“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (Preamble, United States Constitution)
The memory of the words of the Preamble to the Constitution resonating as one voice out of the mouths of 11 year-olds, echoing with pride through the halls of our school, fills my heart as I recollect a favorite time in teaching 25 years ago.
What did it mean to be an American citizen? Where does one learn a love of country and sense of pride for the United States of America?
That was always the big idea and the underlying question my students were on a personal journey to discover as fifth graders in my class. Understanding the significance of the Constitution—the time in history, events that led to it, the people who wrote it and the impact that it had in forming our federal government and strengthening our country—has made it internationally unique.
The Constitution is the cornerstone of our democratic republic and impacts our lives daily as American citizens. I wanted my students to embrace its meaning and understand its application to their lives then and in the future. One textbook was not going to do the job!
For me, the best way for my students to learn about our country was to weave it into as many content areas as possible. Standards and skills were learned through a variety of exercises applied to historical content.
From the first day my students stepped into the classroom, they were seated among presidents, notable historical figures, timelines, U.S. maps, historical documents, monuments and more. Embraced with the symbols of our flag, huge walls of red, white and blue, with splashes of stars, my students knew they were in for a year filled with the celebration of patriotism and American citizenship.
Integrating U.S history into all content areas was fun and exciting as students learned about themselves and their country through novels, textbooks, primary sources, essay writing, poetry, journals, songs, movement, character interpretation, guest speakers and a culminating American extravaganza called “Sing, America, Sing!” written together with my special teammate and colleague, Tacy Ashby, EdD.
One can never quite assess the impact they make on their students or are able to measure the pride they have for their country. However, it did warm my heart when I would bump into former students and they would ask if I was still teaching or doing “Sing, America, Sing!”
With big smiles they would share that they still knew the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem, The New Colossus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, or the words and the historical events of “Sing, America, Sing!” Or, just maybe the Preamble to the Constitution!