The anniversary of Sept. 11 found the nation and our schools still wrestling uneasily with the aftermath of that horrible day.
It also found the Bush Administration beating the drums of war, trying to rally popular opinion behind a "preemptive" attack on Iraq. And it found members of the administration's extended family trying to push their nationalistic vision into the schools.
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative research group populated with former officials of the Reagan and Bush Administrations and headed by Reagan's former assistant education secretary Chester Finn, marked the anniversary by releasing a collection of essays, titled "September 11: What Our Children Need to Know." The Foundation's report was a prime source for media stories about how the National Education Association (NEA) and others - including Rethinking Schools - were promoting a "blame America" curriculum response to the Sept. 11 anniversary.
Readers who want to read what Rethinking Schools published in response to Sept. 11 should go to /special_reports/sept11/. They'll find, among others, an article by Alfie Kohn that Finn singled out in the Fordham report for being critical of U.S. foreign policy and not patriotic enough.
For Fordham, it seems that patriotism and critical thinking are incompatible. They attack Kohn and Rethinking Schools because we urge students to try to understand the global roots of terrorism rather than simply labeling it "evil." Finn waves the patriotic flag, but really what he wants is for teachers to stop engaging students in critical thinking, in asking deep questions about U.S. conduct in the world. Finn insists that such inquiry promotes the notion that "America ... has itself to blame for the other guys' aggression inflicted upon us." Apparently he can't entertain the possibility that there may be a distinction between explaining terrorism and excusing it.