Patriotism takes backseat to multiculturalism

Politics in the Classroom

Telling the Truth: Why our culture and our country have stopped making sense–and what we can do about it.

by Lynne Cheney


In recent years, some activists have been remarkably frank about the political goals they have for education. Betty Jean Craige of the University of Georgia argues that “multiculturalism” has the happy “potential for ideologically disuniting the nation.” As American students learn more about the faults of this country and about the virtues of other nations, she writes, they will be less and less likely to think this country deserves their special support. They will not respond to calls to use American force, and thus we will be delivered from the dark days of the early 1990s, when President George Bush was able to unify the nation in support of war against Iraq, and be able to return to the golden days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when no president was able to build support for Vietnam. Writes Craige:

Multicultural education may well be incompatible with patriotism, if patriotism means belief in the nation’s superiority over other nations…. The advantage to the nation of multicultural education thus may be increased reluctance to wage all-out war.



 Classicist Martha Nussbaum has also made a case against patriotism, calling education that encourages it “morally dangerous.” Writes Nussbaum, “To give support to nationalist sentiments subverts, ultimately, even the values that hold a nation together, because it substitutes a colorful idol for the substantive universal values of justice and right.” A central confusion in Nussbaum’s argument, and in Craige’s, is that neither considers the ways in which the American system has uniquely nurtured justice and right. The idea enunciated in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal has, for example, been a driving force behind the changes we have made to achieve a greater degree of equality than exists anywhere in the world for women — and for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. The principles of freedom and liberty that have inspired our political system have also informed our economic arrangements and made the United States a beacon of opportunity to people everywhere. If we do not teach our children these things, they may well conclude, as Craige wishes, that this nation deserves no special support. They might well become “cosmopolitan,” as Nussbaum prefers. But we will have accomplished these ends at the cost of truth — a truth, moreover, that calls into question the wisdom of the political goals that Craige and Nussbaum advance. Why deny special support to a nation that has become a political and economic lodestar to people around the world?

Copyright © 1995 Lynne V. Cheney All Rights Reserved

Lynne V. Cheney was the W.H. Brady, Jr., Distinguished Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She was Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 through 1992. She has a Ph.D. in English, has taught at several colleges and universities, and was a senior editor at Washingtonian magazine. She is the author of two previous books and co-author of two others, including Kings of the Hill, which she wrote with her husband, Richard Cheney, the current Vice President. She has also co-hosted the Crossfire talkshow on CNN.


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