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Patriotism and Education

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Such a dangerous combination! Maybe that’s not the best way to start thinking it over by labelling it this way, but sometimes the emotional message must come first, and here it is. Among numerous interpretations of what it is like to be a patriot and what it implies, several aspects need to come to the fore.

What Is Patriotism?

In order to define its role and ways to approach it, we must give a definition to patriotism itself. Whatever it might be, we always speak here about an attachment to a homeland, that takes on various forms, from deep intimate feelings of belonging to extreme manifestations of supremacy of a certain nation (well, that is disputable, of course, but that can be a consequence of so-called patriotic education, rather than a natural form of it).

Various stances on patriotism have been taken throughout history, but one thing is for sure: that’s a valuable and inseparable feeling of the human nature itself and almost anyone who has encountered it in life. The most interesting thing is how each of us is able to deal with it and what finally comes out of it.

What Education Has to Do with It

Clearly, education is something more than just translating knowledge from older people to the inexperienced youth.  And one thing that really adds more dimensions to it is nurturing the sense of belonging, the thing we mentioned above.

The sense of belonging always refers to a certain place, real or imaginary, and in case of an education system, it’s the union of both, as children cannot feel literally connected to some space or events in the past, they can only experience them as narratives delivered to them in a ready-made form.

And here the space for manipulations opens up. Of course, it’s understandable that often only one “official version” of history of a country exist, and students are the first to consume it without suspecting anything.  Even if it’s a matter of a subject, teachers who tend to problematize ways of approaching the past of a country are respectworthy, and, luckily, such cases are more and more commonplace.

How Does It Function?

As we pointed out above, children are main consumers of tales about the heroic past of their country. And what’s crucial here is not actually whether those tales are at least 70 % true (well, in the age of post-truth it’s hard to tell, like never before), but that they tend to form certain patterns of thinking and certain values.

Without being prepared to adopt a critical viewpoint on everything, students are often left to their own devices, which means that they take everything literally, and later in life when the truth they assimilated comes out not to be the same, lots of unpleasant things happen, both on personal (and that affect personal lives of people with depressions and other mental breakdowns) and social levels (when people are either unhappy or aggressive, it cannot go unnoticed for society as a whole).

Citizenship vs Patriotism

It’s easy to see both as synonyms, but, in fact, there’s still some difference, as patriotism implies more affective and outward attitude towards the country through the prism of belonging and singling out positive sides to be proud of. Distortions of reality very often go together with patriotism, and that is something to always keep in mind.

Citizenship, on the other hand, implies the sane relationship as such between a citizen and a State with rights and obligations, and, of course, it’s more neutral in its nature. The benefit from being a citizen rather than a patriot is crystal clear: a citizen cannot violate rules and by his/her attitude and behavior is able to contribute much more to the well-being of the whole country.

How to Avoid Risks?

So, as you can see now, the risks are numerous. First of all, history syllabus in any country should be reconsidered from time to time or at least succumb to various discussions about its very nature, as everything stable should be destabilized in a good sense.

Secondly, critical thinking is, of course, something of a must, and the role of teachers is absolutely crucial here. People’s awareness of history should reach new levels, but this is impossible without critical thinking, otherwise, it’ll be transformed into something ready-made for unconditional assimilation.

Finally, the zeitgeist itself prompts to discover the world, and that’s another factor that is able to destabilize the habitual perspective, and everybody should remember it.

As you can see, the issue of patriotism is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, the word itself has got positive connotations, and those are something we strive for even without noticing it, as everyone wants to be an exemplary citizen of a country where he/she was born.

On the other hand, confusion with close terms exist, as we often tend to bring certain notions into proximity with other terms, and the example of citizenship vs patriotism is striking here. Needless to say, it’s hard to separate one thing from another, and being lost in this whirl of closely related notions, we often seem not to notice evident risks that await us in case of our ill-considered, light-minded attitude towards such important things and, without a doubt, everything starts from linguistic level and translates into higher ones, shaping our lifestyle and our future. 

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