Pluralism In Patriotism

July fourth

Pluralism In Patriotism

The July 4th dilemma...

Does anyone else sometimes have second thoughts about the rampant patriotism on the 4th of July? It certainly feels like a holiday that unites American citizens. However, it can also seem a bit divisive; separating those who belong and those who do not. Is it possible for the 4th of July to be an empathetic holiday? Can it also embody a respectful global perspective? I believe it can!

Patriotism is defined as a love for one’s country. But this love does not require a feeling of unbridled greatness or bigotry. It is perfectly acceptable, and even necessary, to feel pride at the accomplishments of our country. Throughout history patriotic citizens have contributed to great successes within our nation.

In fact, this idea is highlighted in, "Can Patriotism Be Compassionate?", an article in The Greater Good Magazine. Among several theories regarding patriotism, philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum is noted as saying we “need patriotic emotion to motivate projects that require transcending self-interest.” However, self-interest is merely one component of patriotism. A compassionate patriotism like that of Martin Luther King, Jr or even President John F. Kennedy fosters a sense of belonging and activism for all people. Patriotism should reflect active and caring citizenship. One thing that really struck me was "just as a strong attachment to parents can serve as a template for healthy relationships throughout life, so secure attachment to one's nation can give us the confidence to respect other people's countries." This suggests we can see teaching and celebrating patriotism as an essential step in building global empathy.

So, let's support our children's sense of belonging to America through compassionate patriotism this 4th of July! Regardless of their diverse multicultural backgrounds, children feel connected to others by their identification as an American. They share stories about watching fireworks with their family on Independence Day and proudly wave the American flag at their local parades. The key is to celebrate while recognizing that there is pluralism in patriotism. Everyone’s experiences as an American will not be the same.

Because we cannot travel the country to learn what America means to each American, we need to bring these varying perspectives to our children. Using literature as a window to the diverse experiences of other Americans can be a powerful and tangible tool.  Literature can support empathy development, create an opportunity for discussion, and help us to reflect on our own connection to America. As a former teacher I wanted to share a few examples to support these efforts.

For instance, I used to read Apple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong to my kindergarten class. This story is about a Chinese American girl who spends the 4th of July at her family’s store and restaurant. Lee & Low BooksLee & Low Books also offer several options for all ages that highlight American diversity. America: A book of opposites and America: My Land, Your Land, Our Land offer visual comparisons of the vast American landscape and experience. A nice middle grade option is: Step Up to the Plate Maria Singh. This novel is about a girl who is inspired by the All-American Girls’ League to join the softball team at school. During her life journey she is also contending with issues of multiculturalism, immigration, and discrimination in her family and community.

As I consider my own multicultural family and community, I become excited to share the richness of America during the 4th of July holiday. I will emphasize how diversity is part of what it means to be an American. My children will learn what to be proud of as a nation while also learning that they belong to a community of nations. We will embrace our American citizenship without losing sight of our existence as global citizens.

What books would you recommend to support compassionate patriotism? Join us in building empathy towards diversity in America this July 4th!

-Written by Julie Bindal, Education Consultant, Cultured Kids Inc.