Public School: Our Best Weapon Against Terror Attacks on Freedom of Speech?

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.

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.

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.

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?

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Andre Perry

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