A recent Superman comic book has the hero saying, “I am renouncing my U.S. citizenship” because “truth, justice, and the American way — it’s not enough anymore.” Though not addressing Superman’s statement, Stanford University professor and Hoover Institution senior fellow William Damon explains how such a vision could emerge today but not yesteryear. The explanation is found in his article “American Amnesia,” in Defining Ideas (7/1/2011), based upon his most recent book, “Failing Liberty 101: How We Are Leaving Young Americans Unprepared for Citizenship in a Free Society.”
The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that only 1 in 4 high-school seniors scored at least “proficient” in knowledge of U.S. citizenship. Civics and history were American students’ worst subjects. Professor Damon said that for the past 10 years, his Stanford University research team has interviewed broad cross sections of American youths about U.S. citizenship. Here are some typical responses: “We just had (American citizenship) the other day in history. I forget what it was.” Another said, “Being American is not really special. … I don’t find being an American citizen very important.” Another said, “I don’t want to belong to any country. It just feels like you are obligated to this country. I don’t like the whole thing of citizen. … It’s like, citizen, no citizen; it doesn’t make sense to me. It’s, like, to be a good citizen — I don’t know, I don’t want to be a citizen. … It’s stupid to me.”
A law professor, whom Damon leaves unnamed, shares this vision in a recent book: “Longstanding notions of democratic citizenship are becoming obsolete. … American identity is unsustainable in the face of globalization.” Instead of commitment to a nation-state, “loyalties … are moving to transnational communities defined by many different ways: by race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, and sexual orientation.” This law professor’s vision is shared by many educators who look to “global citizenship” as the proper aim of civics instruction, de-emphasizing attachment to any particular country, such as the United States, pointing out that our primary obligation should be to the universal ideals of human rights and justice.
To be patriotic to one’s own country is seen as suspect because it may turn into a militant chauvinism or a dangerous “my country, right or wrong” vision.
The ignorance about our country is staggering.