Monday, July 2, 2007

Examining the History behind Well-Known Patriotic Texts

U.S. Flag
Image ®
The Fourth of July is probably the most patriotic day in the United States. There are flags everywhere. Patriotic songs fill the air. You’ll find reruns of Yankee Doodle Dandy and the musical 1776 run on the television. It’s a day when we celebrate everyday patriotic texts such as the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star Spangled Banner,” “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” and “America the Beautiful.” But how often do we ask students to think carefully about the words that they are repeating?

The ReadWriteThink lesson plan Freedom of Speech and Automatic Language: Examining the Pledge of Allegiance outlines a secondary project that can be adapted for middle school or college students. For a more focused activity, you can use the Examining the U.S. Pledge handout to ask students to look closely at the words and ideas expressed in the pledge, using the resources in this FOX news article, the Wikipedia entry, the American Legion History of the Flag, or a text from your library.

Similar projects can be designed using any patriotic text.

As you explore these texts together, ask students not only about the words of the various texts, but about how they have been read and performed over the years. No matter what text you explore, focus on asking students to think about the well-known texts—Why have they become so important? What do they mean literally and figuratively? Who is mostly likely to read or sing the texts? When is they usually referred to? Do they truly include all the people in America? If the text were written today, what might be different?

As students explore all these questions, they may focus on the history behind the texts, but with some deep critical thinking they can begin exploring their own personal relationships to the texts. Most students know the words. Take some time to ask them to think about what they’re really saying.


Anonymous said...

You may also wish to look at the Patriotic Melodies website at as it has information on the songs, links to primary source documents and recordings of the songs as well.

Anonymous said...

I would like people to know that Wikipedia is a horrible site to use as a reference. I am constantly explaining to students that it is a free access site - anyone can add to the information. They check it, yes, but the backlog is incredible. I strongly recommend that you do not give it credit to your students and that you stop using it now. I have one student who laughed when I nixed it from my research papers. The kids were groaning and he popped up his name on the screen. Two years before he had made himself a god in the Hindu religion - and it was still there!

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of an African-American student who asked to write her paper on the reasons July 4th did not mean anything to her. I allowed her to write the paper. She wrote of her slave ancestory, and, for the amount of time she had to do the research, provided a thoughtful essay. At the end of the summer session, she brought me a wall carpet to hang in my office. It was of the Statue of Liberty. In our celebrating, we sometimes forget there are those who cannot.

Mark C. Miller said...

Re: Wikipedia ...

Jimmy Wales, its founder, answered questions in the 22 Mar 07 edition of time. Here's the applicable question:

How can I persuade my teachers to allow me to use Wikipedia as a legitimate research source?

Kaitlyn Grigsby, MEDINA, OHIO

I would agree with your teachers that that isn't the right way to use Wikipedia. The site is a wonderful starting point for research. But it's only a starting point because there's always a chance that there's something wrong, and you should check your sources if you are writing a paper.

That usually resolves any questions. I do remind them that the sources used for the article are listed at the end of the entry, so they can go directly to the source.