Monday, June 30, 2008

Why Kids Need to Learn Patriotic Songs

My mom used to sing with us in the car. We sang Yankee Doodle, and Anchors Away and My Country 'Tis of Thee, and all the rest. We loved it and it was a great time, a wonderful memory.

As a mom, I taught my kids every patriotic song, all the hymns of the armed services as we painted red white and blue paper bag luminarias for the driveway, or as we marched around the living room with noisemakers in our own "Happy Birthday, America" parade.

But as a teacher, the kids who arrived in my classes each year did not know the songs of our nation. They had no idea what the ramparts were that we watched, what the meaning is of the colors on the flag, or from whom we gained our independence as a nation. So, every morning my class and I would say the Pledge of Allegiance together, and then sing a patriotic song before we sat down to begin our day. We sang a new song each week. By the end of the year, the kids knew all the words to just about every American patriotic song, including the theme songs of each branch of the military.

Now, you all know I tend to lean toward liberal. I've been called a bleeding heart from time to time. A social liberal. So, why am I waning conservative sentimentalist as we approach the birthday of our democracy? Why am I not promoting multiculturalism, as a good bleeding heart should?

Because no matter where we hail from, no matter if we hold different political views, or if we speak 311 different languages in the US of A, from countless cultures, we are all here for the same reasons. We all value the freedom and wonderful possibilities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We all value freedom of speech and the right to assemble with others of like mind. We all want to believe that the American Dream is attainable, as hard as it is to believe in these economic times (which is why I am voting Democratic in November). Which is why there should be something symbolic to bring us together. Something that is a part of our collective history. Something we can do together, even if it's only at the beginning of a sporting event. There is far too much in this day and age that divides us. But these songs that encapsule our beliefs and demonstrate our pride as a nation are a rare commodity. Whether you're singing them in your car with your kids, clapping to the beat at the local 4th of July parade, or tearing up to the soundtrack of the fireworks show this Independence Day, patriotic songs can bring us together. Even if only for a few minutes at the start of a school day or on a patriotic holiday.

Am I asking you to ignore your cultural heritage? Absolutely not. I cherish my heritage: no one celebrates St. Pat's like the American Irish! And I believe that everyone should hold their heritage as a prized possession. But we canot let it divide us. Until we can put aside the separatism that seems to grow stronger by the day and find some shred of collective unity as Americans, all hyphens aside, even if it is just the teaching of schoolchildren our patriotic songs, we have no hope of bringing the American people together as a nation.

Happy Independence Day. Have a great picnic on 4th of July with your family, whether you're eating homemade tamales, or lumpia, or steaks, bratwurst or pho. Show your family the original Declaration of Independence online. Enjoy the fireworks, and put on the Boston Pops or sing along with your kids to the WeeSing America CD. Wave fthe stars and stripes, and sparklers and celebrate the crazy idea that our Founding Fathers and Mothers embodied: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Equal no matter your birthplace, social status, financial wealth or heritage. Pursue happiness this 4th of July. I hope you and your kids will sing along (or even hum if you don't know the words!) with one of the great patriotic songs of our country and enjoy the simple goodness of the nation in which we live, where any little girl or boy really can grow up to run for president.