Schools and the Responsibilities of Citizenship

I love Penelope Trunk, not because I always agree with her, but because she is absolutely fearless when it comes to sharing half-baked theories on a topic and not worrying about having to admit she was wrong later. I admire that because it’s so foreign to me. Most of the posts I write have been mulled over for months before I publish. In fact, I often think my worst writing is when I fire from the hip.

Anyway, this post isn’t about my admiration for Penelope Trunk. Back in August, she wrote a post about what the purpose of public school is. I don’t think I agree that this is the sole purpose of schools, but she sort of convinced me it’s on their list of responsibilities, especially in elementary school. From Penelope Trunk

I am not sure if this is good news or bad news, but it’s pretty clear to me that the purpose of school is to teach kids to be PC. …

On one hand, I think this is a good thing. In order for children of immigrants to be able to assimilate, they have to go to school. Otherwise assimilation would take generations. And I’m pretty sure that immigrants come here because they want their kids to be like kids who live in the US. Is this racist or insensitive? I’m not sure.

But I’m thinking out loud now: The history of the Jews in Europe is that every time they were isolated from the rest of the population they were poor and anxious (perhaps the Shtetl is the genesis of Jewish anxiety?) and when Jews were assimilated into the national population they flourished. Well, okay. Things did not really go well for the very assimilated population of German Jews in in the 19th century but I think I am making my point: children of immigrants want to fit in (in fact it’s a very American thing to make jokes about being first-generation.)

So Jews. Yeah. I think it’s important for Jews to feel both a part of the larger community and still hold onto a Jewish identity. This is the core problem of living in the melting pot that is the US. And this, more than anything else, is what I think is the challenge for public school. As a democracy we believe in the power of the melting pot. As parents we have an instinct to keep our kids separate so we can control their moral conscience. And these conflicts are universal to the immigrant population – regardless of ethnicity.


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Mike Dwyer writes about culture and the outdoors for Ordinary Times. He is also one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky. Mike serves on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and you can also find him on Instagram here. He lives with his wife in the suburbs of Louisville, KY.

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6 thoughts on “Schools and the Responsibilities of Citizenship

  1. Interesting article. I think she’s right in a way but the piece left me scratching my head because she didn’t really lay out her assumptions. It would be more interesting if she really established a definition of what she means by ‘PC’. If PC means something like generalized live and let live tolerance of other races, religions, sexual orientations, etc., while making the case for eliminating de jure discrimination and minimizing social prejudice based on those kinds of characteristics then I think shes right, and that schools should teach those values. The US works best as something like a creed state, where a civic religion serves as a unifying force.

    However, I don’t think that’s really what most people mean when they talk about PCism. What both the identitarian/intersectionality left in academia and the populist right teach is Balkanization. The last thing we should be teaching children is that all that matters is identity and power. If that’s the case then there is no way to make the American experiment work, which is why I think these ideas are so dangerous.

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  2. Interesting article in what appears to be an interesting blog. I hadn’t heard of Penelope Trunk before (Google informs me I probably should have). Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Mike.

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