Patriotism and the Next Generation

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*I will not be blogging for the remainder of the month as I take a break and work on my site. See y’all in August with new students and new material!

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” – Ronald Reagan

The next generation is often criticized for their lack of patriotism, yet many parents have completely dropped the ball on teaching their kids how to love our great country. Most kids hear opposing political parties spew insults all over the airwaves and criticize the current and future state of the country. Dinner table talk, if that even exists in homes, focuses on the negative and not the positive. Simply put, kids model what we teach them. Patriotism is not taught by watching fireworks every Fourth of July and singing “I’m Proud to be an American,” but by living out a day to day love of country.

Hang the American flag outside your home. Discuss the meaning of Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, D Day, the Fourth of July, and Flag Day.Do your kids know the pledge, “Star Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America,” or better yet, do they know what all of these really mean and stand for? Take time to talk about these and the stories behind them.

Visit Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia, and historic places in your area. Don’t just count on the history books to teach history to your child.

Talk about the Revolutionary War, World War I, and World War II. What are the differences between these wars? What did we learn from these wars? What can we still learn from these wars?

Discuss soldiers who have served and/or given their lives for our country. If possible, have your child speak with a grandfather or relative who served in the military. Research and share stories of local heroes. My community has a section of a road dedicated as the Mike Stokley Memorial Highway in honor of a young man who gave his life serving. I will never forget sitting at his funeral listening to his dad Robert give his son’s eulogy. The entire time he spoke, Robert wore his son’s combat boots claiming most sons want to grow up and walk in their father’s shoes, but he wanted to walk in his son’s shoes by displaying courage and love for his country. That’s a story I need to be telling and retelling to my kids and students.

Honor people who are currently serving our country. I was in an airport a couple of months ago and was reminded how easy this can be. A young woman in her fatigues was traveling home. She was at an airport Chick-Fil-A ordering a chicken biscuit and commented on how she had missed eating these. Before she could pay, the man in line behind her had paid for her breakfast and thanked her for serving our country.

And by all means, celebrate the Fourth of July with gusto. The Fourth is my favorite holiday of the year. The Fourth of July is all family for us. We always run the Peachtree Road Race, swim, eat BBQ, and go to a Braves game or watch local fireworks with friends. Create your own family traditions.

Two quick stories of how I have seen love for country in my classroom –  

1 – From time to time I have a student who doesn’t want to stand for the pledge not out of any conviction but just to be annoying. Of course, I cannot make a kid pledge, so each day this student just sat down in his desk while we were pledging. One day, however, a couple of his buddies decided to join him, and they began making jokes while we were pledging. When I told them they needed to be quiet, the ring leader said something like “what’s the big deal?” I didn’t have to answer because one tiny girl who had hardly said anything all year stood and said, “My dad has been in Afghanistan for the last year; that’s the big deal and I am tired of watching all of you not give proper respect to our country.” The entire class stood and said the pledge for the remainder of the year.

2 – As I often do on Mondays, I asked if anyone in the class did anything interesting or fun over the weekend (that is classroom appropriate to share – I often qualify with this). Several kids spoke of going to the lake, seeing a movie, and getting a new video game then one socially awkward boy quietly said, “My dad came home from Afghanistan this weekend.” The class immediately jumped to their feet and starting applauding and cheering, and this kid was a rock star for the day. Even now, thinking of this brings tears to my eyes.

Does our country have problems? Yes. Are there challenges we as a nation must address in the future? Yes. Should these things cause us to love our country less? No. These things should cause us to fight harder to keep patriotism alive in the next generation.

Happy Fourth of July!

Looking for some facts about the Fourth, read this interesting article by Valerie Strauss:

Five Things You Think You Know about July 4 that are Wrong

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