Across the country this week, families celebrate the fourth of July. Fireworks. Road races. Camping. Cookouts and summer fun.
If you ask a kid what the 4th of July celebrates, you might get answers like “middle of summer”or “I dunno.”Really. With social studies instruction declining in schools because of more essential elements like reading and writing, kids learn less and less about the foundations of our history that tie our country together.
Yes, I’m a former History teacher and yes I’m one of those weird people who spends a good movie night watching one of Ken Burn’s documentaries. But I’ve also observed what happens when you don’t pass on the meaning behind traditions, family histories and things of national importance.
Your identity gets lost.
You lose connectedness, you don’t know the depth of human experience that’s brought you to be who you are today.
Kids in 2014 know a lot about electronic devices, selfies, and how to navigate the web. Ask any teen or elementary student a few more questions, like “Tell me a few things about each of the wars?”and you’ll instantly see their eyes glaze over. I know. I work with kids in a public school. I’m a mom.
Kids kind of know about World War II because sometime they had to make a board game about Hitler. My preteen did. Yep, a board game about Hitler. That describes WWII.
This summer when the nation celebrated the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, I listened to the veterans who went to France to commemorate the event. I studied even more about the invasion that week, thinking of my own twenty-year old son who would have been on those ships approaching the beachhead. The biggest challenge for today’s twenty year is whether their Netflix account is paid up.
Kids need to know the reasons why things, like wars, have occurred. They need to talk to veterans, to honor them in the grocery stores and understand war’s not a video game. They need to know about the scars in our culture, like 100 years of segregation, the removal of the Native Americans to reservations, and other atrocities that still affect our country.
And then there’s the 4th of July.
The day our country became a nation. Recently I heard an elderly man publicly read the Declaration of Independence at an event at which I was speaking. Yes, I teared up, and yes, most people should when they realize the magnitude of how and why a group of people waged war against a king in a place you and I call home. The place we complain about when Walmart doesn’t have that certain brand of electronic in stock. The place that pays millions of dollars to athletes to play games so we can watch them on our theater style TV’s.
So why should kids know about the Fourth of July? Because it’s our duty. It’s part of raising them to be productive citizens, to teach them that their life isn’t just about them, but it’s about the common good. Read the Declaration of Independence with your kids. Watch a good movie about the Revolutionary War. Go to a cemetery of fallen soldiers, talk to a veteran.
Then ask the question I required my students to answer every day, “What’s one thing you learned today?”
Then know your kids are a little more connected, their identity is a little more defined, and their capacity for empathy and social responsibility has just been widened.
What are ways you share important lessons about history and culture with your kids?
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