Bringing America’s Stories to the Classroom
Created by distinguished teacher-scholars Amy Kass and Leon Kass, the What So Proudly We Hail literary-based e-curriculum is a rich source of materials compiled to aid in the classroom instruction of American history, civics, social studies, and language arts. This collection of classic American stories, speeches, and songs is based on the Kasses’ critically acclaimed anthology of the same name. It seeks to educate both hearts and minds about American ideals, American identity and national character, and the virtues and aspirations of our civic life.
What So Proudly We Hail has been recognized by educators as an innovative tool for implementing the Common Core Standards and preparing high school students for college-level coursework.
A Literary Approach to Civic Education
Our approach to civic education differs from the more common approaches now practiced. Many people, concerned about the state of civic literacy and American identity, have been developing programs of instruction that emphasize American history, political thought, and civic institutions. Another approach, emphasizing learning by doing, sends students into the community to perform services for others, in the hope that the students will thereby develop the habit of serving. But these worthy efforts by themselves will not produce (with the first approach) a love of country or (with the second approach) the capacity to think deeply about the character and purposes of the country in which we live and serve.
Developing robust and committed American citizens is a matter of both the heart and the head. We need to furnish our imaginations with true stories of American heroes, stories that inspire emulation and the pride of kinship with those who have nobly gone before—the stories of Washington and Lincoln, of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. But we also can benefit greatly from fictional stories that not only inspire but also instruct. By giving us characters to identify with, stories provide concrete mirrors for self-discovery and self-examination. At their best, they reveal the complexities of our situation and educate the sentiments in a richer and more sophisticated way.
A Model for High-Level Discourse
Our e-learning project aims to demonstrate concretely how short stories can illuminate the meaning of American identity, character, and citizenship, and to do so by displaying and promoting learning not through lecturing but through genuine inquiry and searching conversation.
Materials for each discussion guide include brief biographical 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. Our discussion guides go beyond lesson plans intended to help students get the facts straight. Instead, they help readers probe the meaning of the story for enduring insights about important American and human matters.
Model conversations help educators raise the level of critical thinking and classroom discussion. Each discussion guide features a 45-minute conversation between the editors of the anthology and a guest host, capturing the experience of high-level discourse as participants interact and elicit meaning from a classic American text. Short video excerpts from the conversation are interspersed throughout the guide to allow students and teachers to engage on specific themes and questions.
Teaching Across Disciplines
What So Proudly We Hail is designed to allow teachers to integrate lessons into their current classroom curriculum in any way they see fit. The lessons can be used across disciplines—not only for civics classrooms, but also for social studies, language arts, humanities, and other subject areas as well.
An additional bonus is the connection this curriculum has with the new Common Core State Standards. These standards not only mandate certain critical types of content, such as seminal works in American literature, for all students; they also advocate “close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding.” Literature and social studies teachers looking for models for teaching close reading and analyzing complex texts should find most welcome the headnotes, conversation excerpts, and, above all, the guiding questions that accompany each of the texts in our curriculum and the associated skills of critical thinking that they encourage and promote.
In brief, What So Proudly We Hail reflects the Kasses’ 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.