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Patriotic education is textbook propaganda

A soft opening for Russia's Patriot Park, 2015. Wikicommons/Government-ru. Some rights reserved.Something strange is happening in Indian universities. A few
days ago, the Ministry for Human Resources called for ‘patriotic
rock music’ to be performed at the nation’s campuses. In July, the Vice-Chancellor
of Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of the country’s largest, asked that a tank
be displayed on site to spark ‘patriotic
inspiration’ in students. A recently-passed law requires all state-funded
universities to fly the national flag ‘to evoke
nationalistic sentiments.’ And in March this year, students protesting the
ABVP, the country’s powerful right-wing student association, were branded
‘anti-national’ traitors and pelted
with stones.

The Indian government, under their Hindu nationalist Prime
Minister Narendra Modi, is aggressively pushing a programme of ‘patriotic
education’ upon the country. What we see happening in higher education is just
part of their plan to raise a generation of highly patriotic citizens. In
schools, the government hopes to introduce mandatory singing of the national
anthem, compulsory hoisting of the country’s flag, a greater focus on the lives
of national heroes, and even military lessons, in order to ‘instil
patriotism and nationalism in the curriculum.’ As the head of Veterans
India ominously
declared in July this year: ‘We will create a situation where people will
love the nation. And if they don’t, we will force them to love it.’ “People will love the nation. And if they don’t, we will force
them to love it.”

Young Army Initiatives

Patriotic education is by no means unique to India. In
Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has explicitly stated that ‘love of country’
should be a
goal of education. Likewise, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for
China’s education system to be infused with ‘patriotic
spirit.’ In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is currently pushing
through (as ‘urgent’) a law that would force all sixteen- and
seventeen-year-olds to take
part in military training, ‘to instil nationalism, patriotism and
discipline among the Filipino youth.’

Since 2005, Russian children have been subject to the State
Programme for the Patriotic Education of Citizens, which has quadrupled the
country’s spending on patriotic projects in a bid to make national pride the ‘spiritual
backbone’ of Russia. Central to this has been the Young
Army initiative, a ‘military and patriotic’ venture teaching military
skills to children as young as ten. Alternatively, the country’s youth can
visit Patriot Park, Russia’s ‘military
Disneyland’, which President Vladimir Putin has designated ‘an important element in our
system of military-patriotic work with young people.’

Even in relatively free and democratic countries we can find
the philosophy of patriotic education in action. In the UK, for example, teachers
have been threatened with losing their jobs and even being barred from their
profession if they ‘fail
to protect British values in their schools’. And in the USA, it is
stipulated in the country’s stringent Flag Code
that the stars and stripes ‘should be displayed during school days in or near
every schoolhouse.’ In October this year, a private college in
Missouri launched a mandatory
patriotism class for all freshmen.

Why?

Patriotic education is clearly popular among governments. But why?
Consider these few simple observations. Firstly, patriotism is a mercurial and
loosely defined sentiment, encapsulating wildly different ideas to different
people – just look at the USA, where patriots for and against President Trump
are arguing over whether patriotism means loyalty or dissent. This means that national
pride can easily be moulded to support various beliefs and ideologies.
Secondly, most if not all of the governments championing patriotic education
are at pains to equate themselves with the country. As one Chinese citizen put
it, ‘loving the country equals loving the Party.’ Lastly, and quite simply:
children are impressionable. They tend to believe what their teachers tell
them.

Put these observations together and it doesn’t seem outlandish to
suggest an ulterior motive behind these education campaigns. Could it be, as
critics of the Chinese education system have charged, that these governments are engaged in patriotic ‘brainwashing’,
employing national pride to inculcate in children obedience and unwavering
loyalty to the state and its leaders?

If this seems outlandish, consider the effect that such
‘education’ is already having. Research
has shown that the longer a Chinese individual stays in state education,
the more likely they are to support the Communist Party. In this way Beijing
has avoided another Tiananmen-style protest, as a large proportion of the
country’s youth, pumped up with national superiority, no longer look to ‘the
West’ with envy. In Russia, the classroom
obsession with national pride and foreign enemies has helped distract the public from the cocktail
of economic and social ills – such as shrinking real wages, rising poverty and
high inflation – that are plaguing the country. And in India, the deteriorating
and polarising political climate has forged an extremely patriotic body of
students that profess unswerving
loyalty to Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. So let’s call patriotic
education by its proper name: propaganda. So let’s
call patriotic education by its proper name: propaganda.Patriotic education can be resisted, and has been on several
occasions. In 2010, public opposition to an education bill in Slovakia, which
would have forced every classroom to display the national flag and coat of
arms, forced President Ivan Gasparovic to veto the measures. The creeping patriotism
infiltrating Japan’s education system has been met with considerable opposition
from the country’s teachers, who, angry at being disciplined or even suspended
for refusing to sing the national anthem in school, have launched dozens of lawsuits against education authorities. Perhaps the biggest
pushback occurred in Hong Kong in 2012, when attempts by the Chinese government
to extend its patriotic education to the city drew tens of thousands of protestors into the streets, eventually forcing Beijing
to back down.

Resistance such as this is vital if we are to spare
children from the mind-numbing diet of national superiority and state
allegiance that governments around the world are trying to feed them. No
country can consider itself free from this danger: as patriotism is found in
every country, so too is the potential for its manipulation and abuse. We ought
to ask ourselves: who has the most to gain from a generation of die-hard
patriots – the people saluting the flag, or the power that waves it? It’s a
lesson we could all do with learning.

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