How Can We Fight Home-Grown Terrorism?

Roundup
tags: terrorism, education



Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education, which was published in March by Princeton University Press.


In his Oval Office address Sunday, President Barack Obama said that San Bernardino murderers Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik had “gone down the dark path of radicalization” and embraced “ a perverted view of Islam.” Malik was a recent immigrant from Pakistan, but Farook was born in the United States. He went to public schools in Riverside, California, and graduated from Cal State San Bernardino.

Obama called for renewed airstrikes against the Islamic State and stronger gun control at home, which raised predictable hackles among his Republican opponents. But neither he nor observers on either side of the political aisle asked how an American citizen could attend 12 years of school and four years of college here, and then decide to attack his homeland.

One possibility is that it is a failure of our education system, not just of foreign policy or law enforcement. Our schools are our central public mechanism for making Americans—that is, for socializing the young into the norms, traditions and beliefs of the nation. Or at least they used to be. Remember civics education? When Americans created our common school system, in the early 19th century, civic purposes lay at its heart. In a new nation of enormous diversity, the argument went, we needed schools to foster a shared American identity and consciousness.

Civic goals remained central to education into the 20th century, when schools developed formal courses to teach children about their rights and responsibilities as Americans. But these efforts started to fade in wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, when some critics dismissed civics instruction as jingoistic propaganda that papered over American misdeeds. Others called it an expensive frill, insisting that schools teach marketable vocational skills instead.

And with the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, schools increasingly focused on the two subjects that the law required them to test: reading and math. That left less room for social studies, where most civics instruction takes place. Just five years after NCLB started, over one-third of American schools had decreased the amount of time they devoted to social studies. ...







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