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The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song
View related content: Citizenship
What So Proudly We Hail is a new project in civic education with the goal of helping produce better patriots and better citizens—men and women who are thoughtfully attached to our country, devoted to its ideals, and eager to live an active civic life. At the center of the project is What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, an anthology complied by Amy Kass, Leon Kass, and Diana Schaub and recently published by ISI Books. Addressing hearts as well as minds using the soul-shaping powers of story, speech, and song, it is designed to make Americans more appreciatively aware of who they are as citizens of the United States. The book is also the basis of a new e-learning curriculum on “The Meaning of America,” available at our website, www.whatsoproudlywehail.org/curriculum.
Our approach to making citizens differs from the more common approaches now practiced. Many people, concerned about the state of civic literacy and national identity, have been developing new programs of instruction that emphasize American history, political thought, and civic institutions. These valuable efforts are largely cognitive: they seek to correct our abysmal ignorance by providing knowledge. But such knowledge will not by itself produce love of country or the desire to do something in its service.
Another approach to making citizens, emphasizing learning by doing, sends students into the community to perform services for others in the hope that the students will develop the habit of serving. But these worthy activities are usually framed in the cosmopolitan language of compassion and care, rather than in the specific language of American citizenship. And they are rarely accompanied by the sorts of study that could more deeply inform the service students are rendering or make them think more deeply about the character and purposes of the country in which they live and serve.
Developing robust and committed American citizens is a matter of both the heart and the head. Like all character-building activities, it requires educating our moral imaginations, sentiments, and habits of heart—matters displayed in but also nurtured by great works of imaginative literature. Works of fiction speak most immediately, engagingly, and movingly to the hearts and minds of readers of all ages. They furnish the imagination; educate the sentiments; and, by giving us characters to identify with, provide concrete mirrors for self-discovery and self-examination. For these reasons, we have adopted a literary approach to making citizens, an approach centering on stories—supplemented by great public speeches and patriotic songs.
The Meaning of America
Our website hosts a ten-part course on “The Meaning of America,” with each part based on one story from the anthology. Materials for each session include detailed study guides, each of which gives information about the author, a plot summary, and a series of thematically arranged questions for thinking about the story and for thinking with the story about larger American themes. These study guides go beyond lesson plans intended to help students get the facts straight. Instead, they want to help readers probe the meaning of the story for enduring insights about important American and human matters.
In addition to the study guides, the curriculum for each session includes a video discussion of the story, conducted by a guest host with the editors of the anthology. Short clips from the videos are interspersed throughout the study guides to help teachers (and students) see how they can discuss the questions in the spirit of genuine inquiry.
The sessions include:
The Meaning of America curriculum, available free of charge, is aimed primarily at high school and college teachers. It should be of special interest to teachers in home schools, charter schools, private academies, International Baccalaureate programs, faith-based schools, and any institution of learning that aims high and that allows teachers the freedom to find their own materials and to teach up to their students. It reflects, in brief, the editors’ own long experience in teaching and the principles derived from that practice: be serious; speak up, not down to students; ask them genuine questions; and encourage them in thoughtful reflection and honest conversation. Students treated in this fashion, more often than not, will rise to the occasion and vindicate your trust in their capacity to learn and grow—in mind, in heart, and in soul.
Leon R. Kass is the Madden-Jewett Chair at AEI.
“Magnificent…a civic education in one volume.”
–George F. Will, bestselling author of One Man’s America
“What a wonderful collection of American songs, speeches, and stories. It should be valuable for teachers, students, parents, and readers of all kinds.”
“This star-spangled anthology invites us to think about, and love, America. It’s an invitation well worth accepting.”
“All hail the editors of What So Proudly We Hail!…An anthology worthy of study by free men and brave citizens, from the dawn’s early light to the twilight’s last gleaming.”
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