Patriotism Starts in the Classroom

Progressive doctrine is replacing traditional curricula in our K–12 schools. If not reversed, we could lose the next generation of Americans.

The effort to indoctrinate students in progressive, anti-American ideologies that pervades our universities is also ravaging K–12 education. State education departments issue standards that public and charter K–12 schools, and their teachers, must follow. Particularly in larger states, these standards determine the content of textbooks and standardized tests, influence private and homeschool curricula, and impact public-college admission requirements.

Traditional standards are aggressively being usurped by the principles of critical race theory, social justice, and “action civics,” which promotes student involvement in protests for progressive causes. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has identified at least 45 state education standards in 25 …

Olivier Loubes: We have to be careful with the way we look at this period. Today, we have in our imagination a kind of ideal of the relationship between war, school and homeland, of the role of the “black hussars of the Republic”, according to the formula used by Charles Péguy  This formula appears in a series of articles published by…. It must be borne in mind that these “black hussars” were his masters, those who trained him when he was a schoolboy, therefore the young teachers from the Normal School in the 1880s. in 1913, their involvement in a national patriotic education already belonged to the past, a past that he regretted. We are in a nostalgic type phenomenon. This mechanism which consists in saying that the relationship with the fatherland was better in the past has not really left us today… We must also bear in mind that a Republican like Péguy, like all the Republicans of the 3rd Republic, has a very good knowledge of the war of 1870 and its consequences. We cannot correctly perceive this cultural aspect because this war is particularly misunderstood today. Let us, therefore, remember that the teaching of the fatherland works a lot with nostalgia and that it is imperative to replace it in its context. This forces us to make the effort to re-establish some form of time matching in order to avoid the errors induced by all these accumulated memory filters.

Inflections: Is talking about nostalgia enough?

Olivier Loubes: No, of course. When we talk about the relationship between school and war, it is common to simplify the subject or even create amalgams and confusion. However, teaching the homeland does not mean promoting war or teaching patriotic warriors. And almost conversely, advocating peace does not mean that children are not educated in the possibility of having to go to war one day: they arefuture citizens and if they have to fight, they will do so out of duty. Let's be clear: in the republican school after 1870, the children did not learn to make war. The school is not militarized. On the other hand, we learn that the citizen must be able to transform into a soldier. This is not a warlike teaching, but a civic teaching. Even in the inter-war period, school, which may then appear peaceful or even pacifist to some, teaches that the citizen can be a soldier. However, it is appropriate to bring nuances to this general line: during certain periods, civic education is vibrant, particularly patriotic, and highlights the emblems; in others he is rather chilled, using less of the patriotic flame and its attributes.

Inflections: This continuity is, however, barely perceptible.

Olivier Loubes:Certainly. After highlighting the nostalgia contained in Péguy's formula and the continuity of the action of the school in training in the spirit of citizenship, it is necessary to address a third point: the perception of the action of school. There may indeed be a distortion between what, on the one hand, is deemed to be done at school from the point of view of public opinion debates and, on the other hand, the reality of the ideas conveyed and that of the educational actions. within the school institution. There are thus periods during which some French people think that the school no longer trains citizens ready to fulfill their civic and military duty. This is the case just before 1914 in the wake of the Dreyfus affair, and this is the case in the 1930s, in the context of the Popular Front. For others, it's the opposite.

Between 1870 and 1939, therefore, there was a constant patriotism in France, even if it appeared quietly. It is expressed explicitly when a major event disrupts the life of the country. The relationship of the French to the flag is in this respect enlightening. France lives in a republican liberal democracy whose expression is different from other comparable democracies. It was built with a critical eye on the uses that have been made of emblems such as the flag, which, at certain times, has seen its use diverted from democratic values. It is therefore not unusual for citizens to question the meaning given to this flag. But the absence of flags in schools does not mean the absence of patriotism.

Another indication of the distortion between what is perceived by public opinion and what is experienced within the school: in 1914 as in 1939, the teachers and their former students responded present. The rates of refusal of incorporation as of desertion are among the lowest in Western Europe  See J.-L. Crémieux-Brilhac, The French of the year 40. T. I, La…. Yet there was no shortage of fiery pacifist speeches. In 1938, during the congress of the National Union of Teachers ( sni ), some took up the words of the general secretary of the union of postal workers: “Better servitude than war. These statements are not contradicted by the sni . Nevertheless, there is little, if any, concrete translation of this position in the actions of teachers. It is even possible to affirm that none of them failed in their civic duty as soldiers in 1939. A comparison with countries like Russia, where 14 to 15% of conscripts fled enlistment, easily underlines this constant French patriotism.

There is therefore in France a real loyalty which comes from the very strong certainty that the soldier is leaving for a war of national defense. Everyone wears the uniform because it is a civic duty. Again, patriotic teaching is not necessarily exalted throughout the period, but it does exist. An undeniable element of continuity remains between the republican school and the departure to the war, because the military service was taught like the logical consequence of a civic duty completely inseparable from the state of citizen. There is nothing in the programs or their practical application that contradicts this analysis.

inflections: In spite of everything, was there an evolution in the relationship between the idea of ​​war, the idea of ​​patriotism and the idea of ​​peace between 1870 and 1939?

Olivier Loubes: Yes, of course. We can identify four phases: two before the First World War and two after. The defeat of 1870 corresponds to a very strong mobilization of civic education in the ideas popularized in particular by Ernest Lavisse or the Educational Dictionary of Ferdinand Buisson  [3][3]F. Buisson, Dictionary of pedagogy and instruction…. Lavisse signs an article entitled “History” which ends as follows: “To tell the truth, if the schoolboy does not carry with him the living memory of our national glories; if he does not know that his ancestors fought on a thousand battlefields for noble causes; if he has not learned what it cost in blood and effort to bring about the unity of our country, and then to extricate from the chaos of our antiquated institutions the laws which have made us free; if he does not become a citizen imbued with his duties and a soldier who loves his gun, the teacher will have wasted his time. This is what the teacher of history at the normal school must say to the students as a teacher as conclusions of his teaching  E. Lavisse, National Education Questions, Paris, Armand…. »

This text can be considered as the basis of the teaching of time. He raises the little schoolchildren with the idea of ​​revenge. This idea also materialized with the creation, in July 1882, of school battalions, despite the reluctance of Paul Bert, Minister of Public Instruction. But it should be emphasized that training in shooting and military life is only practiced there on Thursdays or Sundays, therefore outside school hours, and that these school battalions gradually disappeared between 1890 and 1893, after having trained in a maximum of fifty thousand students out of a population of several million. It is therefore important to relativize this experience to the rather symbolic balance sheet, which weighed on the budget of the municipalities, entered into competition with Sunday rest and did not offer the army a cohort of seasoned soldiers for lack of qualified instructors. But this creation underlines the awareness of a delay on Germany and reveals a very great concern in the face of the threat from across the Rhine.

During these beginnings of the iii th Republic, we are witnessing a valorization of the homeland in its warlike form. However, this state of mind did not give a military identity to education because, in fact, society does not carry this idea. The school appears in fact to reflect debates within public opinion and what families are ready to accept for their children. From the point of view of the Ministry of Public Instruction, it is clear that the schoolchildren will certainly be soldiers, but that they must first be schoolchildren. It is not up to the school to instruct children militarily. This explains why, in school battalions, training in the handling of weapons was carried out outside of normal school hours. To learn to be a soldier, there is the army and military service. When it comes to patriotism,iii e  Republic is from the outset totally different from what certain dictatorships will provide.

In addition, let's not forget that the Third Republic is not Sparta: there is an age to be a schoolboy and  another to be a soldier, and one becomes a soldier at the end of a training provided by the military. There is also the idea that children must be protected from war. Yes to the factory of citizens, no to the factory of soldiers. The Third Republic  was therefore at no time a factory of child warriors. It was even considered at the time that turning schoolchildren into soldiers was a criterion of dictatorship.

From 1890, we enter a second phase which runs until 1914. There is very clearly a second age in the writing of textbooks, which appears in the “little Lavisse”, where the word revenge disappears. Lavisse suppresses this theme from his work, without however eliminating that of Prussian responsibility. While this desire for revenge, revenge, was very clearly highlighted in the versions of 1875-1876, with the mechanics “as the beaten soldiers of Crécy were avenged by their sons, you will avenge your defeated fathers”, the versions school books from 1900 to 1913 remain patriotic, but are no longer revengeful.

This change is more an indicator of a change in public opinion than of what is happening in the school – to hope to sell their textbooks, publishers must adapt the content of these to the programs, but also to the opinion of the teachers and that of the parents; the school editions translate the indications of the programs while adapting to the law of the market. They therefore correspond to a small barometer of opinion. However, in reality, each of the masters follows more or less strictly both the programs and the contents of the textbooks. Just before 1914, we are clearly no longer in the era of revenge, which itself did not correspond to a warrior education at school. But we remain in a time for which the theme of the fatherland is preeminent. In French opinion as in the teaching body, war is seen only as a possibility. And if a pacifist line appears, it does not call into question the teaching of the fatherland and, above all, does not seem to disturb in depth the practice of teaching patriotic duty. By reading the “little Lavisse”, we understand that if there must be war, we will always have to respond. This means that, contrary to popular belief, France did not enter the war in 1914 with a spirit of revenge as might have been the case twenty-five years earlier. Revenge teaching only existed for the first generation immediately after 1870. does not seem to disturb in depth the practice of teaching patriotic duty. By reading the “little Lavisse”, we understand that if there must be war, we will always have to respond. This means that, contrary to popular belief, France did not enter the war in 1914 with a spirit of revenge as might have been the case twenty-five years earlier. Revenge teaching only existed for the first generation immediately after 1870. does not seem to disturb in-depth the practice of teaching patriotic duty. By reading the “little Lavisse”, we understand that if there must be war, we will always have to respond. This means that, contrary to popular belief, France did not enter the war in 1914 with a spirit of revenge as might have been the case twenty-five years earlier. Revenge teaching only existed for the first generation immediately after 1870.

However, attention must be paid to the difference between public education and Catholic education – a subject that deserves further research  See in particular Y. Gaulupeau La France à l'école, Paris,…. Catholic education, which concerns about a fifth of pupils, promotes a patriotism mixed with religion which, despite the break in 1905, shows greater continuity than in public education. We are in the presence of a much more patriotic teaching on a daily basis, with a more essentialist aspect marked by respect for the leader and insisting a lot on anti-Germanism. This is one of the explanations for the rallying of some Catholics to Pétain, even though they wanted to kick the German out of France. The patriotic support, in this case, does not take into account the form of the regime, especially after the rallying of the Church to the Republic. What counts is the permanence of France since the baptism of Clovis.

So, on the eve of 1914, children are educated in the love of the fatherland in both types of education. A love that leads to the possibility of fighting for her. We thus find ideas that run through French society, from Jaurès, with his notion of national defense, to Maurras. What is taught to children at the school of the Republic is the spirit of the fatherland, for which one is ready to wage war with defensive values. The key idea is: “You will defend the Republic and democracy because they have made you free”, we teach the children. What is taught is that the just war is the war of defense. There is never any valorization of the attack, of the conquest of territory, except for the colonial space.

Inflections: Did the outbreak of the Great War mark a break?

Olivier Loubes:With the outbreak of this conflict, we enter the third phase of the period: the war is now very present in the lessons because it is topical, because a third of the masters have gone to the front. This is a tangible reality for the children that manifests itself from the start of the fighting. A state of mind of war then settles more than a state of mind warrior, which very quickly leads to a reflection seeking to make the daily life of schoolchildren less burdensome. We quickly understand that the conflict will last. It is therefore necessary to create a form of normality to protect children as much as possible from the disturbances they may experience within their family. Teaching is refocused on fundamental learning: learning to write and read. But that does not prevent mobilization for food collections, clothes, for sending letters, drawings, bandages… – the teacher is often godmother of war. It does not appear that any education of the warrior type has been organized. Thus, do we not reform the school battalions. However, we learn from history immediate and the school is concerned with justifying the war in a patriotic spirit. There is no teaching that relates to the horrors of combat. Teaching war as it really is does not seem possible. Certainly, the sacrifice is exalted, but one asks to make essays on related subjects such as, for example, the description of an airplane. The manuals are not modified. This lack of change should not be over-interpreted. It must rather be put, on the one hand, on the account of the lack of paper necessary for the printing of new editions and, on the other hand, on the absence of the mobilized authors. But it is certain that the programs do not change, even if the Ministry of Public Instruction continues to give directives. They were not modified until 1923. This school, which sometimes

Inflections: The war will still cause changes.

Olivier Loubes: Admittedly, during this period, patriotism was incandescent, but the conflict is above all important for the effects it will have later on the children and on their relationship to the war within the school. After a period of mourning of two or three years, things will indeed change in depth. If the programs evolve from 1923, the words do not change, but their meaning is transformed. We still talk about peace and homeland, but these notions are no longer embodied in the same way because each family has been hit by war and death. How can we speak of peace knowing that there have been nearly a million and a half deaths? The invocation of peace is now stronger, more visceral, than that of the fatherland. Mass death changed the meaning of words.

23We must insist on the fact that there is a pacification of education: children are now taught that war is a horror – in the teaching of French, cycles dedicated to the horror of combat in from the testimonies of soldier writers such as Genevoix, Dorgelès and even Barbusse, in particular at the time of All Saints' Day and November 11, which powerfully marks a sort of “All Saints' Day of war”. The suffering of soldiers, the horror of combat have an eschatological meaning: it is the death of war that alone can give meaning to the war dead in the classroom. The school becomes profoundly peaceful in its aims. Henceforth the teaching of history culminates in the creation of the League of Nations ( ndn). The latter prolongs and transforms the history of the Republic, this Republic being hitherto described as a structure capable of accomplishing the history of the French fatherland in a framework that is both glorious and peaceful. After 1918, the story no longer stops at the creation of the Republic; the story ends at war. But it is impossible to dwell on such a pedagogical field. The victory of France is not enough to justify the deaths. It has to be victory over war. Teaching is increasingly influenced by the “spirit of Locarno”, a very Briandist teaching.

24Yet patriotic civic education does not cease after 1918. There are still lessons about the flag; it is always recalled that the French citizen will do his military service. This is why, for the school of the interwar period, it is not possible to speak of pacifism in the sense of pacifism which would reject all war, of an antipatriotic, integral pacifism which would deny the civic duties. This pacifism evolves with republican patriotism. Thus, in the teaching of French, one no longer finds an exercise asking to comment on paintings showing the national gesture. Instead, for example, barnyard studies are offered. Vercingetorix like Rouget de l'Isle disappeared from French textbooks. There is thus a pacification of the French matter. There is no doubt that there is inertia and a lack of homogeneity in the application of this rule, as previous pedagogical habits may persist. Nevertheless, in the post-war school, war is considered the enemy of humanity to the point that the meaning of history is its disappearance. The flag, the military service remain civic duties, but they no longer have this patriotic aura known previously.

Inflections: The masters who returned from the front were marked by this experience. Did this have any consequences?

Olivier Loubes: Here again we have a problem of perception. A strong distinction needs to be made between what the school does and how it is perceived in society. But it is perceived through its union masters. Before the war, few teachers made radical statements. On the other hand, in the inter-war period, especially in the 1930s, the official discourse of the National Union of Teachers ( sni), which represents 80% of them, is very pacifist. At each of its congresses a motion is passed which declares that if a new conflict breaks out, there will be a general strike. When André Delmas, his secretary, declares that the enemy is war, this contributes to the troubles of collective identity. Within the union itself, these positions appear, with hindsight, to be more of a ritual type. It should be noted that these positions are not necessarily translated into speeches in front of the students. They will also have little impact on the reaction of the population at the outbreak of the Second World War.as the school had continued to shape, in continuity since 1870, the image of citizenship inseparable from the duty of being a soldier. There was no general strike movement in 1939, even among teachers. Despite everything, the declarations of the sni [6]The sni is not nationalist and rejects communism. He is…disturbed public opinion to the point of introducing a very strong doubt in the mind of the general staff as to the ability of the French population to fight and face the German threat.

27Inflections: How to summarize?

28Olivier Loubes: By recalling that we must be careful with discourses on a school in the period 1870-1939, which are too often simplistic. If it really shaped a republican citizen feeling among the French, which leads to the natural obligation to take up arms, the republican school refused to train soldiers. After 1870, it is a question of avenging the fatherland, then of carrying out its duty for its country, its mode which makes free. After the Great War, to justify the hecatomb, we witness a change in the meaning of the words peace and fatherland, and in priorities. But if the mind is peaceful, it does not translate into an abandonment of the classic third-century sense of patriotic duty . Republic. It is also necessary to be very vigilant about the difference between what is perceived by public opinion, both in terms of nostalgia and pacifism, and the reality of daily lessons in the classroom. To speak of the relationship between school and the war during this period is to underline a very strong continuity of education which never ceased to be the crucible of a republican civic patriotism.


  • [1]
    This formula appears in a series of articles published by Péguy in the Cahiers de la Quinzaine in 1913, which will be taken up in the form of a book entitled L'Argent.
  • [2]
    See J.-L. Crémieux-Brilhac, The French of the year 40 . T. I, War yes or no?  ; t. II, Workers and Soldiers , Paris, Gallimard, 1990.
  • [3]
    F. Buisson, Dictionary of pedagogy and primary instruction. This work, begun in 1878 and completed in 1887, is considered “the Bible of the popular school of the end of the 19th century “. century, whose four thick volumes bring together and mix in thousands of articles an abundant and enthusiastic memory of educational doctrines and institutions, from “ancient peoples” to contemporary times, a political philosophy of the republican school, a copious treatise on pedagogy theory and practice, a detailed summary of legislation and administration of primary education, but also a course of studies for upper primary education and teacher training colleges, and educational bibliography, comparative statistics of primary education, etc. […] private work, [it acquires the] new status of unofficial spokesperson for republican school policy” (P. Dubois, Le Dictionnaire de F. Buisson et ses authors.

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