In his essay, “Patriotism, Pedagogy, and Freedom: On the Educational Meanings of September 11,” Apple addresses the role of an educator in the aftermath of September 11. He discusses the need to balance the emotional responses of students with the need to critically examine the context of the event. He writes that, though the gut reactions after such a disaster may lead to anger, nationalism, and even jingoism, it is still important to engage in discourse about the events and policies that led to 9/11. This includes the question of why people would want to attack us. By looking at the event from multiple perspectives we can better understand (though not necessarily condone) the actions of the attackers. This critical discourse also prevents us from overly nationalistic or hyper-patriotic displays that ignore or attack anyone who disagrees with the government.
I think that Apple makes some interesting points about the way that democracy is changing in the wake of 9/11. In his description of the Madison, WI school board vote to uphold the school board’s decision to play the music of “The Star Spangled Banner” (without the militaristic words), Apple describes the intimidation and animosity with which voters were met when they supported the school board’s decision. He describes how voters endured “quite personal attacks on their patriotism” as a result of them voicing their opinions (495). This election, Apple claims, forces upon people a certain brand patriotism, leaving no room for people who disagree with the militaristic overtones of the national anthem or for people who disagree with the country’s politics. This enforced patriotism Apple argues, flies in the face of true democracy; enforced patriotism lends no voice to dissent, despite the fact that democracy means debate and dialogue with other schools of thought. According to Apple, these “nationalistic, anti-immigrant, anti-cosmopolitan, anti-communist, promilitary” and religiously conservative views crop up during times of crises(495). Based on Apple’s (brief) description of the historical and political context leading up to 9/11, these narrow viewpoints create a vicious cycle in which people become desperate to get their point across, even when making that point can seriously harm others.
Overall, I think Apple makes a good argument for teachers to not only address the emotional aspects of what students are experiencing after a crisis such as 9/11, but also to examine the context and framework of the event. If democracy truly allows for dissent, students should be able to examine the situation from all sides in order to form and advocate for their own opinions while also engaging in dialogue with others. By teaching this democratic system, as opposed to relying on enforced patriotism, we can perhaps work to minimize the need to intimidate or attack opponents, both on a local and a global level.
Do you think enforced patriotism is the new democracy?
How can we, as teachers, create a safe space in our classrooms to discuss events such as 9/11 or the marathon bombings? Do you believe that we should discuss these events in our classrooms?
What does Apple mean when he says that “democracy and freedom both act as sliding signifiers” (496)?