I was a patriotic child. I could not tell you why. Maybe it was my parents, my teachers, the social climate, or all of the above. I loved Social Studies so much that I became a History Major in college. I would probably have been better at my job sooner if I had majored in Education, but more on that later.
The climate has changed. We were once taught that this was the greatest country on Earth. Overlooking its faults in the curriculum left many people deluded when they uncovered the dark underbelly in higher level history classes. The result is now that there is a hesitation to teach about American Greatness. Being patriotic is a thing of ridicule and scorn as evidenced by the “Merica” phenomenon. A person who is proud of their country is seen as less intelligent than someone who tears it down.
We are a young country. Me may have to learn from older nations that acknowledge their faults, are still proud, and somehow are far less self-deprecating that the United States is today. It is for this reason that I’ve come up with a yearlong Social Studies project to recapture patriotism in a meaningful, personalized way.
The last 6 pages of the Social Studies Notebook will consist of three outline maps of the United States, each stretching across two pages. The maps would be titled as follows.
- “My America makes me Proud.” or perhaps “My America is Great.”
- “My America has Faults.”
- “My America is Weird.”
Over the course of the year, my students will be asked to take information they have gathered from our curriculum or their own outside research in areas of interest and fill in parts of that map. By the end of the year these maps should be full of words and pictures that reflect parts of our history that make us great, that are regrettable, and that are downright weird.
I once asked fourth graders why they were grateful to live in the United States. One boy told me that America smells good. I got a good chuckle out of it and shared the story with my friends on social media. It came as quite a surprise when shady friends came out of the woodwork attacking me for brainwashing the youth of America and promoting an evil agenda. I had only asked them to consider what are good things about living here. That kind of attitude is what we are up against. That kind of attitude is why I want to do a deeper more meaningful project with my 5th graders, so that they form for themselves a picture of an America they can be proud of that does not overlook its flaws.
America is a melting pot and every immigrant group has footprints in our history. Every student should be able to connect with that aspect of their heritage or at least find some examples of specific inventive, brave or outstanding Americans that make them proud. We can still teach a more global perspective so that our history has context and we don’t get this America is a vacuum phenomenon that curriculum often creates. Maybe that is just the former World History/ World Geography teacher in me itching to get out.
At the end of the year I want there to be a concluding activity that goes with this. I just don’t know what it is yet. Maybe they make large posters. Maybe there is a paper. Maybe it is an open project where they may choose the type of presentation. What is key is that the project takes the information they personally have collected over the course of the year and reflects on our greatness, our flaws and our weirdness in a way that synthesizes it. If it all goes well, I would like for us to have an early 4th of July party in my class at the end of the year. Each student will get to celebrate and be proud of their individual meaning of America.
I have not done this before. I hope it works. I hope it works in part for my own sake. So that I can reach back to the patriotism of my youth and so that the youth of today might form a sort of pride in their country that is more realistic, more personal, and might just see them through to adulthood.