I forgot Flag Day.
Given our lives continue to revolve around my husband’s ongoing treatment for stroke, two sons’ summer weddings, and the ongoing efforts to sell our house; I know this seems a bit trivial. But, it’s not.
September will mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Fort McHenry where Francis Scott Key, held prisoner by the British in the harbor, watched throughout the night to see if the American flag still flew over the fort. Would our nation stand, or would it fall back into the colonial reach of England? His celebration of the flag still waving became the Star Spangled Banner — our national anthem.
Looking forward, this year’s election, yet again, will determine the course of our nation. We face economic, terrorist and societal issues that threaten to defeat our nation as surely as the British assault of 200 years ago. How could I let the opportunity to teach our children how to use lessons from history to shape our present responses pass?
We parents have both unique opportunities and responsibilities to give this historical perspective to our children and their decision-making. As schools increasingly focus on science and math, the study of history often moves to the back burner. Books that are too often dry, boring, and agenda-ridden, destroy interest in history and its lessons. A culture that focuses on the next, great thing demeans focus on anything that has already happened. Yet the great quote remains true, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — Sir Winston Churchill. As we celebrate our country’s birthday, what can we do to make history and its lessons come to life?
Read great books from the past. These don’t have to be traditional history books. Focus on biographies, books that explore key events, or even novels written from various eras. Historic books offer a window into how people thought, reacted, and made decisions. Then, have family conversations about what you consider helpful and why; what you would never want to repeat. Help children draw comparisons between the issues others faced in the past and those we face today. What did people do that impacted the situation for good or that made the situation worse?
Between the hot dogs and parades on the fourth, take time to read the Declaration of Independence. What were our founding fathers fighting against and trying to achieve? Are the leaders of today still working toward those goals? If yes, how can we support them? If no, where should we take a stand? As a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” we need to educate our children in strategies to be the government rather than a people that passively allows those in power to impose decisions that enable bureaucracy at the expense of its people.
Visit historic sights. Nothing brings history to life like being there. As you plan getaways for the summer, include visits to historic areas. Whether you travel to major sites like the Gettysburg battle ground or small museums focusing on a local piece of history, a story they can hear first-hand and touch connects with children. They gain a sense of all that has gone before. In a culture that preaches that we can have anything we want essentially for free, children learn the things most worth having generally cost dearly. Be ready to help them process the experience with questions like: How have we benefited by this event? Who would you have like to have been? Do you think the people acted correctly? What would you have done differently?
One summer trip to Williamsburg, where our children spent a morning touring various homes, part of the afternoon picking tobacco, and an evening listening to a recreated debate of whether Virginia should join those urging revolution brought the founding of our nation to life as no discussion could. Another afternoon spent touring a small farm in backwoods Kentucky that had become a museum to a small battle of the Civil War impacted them deeply as they read of the farmer working alone to bury the hundreds dead because neighbors would not touch Confederate bodies. Reading the short biographies of those who died, many in their teens, brought the reality of sacrifice to life.
Independence Day offers yet another opportunity to pause and consider our history. As our nation and our world face critical decisions, we should look to the lessons of the past so that we don’t repeat the mistakes and we do build on all the right moves. In so doing, we train our children to take their place in ensuring our flag still waves whether we remember to celebrate the day or not.
Tess Worrell is the mother of eight and teaches parenting and marriage. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.