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Education Reporter

The American Citizens Handbook, Hugh Birch-Horace Mann Fund, National Education Association, 4th ed., 1951, 591 pp.

How far the NEA has come in 54 years! Thanks to one of our readers in Washington State, the Education Reporter has obtained a copy of this inspirational book revealing a very different NEA at mid-century.

Originally intended to promote citizenship among young people reaching voting age, this NEA handbook is a sort of civics almanac. It includes essays on citizenship, brief biographies of "heroes and heroines of American democracy," reprints of historical documents that are the "great charters of American democracy," and a description of our legal system.

A section entitled "A Golden Treasury for the Citizen" offers passages suitable for memorization by children with the preface, "It is important that people who are to live and work together shall have a common mind — a like heritage of purpose, religious ideals, love of country, beauty, and wisdom to guide and inspire them." Numerous Old and New Testament selections are included, including the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer and the Golden Rule.

The book unabashedly celebrates old-fashioned virtue and patriotism. The Boy Scout's oath, national songs and uplifting poems appear alongside geography facts, a household budget form, and a chart of compound interest figures.

Not everything in the volume is uncontroversial. It devotes a large chapter to promoting the United Nations. It praises public education and decries the declining proportion of national income then devoted to education. It contains a rather embarrassing endorsement of eugenics as a goal of education, so that "highly gifted young people" are encouraged to bear children to "greatly improve our national stock."

Multiculturalism and the cult of ethnic victimhood clearly had not yet taken hold of the NEA. Instead, the union embraced "the creation of national unity" and "Americanization" as explicit tasks for the schools.

To leaf through The American Citizens Handbook is to step back in time to an era when the NEA took for granted that there is a shared American heritage of Judeo-Christian values, patriotism and civic virtue to be inculcated by schools. Contrast that approach with the 2005 NEA convention resolutions.

Further information on how to obtain The American Citizens Handbook.

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