Teaching History After the Fourth of July

Family Matters on 07.06.11

Fourth of July cook-outs and fireworks are about as close as we come to a national political celebration that both major parties can agree on.  But aside from possibly knowing that parents get a day off from work in the summer, what do our kids really know about America's political history?  One recent survey wasn't encouraging --  it showed that only 58% of all Americans know that July 4 is the anniversary of our country’s founding.

I’ve been disappointed in the lack of American history in my daughter’s school curriculum and I’m guessing I’m not the only one.  So with a growing focus on the 2012 elections, I’m trying to find a way to give our soon-to-be 12-year-old a little post-Independence Day historical perspective. As I ponder what to say, is it possible to do that in an educational way in our age of hard-line cable news rhetoric, Tea Party coloring books and children’s books that are thinly veiled propaganda for Democrats and Republicans?

It’s certainly something I struggle with. While I want to raise my daughter to be a critical thinker and form her own opinions about the world, as someone with strong political views, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope that my daughter will one day share my views on the world. I’m not the only parent who feels that way.  When I interviewed former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers earlier this year for my book about moms, social media and politics, I wondered how she managed it. Politics is an integral part of her family’s daily life -- she’s a sought-after political analyst and her husband is a political journalist, so keeping partisan discussion to a minimum at the family dinner table can be a challenge.  How does she manage that? Myers says she and her husband try to expose their sons to as much historical learning as possible in the hope that they will use that as a frame of reference to arrive at their own conclusions.  Other parents opt to take a different approach including those who joined a national movement to keep children home from school in September 2009 to prevent them from hearing President Obama’s stay in school speech for fear that the Democratic president would sway their kids away from conservative values being taught at home.

Whatever side of the political fence you’re on, one way to introduce some post-July 4th political learning during summer vacation is by keeping an eye on the schedule of the myriad presidential candidates who’ve hit the road to launch their campaigns.  Whether a particular candidate is the one you or your family might eventually support, taking your kids to hear a presidential candidate or two in person (when it’s not a fundraiser!) is a good way to kick off a conversation about how our government works.  Sure the whole Electoral College thing can be a bit inscrutable, but if Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama are headed to your town, it could be an opening to talk with your children about presidential history as we head into 2012. 

Even if your family isn’t “political,” our campaign process can be great jumping off point for some summertime discussions about why our elections are important, even if we, as parents, are already tired of the 2012 theatrics ourselves.  If nothing else, maybe a little exposure to the crazy campaigns can tear our kids away from those indoor electronics!


Image: Joanne Bamberger

Joanne Bamberger is better known around the blogosphere as the founder of the political blog, PunditMom.  She’s the author of the new book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (Bright Sky Pres, June 2011), the first book to explore the ever-growing political influence of women online.