Even in this age of political scandal and cynicism, immigrants to this country expect public schools to teach their children what it means to be an American, according to a study conducted by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Public Agenda.
The survey found that these parents would prefer to see traditional ideals and stories used to teach children the rights and responsibilities of citizenship than have them focus on instilling pride in ethnicity.
And they have no faith in bilingual education, believing that a school’s first priority should be to teach English. Two out of three parents said it is more important for public schools to teach English as quickly as possible to new immigrants, even if they fall behind in other subjects.
“These parents want their schools to teach common American history; they want George Washington upheld in history books,” said Steve Farkas, who co-authored a report on the study’s findings titled “Lot to Be Thankful for: What Parents Want Children to Learn About America.”
The study was prompted by a thorny question facing schools nationwide–how to teach history, literature and culture to increasing numbers of children from immigrant families who do not speak English and learned about the United States from television and movies.
“Our focus group conversations found that immigrants feel it’s a school’s job to teach what it means to be American, and that nothing should get in the way of their children learning English,” Farkas said. “They feel it’s the parents’ responsibility to reinforce those lessons.”
But there is an asterisk beside the Public Agenda’s finding that most foreign-born families are downright patriotic. Interviews with immigrant parents revealed enormous gaps in their knowledge about the nation’s history, and a general lack of concern about it.
“Few draw a connection between good citizenship and understanding issues we face as a country,” said Deborah Wordsworth, executive director of Public Agenda. “Many seem to be on automatic pilot when it comes to civic awareness.”
It may be necessary, she added, “to challenge both American parents and the public schools to which they entrust their children to redouble their efforts to transmit a more rigorous understanding of who we are and how we got here.”
The study was based on a national telephone survey of 801 parents of public school students. It was conducted in the same week in September that Kenneth Starr’s report on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair was delivered to Congress.