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Public school: Our best weapon against terror attacks on freedom of speech?

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Degree of  Interest

Waving flags and pens won’t unify a country like public schools can.

If you want more patriotic citizens, then demand the integration of public schools. Protect the country from inside the schoolhouse out.

This month’s attacks in Paris were both unpredictable and expected. Harder to defuse, lone-wolf terrorist plots continue to sprout abroad and in the U.S. Many domestic efforts have been foiled since 9/11, but one U.S. official said of decentralized attacks, “It’s like the war on drugs. This isn’t going to stop.”

Comparing terrorism to drug addiction is not the most useful view of human behavior. But the aforementioned quote does illuminate that security forces must continuously lean on prevention as a necessary defense against decentralized terror attacks.

Integrated, effective public schools are more likely to bond young people closer to a country than flag waving, allegiance checks ever will.

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The anti-Islamic protests in Germany certainly didn’t seek to build social cohesion.

Former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy’s efforts to raise a countrywide dialogue on national identity also raised ethnocentric beliefs of what it means to be a Frenchmen. In the U.S., the rhetoric of  “take back the country” can’t be unifying.

Who’s afraid of patriotism? It’s right to bolster love for a country among members as a primary prevention strategy, but that won’t happened by insidiously alienating minority groups or elevating certain classes of people.

New York city mayor Bill de Blasio lays a wreath of flowers at the kosher grocery where Amedy Coulibaly killed four people in a terror attack, in Paris, Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015. Brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi and their friend, Amedy Coulibaly, killed 17 people at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a kosher grocery and elsewhere last week. The yellow poster reads: “Brave police officers and gendarmes, Thank you.”

New York city mayor Bill de Blasio lays a wreath of flowers at the kosher grocery where Amedy Coulibaly killed four people in a terror attack, in Paris, Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015. Brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi and their friend, Amedy Coulibaly, killed 17 people at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a kosher grocery and elsewhere last week. The yellow poster reads: “Brave police officers and gendarmes, Thank you.”

Quality public schools literally give students a common language, provide opportunity for social advancement and when effective, give students a boat for the mainstream.

Whether we’re talking about radicalized jihadists or right wing aggressors who are resistant to ethnic, racial and religious diversity, countries must assume that alienation leads to radical acts of terror.

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Said and Cherif Kouachi were more members of the underclass than of mainstream French society. Limited job opportunities, incarceration, as well as educational, residential and social isolation all till the soil of terrorism. Consequently, countries should maximize connectedness and foster a greater sense of loyalty to the nation – patriotism – in ways that truly reflect its devoted members.

We can’t only react to lone-wolf style aggressions. Prevention has to be rooted in patriotism, which should foster beliefs and traditions that compel disparate members to share a sense of fate. Schools don’t simply prepare students for the workforce. History, language arts, civics and other classes acculturate students into our constantly evolving conception of what it means to be American.

As an aside, the GOP efforts to hitch Homeland Security funding to Obama’s executive actions on immigration, particularly Blackburn amendments that target the Dream Act, are counterproductive. Why alienate people who are likely to be citizens? Isn’t homeland security chiefly about promoting safety among neighbors – citizen and non-citizens?

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Counter-terrorism must promote the kind of patriotism that satisfies our communal needs of belonging while fostering a national identity that is authentic and inclusive. In this regard, public schools offer the best nationalization agents we have.

The initial desegregation gains made following Brown v. Board have “stalled and black children are more racially and socioeconomically isolated today than at any time since data have been available,” according to researcher Richard Rothstein.

The push for school choice through vouchers, which can be used to pay the tuition of faith-based schools, can actually encourage schooling in institutions where the Constitution is not the preeminent doctrine. We forget that the Constitution is to public schools as the Latin Vulgate Bible is to Catholic schools. And when students pledge their allegiance, there is an assumed pledge for pluralism.

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States and countries continuously attempt to whitewash curricula with ethnocentric history textbooks. Politicians also thwart counter narratives.

For instance, John Huppenthal, former Arizona Superintendent of Public Education released a memo stating that the Tucson Unified School District violated public education policy by offering multicultural classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment towards a race or class of people, and advocate for ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

Still, public schools may be the most underappreciated and underutilized weapon of prevention.

Condoleezza Rice was quoted as saying “education could be greatest national security challenge.” If it is, then we should be talking about public schools in all conversations about counter-terrorism.

If diverse, public schools are part of our defense strategy, then we may learn the true meaning and benefits of patriotism.

Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more columns by Andre Perry.

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Andre Perry

Dr. Andre Perry, a contributing writer, is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at The Brookings Institution. Perry was the founding dean of urban education at… See Archive

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