History 3500

History Workshop

Summarizing Exercise




The following passage is an abridged editorial from the New York Times by a professor at Dartmouth College.  After reading the article, your assignment is to provide:  (1) a paraphrase of one paragraph from the editorial, (2) an objective summary of the editorial, and (3) a summary of the editorial incorporating your own analysis.




James Bernard Murphy, "Good Students and Good Citizens," New York Times, 15 September 2002, sec. 4, p. 15.


The anniversary of Sept. 11 has prompted a debate about how best to impart to American students proper attitudes and dispositions like tolerance or a love of country.  Many liberals and conservatives, though they might disagree about the specific content of what should be taught, share the assumption that such education is an appropriate responsibility of public schools.  They are wrong:  civic education of this sort is at best ineffective, and often subversive of the moral purpose of schooling.


In America, calls for this type of instruction have come in waves, usually in reaction to real or imagined foreign threats.  A 1796 textbook, for example, warns schoolchildren of the danger posed by "infidels" to our republic.  In the 1850's many educators focused their lessons on the threat presented by Irish Catholic immigrants to America's Anglo-Saxon, Protestant virtues.  In 1917 many states passed laws requiring public schools to promote patriotism by forbidding any instruction, like teaching the German language, that might be regarded as disloyal.


As the recent furor over the lessons of Sept. 11 illustrates, we as a society have a difficult time agreeing about what moral or political lessons might be drawn from any particular historical or current event.  But even if we could agree, these lessons would be either irrelevant to or, worse, destructive of the inherent moral purpose of schooling.


The late Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, when asked his assessment of the French Revolution, is supposed to have replied: "It's a bit too soon to say, is it not?"  Yet advocates of civic education are sure they already know the lessons of Sept. 11, and they seek to impose those lessons upon a captive audience of schoolchildren.  In doing so, they misuse not only history but also education.