Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Teaching Our Children about American Exceptionalism

Jonathan Hafetz

I recently came across this passage from Joy Hakim’s From Colonies to Country, the textbook my fifth grade son uses in his history class:

“If ever you are arrested, the first thing to do is ask for a ‘writ of habeas corpus.’ Then you will be brought before a judge, and he will tell you why you are being held. If there is no good reason for your arrest, you can go home. This is a very important right! In many countries today, people still get thrown in jail for no good reason.”

Of course, one can expect only so much detail from an elementary school history book, and it is encouraging to see habeas corpus mentioned there at all. On the other hand, one wonders whether children will be asked to question the dominant narrative of American exceptionalism in light of America’s response to 9/11.

Will, for example, children be taught that not everyone imprisoned by the United States actually gets habeas corpus? That a person can languish in jail for years before he gets to see a judge? And that it’s not only in “other countries” that people are thrown in jail for no good reason?

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