'The Beauty of America': Nationalism, Education, and the War on Terror

Summer, 2010

Source: Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 80, Iss. 2; pg. 242-274. Summer, 2010. 

(Reviewed by the Portal Team) 

In this article, the author draws on qualitative research conducted with Palestinian American high school students to explore school as a key site for nation building.
This article focuses on three key issues.
First, the article portrays nation building from the ground up, examining how U.S. nationalism and national identities are produced collectively within and through everyday racialized and gendered discourses and practices inside one school.
Second, the article examines the ways these productions of everyday nationalism articulate with U.S. imperial ambitions in relation to the war on terror.

Finally, in focusing on teachers' talk and practices, the author examines the ways that complex discourses about the U.S. nation, on the one hand, imagine schooling as a site for "liberalizing" Palestinian and other Arab youth from their intolerant ideologies, and oppressive gender roles through processes of "Americanization."
On the other hand, these discourses circumscribe the boundaries of national belonging in ways that position Palestinian and other Arab American youth as foreign threats in need of being disciplined through the practices of schooling.

Research Context and Methods

The participants in this study are Palestinian American high school students.
The youth are members of a small Palestinian Muslim transnational immigrant community.
A majority of the participants were born in the United States but spent many years living in the West Bank with their parents and extended relatives.

At her second year of her meetings with the students, the author invited four students -two boys and two girls- to be focal participants for this research.
The author conducted participant observation with these focal students, following them through their school days and, on occasion, to community and family events.
The author also conducted extensive interviews with these students, with their teachers, and with key administrators in the school.

Nationalism and Citizenship in an Era of Global Conflict and Transnational Migration

The author argues that education of the Palestinian American youth in this study must be understood as significantly related to their encounters with U.S. nationalism seamlessly woven into the everyday discourses and practices of schooling.
At the same time, these expressions of nationalism are intimately interwoven with the cultural logics that justify the United States' position as an imperial power.

Furthermore, the author also claims that these nationalist discourses shed light on normative assumptions of national identity that compromised the capacity of Palestinian and other Arab American youth to realize equitable participation in the school community.
Despite the symbolic attention to cultural diversity as a key characteristic of this nation, there were limits on the expression of this diversity.
Certain markers of diversity, such as food and dance, perceived to be purely cultural and acceptable symbols.
However, other symbols, such as flags and maps, often provoked disciplinary responses precisely because they represent nationalist political claims other than those of the United States.

Finally, legal citizenship did not protect the Palestinian American youth in this study from being seen and treated as outsiders.
At times, the rights of Palestinian American youth to cultural and political expression were suspended precisely because they were perceived to be not American, aligned instead with the forces of intolerance and illiberality against which the United States is fighting.

Final Thoughts: Implications for Teacher Learning

The author argues that when these discourses enter into schools, they affect youth's educational opportunities and their capacities for realizing full citizenship.
The author makes three specific recommendations for educating teachers for this changing world.
First, teachers need opportunities to examine critically their assumptions about national belonging, which reinforce exclusionary boundaries and promote assimilative goals for many communities living in the United States.
Second, the changing world means gaining a more critical understanding of both the processes of globalization and the U.S. role as a global power.
Deeper knowledge of the United States' relationship to the world community could help teachers better understand, and account for the different, often critical, perspectives about the United States that many youth from immigrant communities bring to the classroom.
Finally, pre- and in-service teacher education should help expand educators' understandings of citizenship in and for our global community.
Teachers need opportunities to think about citizenship in ways that acknowledge the multiple affiliations that people hold.

Updated: Nov. 23, 2010