriotism in America’s Schools.

This little book (around 200 pages) was published in back 2007, but it is still relevant today (which isn’t terribly encouraging). Many of the essays discuss the writers’ personal connections and feelings about the word “patriotism.” The answers and perspectives are varied, which gives the collection a sense of fairness and balance. I especially enjoyed hearing from writers of different generations, people who remember the McCarthy Era, Vietnam, the Cold War. Turns out, the baggage that comes along with the word “patriotism” isn’t anything new: There have always been groups of citizens not awarded the same rights as everyone else.

This collection encourages readers to think more deeply about reflexive nationalism versus reflective patriotism, authoritarian versus democratic patriotism, and how easy it is for patriotism to turn into nationalism and jingoism. If you aren’t free to question what it means to be patriotic, it becomes propaganda and indoctrination.

In “The Pledge of Allegiance,” Cecilia O’Leary gives the history of the pledge of allegiance and its intent, how it came to be included in school routines, and how it has changed over time (Francis Bellamy‘s democratic patriotism was later co-opted by authoritarians). I’ve seen a lot of authoritarian-type patriotism, so I started to understand why I feel uncomfortable about teaching my daughter the Pledge right now, since she isn’t old enough to 1) understand the words she’s saying or 2) make her own, informed decision about reciting it or not.

I think my favorite piece was an inspiring essay by Peter Dreier and Dick Flacks, covering the background of our country’s symbols and songs (“America the Beautiful” was an appeal for social justice!).

The essays in Pledging Allegiance are organized well, building on each other so that you carry the thoughts from previous essays into the one you’re reading. There were times my uncomfortable gut feelings were confirmed, and times my assumptions were challenged and I learned something new. Excellent resource.


  • Jennine G.

    Very interesting topic. As conservative as my views can be (although I’m more of an in the middle person), I always wonder at the insistent patriotism. For me, it’s coming from fellow Christians that seems weird. I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m just saying my belief in God trumps the “deserved greatness” of any country. (No pun intended 😉