Heroes and Rituals
Heroes and Rituals
Chapter Two examines schools’ efforts to use national heroes, holidays, and oaths of allegiance to foster civic virtue and patriotism. Between the 1830s and 1920s, students read from McGuffey’s Readers, which told stories of virtuous characters worthy of emulation. The didactic passages taught students vocabulary and pronunciation, while instilling virtues such as hard work and discipline. Although the early volumes were relatively uncontroversial, later versions introduced more explicit patriotic practices promoting a singular conception of national pride. Simultaneously, nationalist movements that developed in response to increases in immigration as well as America’s entry into World War I led schools to host patriotic pageants commemorating the Founding Fathers as well as founding holidays like Thanksgiving. During this period, the American flag became a glorified symbol, with participants in the schoolhouse flag movement seeking to place a flag in every classroom in the country. Ultimately, the Pledge of Allegiance emerged as a national oath. At first an optional exercise, by the mid-twentieth-century recitation of the Pledge by schoolchildren was legislated in states across the nation. Although constitutional challenges to the Pledge resulted in its recitation reverting to a voluntary activity, it remains a unifying ritual emblematic of American triumphalism in public schools.
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