Wednesday, July 4, 2012

America's National Identity

This year, as my colleague Dave Dillon and I integrated the Riverside Virtual School (RVS) middle school English courses with the History courses, creating online, student-centered projects for each unit, I learned a lot.

It is amazing how much I did not know about history. I must admit, sadly, that History was never a subject I liked very much. I am not sure why, but I think the fact that I took it in summer school to "get it out of the way" may have something to do with it. Getting up early to sit in groups, and work through the textbook for 24 days in the summer before volleyball practice just didn't inspire me. Learning history inspires me now. Why? Well, for one, I am interested now. I am a mom. I am a tax paying citizen. I vote. I care about the blood that runs through my veins, and about the people I share this world with. I want to know how we became a country, why we have the rules we have, and who the innovators and reformers were who paved the way for so many of us here today.

 I want to be able to answer the ultimate question: What does it mean to be a good person, living a good life, in a good society? (Thank you, Dave!)

One of my favorite units this year was about America's developing national identity. Our own identity is shaped by so many things, and will not be the same tomorrow as it is today, let alone months and years from now. After we declared our independence and wrote the Constitution, we needed to figure out what it meant to be America. Our students learned about the historical context of this time period... the "Launching the Ship of the State," and then for English read literature, listened to songs, learned about art and architecture, and were able to choose what aspect of the unit interested them the most in order to complete the project.

In all of my years of teaching English, I had no idea that Andrew Jackson chose the song "Hunters of Kentucky" as the anthem for his run for presidency... the language, the connotation, the messages here in this song are fascinating... why in the world would a man want a song about "hardy alligator boys who can protect their ladies" to represent him? This is interesting stuff! I had no idea how innovative Thomas Jefferson was, and that when he picked up a book about architecture when he was young, he was hooked. Our students are so much like Jefferson, in that, they will read and study and explore for hours things they are interested in, sometimes at the expense of getting work done for their classes, because of passion and interest. Thomas Jefferson took existing ideas, designs, and structures, combined them with new, innovative ones, and created something completely new. This is what we want for our students.

Some focused on Poe for their project, recognizing that life was not all happy and joyful... there is room for pessimism in this new identity, just as there is room for it now in ours. Times are tough, and not everyone wants to go out into nature and dream the way the romantic poets like Cullen Bryant, Emerson, and Thoreau did.

Regardless of where you are in your developing identity, like America, this process is ongoing and ever-evolving. This unit was a joy to create and implement. It contributed to my own identity, and I am changed, again, moving forward...thank you America!