Fighting Homegrown Terror with Civics Education

December 10, 2015 | Jonathan Zimmerman
About the author:

Syed Farook, who carried out the San Bernardino terror attack with his wife, was an American citizen who attended school in the U.S. for twelve years, as well as four years of college. To Jonathan Zimmerman, some old ideas about education might have set Farook on a different course:

Our schools are our central public mechanism for making Americans—that is, for socializing the young into the norms, traditions, and beliefs of the nation. Or at least they used to be. Remember civics education? When Americans created our common school system, in the early 19th century, civic purposes lay at its heart. In a new nation of enormous diversity, the argument went, we needed schools to foster a shared American identity and consciousness.

Civic goals remained central to education into the 20th century, when schools developed formal courses to teach children about their rights and responsibilities as Americans. But these efforts started to fade in the wake of the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal. . . . By the time Syed Farook went to school, he may have been getting very little of this sort of education.

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