Parents, Teach Your Children Well: Independence Day

Most of us love Independence Day.  I think the only complaints I’ve ever heard were centered on the dangerousness, loudness, or triteness of fireworks (but after reading this post you will understand why firework shows are not a cliche activity).  We get to spend time with our families, bonding, playing, perhaps working around the house together, visiting with friends, and learning. Yes, I did just say ‘learning’!

“Why do I need to teach my child about the Fourth of July,” you might ask.

Well, first of all, if your family is in the habit of calling the holiday the Fourth of July or some variant thereof, you should consider changing it immediately! The holiday is called Independence Day for a reason. That name–the actual name–tells us about the holiday. It implies what we are celebrating. And I think that is important. We aren’t just celebrating just a day on the calendar, nor are we celebrating a day off of work. It is not a day on which we pay homage to the grill or to the picnic. It’s not even a day on which we pay tribute to the beauty and glory of fireworks.  Do we call Christmas ‘the 25th of December’ as an alternative name? Is ‘the First of January’ an adequate alternative for New Year’s Day?  Or perhaps we can say ‘The First Sunday After the First Full Moon After the Spring Equinox’ instead of Easter?  I know–that last one is so cumbersome that we wouldn’t use it in everyday speech.  But I’m trying to make the point that it is not the day on the calendar that we are celebrating.  We are holding a celebration on that day.  And there can be more than one celebration on any given day.  But I’ll let my argument about the day’s moniker rest with that.

Independence Day is about celebrating the independence of our country, the United States of America! It is about remembering all of those who fought, with the pen and voice and weapon, so that our ancestors (and therefore us) could live in a free country. It is a day about remembering our founding documents, our freedoms, and our rights, which were given to us by our Heavenly Creator, but recognized and respected by our government.

“So, doesn’t my child learn about this in school?” Whether you are a homeschooling parent or the parent of a traditionally schooled child, this applies. You see, learning happens everywhere. It doesn’t and shouldn’t happen only in the classroom and during designated school hours. I believe it to be important that children learn that learning can and should happen during school breaks and holidays. Learning is not a chore, cumbersome and difficult. It is something that should be an everyday occurrence, and should seem easy and worthwhile. (Notice the difference between learning in general and learning a difficult subject, which is always hard work. But learning to learn the things that are easier to pick up on will make it easier to learn the things they have to work hard for.) Besides, do you know what exactly your kids learned in school about Independence Day? Ask them. Does it mesh with what you know to be true? Sometimes what was learned is not what was taught by the teacher, or perhaps your child missed what you consider to be an important part of the topic. And perhaps you just want to emphasize those things that you consider to be most important.

“But I talked to my kids about this last year!” You Would be amazed at how your child’s understanding of things changes as they mature. Some subjects, such as history (not English grammar! …but that’s another topic I’ll discuss later…), should be returned to in some manner on a yearly basis.  Very young children won’t be able to remember or understand details of our history.  This is because our history happened because of human interactions and relationships.  As children mature, they understand these interactions and relationships more and more.  Therefore, they are able to understand history and the causes of major historical events in more and more detail as they mature.  Just because you taught them something about the importance of the holiday last July doesn’t leave you off the hook this July.

Independence Day is a holiday steeped and founded in our history. Learning history in general has the benefits of knowing what happened to peoples and civilizations before you, so that you do not make the same mistakes and so that you can appreciate things such as technological progress.  Learning the history of our country helps one to be proud of where they reside, to want to better their community around them, and to understand how things came to be as they are now.  As an example, a generation that forgets the reason the Puritans and other Pilgrims first traveled to the “new” continent is also less likely to understand and value the First Amendment of our Constitution.  Those who do not understand the danger to and price paid by our ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War and the subsequent fight of our Founding Fathers to bring together the individual colonies into one large and powerful country will have forgotten the meaning of the Third Amendment to the Constitution, as well as the importance of protecting our country from infringements upon that Constitution.  In other words, in order to preserve our freedom, we must teach our history, and we must make certain that our children are learning our history the way it happened.

Each child learns differently, and at a different pace.  Some children mature before ‘science’ says they will, and others mature at a later age.  In the traditional school setting, in which your child is learning school subjects with peers of the same or approximately the same age, he or she won’t have the opportunity to fully push the limits of their understanding.  If your child is more mature in their understanding of human interactions,  you must provide them with the opportunity to learn about the human interactions that led to the founding of our country. Because they will not get that opportunity–other than choosing for themselves a library book that provides that knowledge–until the curriculum used in the schools gives it to them.  In some cases, the opportunity for learning about some subject matter will never be there, as it is not deemed important to learn in the curriculum or frameworks being used in the school.

Perhaps your child has a different learning style than is being focused on with the techniques used by his or her teacher.  This might mean that your child doesn’t understand or hasn’t fully internalized the content that has been presented.  Your child’s teacher has a number of other children on which he or she must try their best to focus on.  It is up to you, the parent, to fill in the gaps your teacher isn’t able to, whether because of a subject matter too mature for discussion among peers or because of a variance in learning styles.

Independence Day has become particularly focused on fireworks, BBQ’s, and picnics.  These things are good.  In fact, John Adams said that he wanted these sort of things to be part of the regular celebration. (I am going to use this Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, written on July 3, 1776, to help me teach my children this year.)  But as you sit on your picnic blanket waiting impatiently for the sun to go down, talk to your children.  Teach them.  Help them to more fully understand the reverence that should be used while looking upon the beauty of the pyrotechnics you are about to observe.  It is not simply a pretty show…it should evoke pride in your country and in your ancestors (even if your ancestors came to this country after it had gained its freedom) and in our freedoms and rights we utilize on a daily basis.  Having fun should certainly be part of your celebration, but learning, discussion, and remembrance should be just as important.

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