Learning about “American” ideologies, values, and identities in public schools

Personal perspective

By | Ryan Chambers









The ideals of what it means to be an American in experience, versus the idea of it, have always been conflicting for me.  As the main article states, “There’s an important aspect of realizing the continuities of things that happened in history that still happen now” (p. 3). At the root level, I have always felt a strong sense of fabrication in the foundation of the American disposition, especially with how America discusses itself.  This current wave of nationalism is being felt and promoted across the globe in an effort to, once again, simply cover up for people’s fascisim, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, prejudices toward women, and all other forms of hate. It is part of this country’s DNA.

Growing up where I did, in Aurora, provided certain luxuries that are not afforded everywhere else, primarily as it relates to a type of diversity that has developed as a value of mine to this day.  Although I attended a private, Catholic, majority-White school until the age of nine, during the latter part of my education, the demographic was the complete opposite. Halfway through third grade, I transferred to my first public school. Americans say they value diversity (ethnically, religiously, linguistically, home-life, income, etc.), well, this new school was the epitome of it. The community where I was now attending school was accepting of everyone, and for me, following my early education experiences, that was so refreshing. This was such a welcome change for me because the private Catholic school I attended was primarily white, meaning everyone, including students, staff, administration, and anyone involved in the church. As early as three, even four years old, it became difficult for me not to notice how similar my peers seemed to one another, and that I was the difference. My transition from private education to my new public school was pivotal in the formation of what would become my perspectives of America and what it means to be American.

The section of the main article I enjoyed was that titled “Being an American Should Be Taught as an Ideal.” I respected and agreed with the idea that the future of this country is in the students’ hands, and we as young people have the potential to shift the tide in this country in a variety of ways. One quote from this section stated, “One of the biggest difficulties I think we have as Americans is that we reference a Constitution that was never written with all those of us who are in America in mind” (p. 3). This resonates with me, in part, due to my internal conflict of what it means to be American versus what is taught. “Given the disproportionately White demographic of teachers … it should be Black, brown educators and Whites challenging the system” (p. 7). The lack of representation in education, even at my diverse public schools, plays a huge role in the history being told. My peer group diversified during my public school experience; my educators did not. Essentially all my teachers were White until the seventh grade. Minority populations need more representation within the education profession so that students hear a diverse narrative on American history, as well as what it means to be an American in 2021. In my opinion, the education system, and this country, owes it to the students. 

It’s apparent American students are not being taught by individuals of different sexualities and races; however, the belief is that, because we are all American, it makes it okay, at least that’s what I have been led to believe in all of my schooling experiences. The difference between the private, Catholic school where I began my education and the public schools I attended later on, came down to the America they represented, not the America I was taught about. My diverse public school was where I felt I belonged. Diversity, yes, but inclusion more than anything. True acceptance and an environment that made it feel safe to expose oneself no matter how much or little one had. Despite everyone coming from a variety of lifestyles and upbringings at home, at school the culture was, come as you are, the idealistic version of America and what ought to be taught in school. The Catholic school where I started out, with little to no diversity, no room or freedoms to express one’s true self with dignity, with no real sense of inclusion, is what I imagine the Founding Fathers envisioned for this country at its genesis, and what many still want for this country. This is the version of America I was born into and unfortunately much of the America I still feel surrounded by. 

Ryan Chambers (22) is a musician, producer, DJ, and songwriter in his final semesters at St. John’s University. When he’s not making music, he enjoys looking for records, spending time with his close ones, and thinking of ways to give back to his community.  Ryan, whose stage name is 2and2, has music available for streaming on all platforms, or search 2and2 on bandcamp.com.