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Why Teach Patriotic Music?

Why teach patriotic music? 

Do you teach patriotic music in your classroom?  Did you know that not everyone does?  Is it written into your curriculum?  Today we will talk about one of my favorite topics to teach.  Let’s dive into patriotic music.

First, we have to decide what patriotic music is.  When I refer to patriotic music, I mean not only the traditional songs like the national anthem, “America, the Beautiful” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” but songs about our history and geography as well as songs of the armed forces, civil war songs, slave songs, some contemporary songs, songs about civil rights and more.

Why teach patriotic music?  It helps students learn about their heritage as citizens of America.  
I’m not sure about you, but the stories of my family only went back about twenty or thirty years before I was born.  My parents told stories about their parents and grandparents, but my “history” didn’t go much beyond that.  Why?  It’s what they knew.  What they were taught.  What was important to them. 

Our heritage as Americans is rich in lessons for us to learn, people to celebrate and stories and songs to repeat.  Fortunately, our stories go back much farther than twenty years!  Music of America is music by Americans.  It tells the stories of the birth of our nation, its struggles, its triumphs and most importantly its values.   It is important to teach Americans about America.  As a music teacher, I do this in several ways, but perhaps the most important way is through patriotic songs.

How did early American pioneers live?  There’s a song for that.  What do our service men and women in the armed forces do?  There’s a song for that.  What tragedies have we overcome as a country? There’s a song for that.  What are the capitals of each state?  There’s a song for that.  How do we celebrate our soldiers returning from war?  There’s a song for that.  What are some of our most beautiful landmarks?  There’s a song for that.  How do we learn to live together in a country as diverse as it is proud? There’s a song for that.  What does our mourning look like?  There’s a song for that.  How will we face the future?  There’s a song for that! 

Patriotic music helps students connect with their American heritage.   I teach patriotic music, because patriotic music teaches the history of America.

Why teach patriotic music?  Patriotic music creates a sense of community.
This kind of patriotism nurtures a sense of togetherness and common purpose.  Standing together to sing a song that has been sung for hundreds of years can be very moving.  To lift up our voices using the words that so many brave men and women have used before is powerful.  Kids get that!  It helps them develop pride in their country and often a sense of gratitude for the men and women who have bravely led the way in building our country.

Patrick Lollis, a music educator in Grapevine, Texas says “Patriotic music, if it only installs nationalism, is of minimal value, but teaching songs that convey the values of our republic creates informed and empowered citizens.”

I couldn’t agree more.  I teach patriotic music because patriotic music reflects the values of our country and strengthens the unification of Americans.  It’s more than just character education.  It is citizen education.

 Why teach patriotic music?  No one else is.  No, seriously.

As music educators, we may answer the following questions differently than the general public.  Think about the average parent and their response to these questions. 
Have you taught your child the national anthem or how to respond when it is performed?
Does your child know that tune as the theme to Barney or as “Yankee Doodle”?
How many traditional patriotic songs does your child know?  (And…uhm…Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” or Lynyrd Sknynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama” don’t count.)

What kind of answers would you expect to hear?  Students are not learning traditional folk songs, nursery rhymes or patriotic music at home.  The custom of parents teaching these songs to their children is slowly fading from our culture.  Ask them.  Heck, ask your students.  They hear the national anthem before ballgames and (in my neck of the woods) before the races, but they don’t know its story.  Often they don’t know how to behave when it is performed.

I teach patriotic music because I think it is important and my students aren’t learning it anywhere else. 

Want to change that?  Here are some things you can do:
1.        Teach your child the story of the national anthem.  Teach them the words.  (Explain the tough ones.)  Teach them to stand, with their hand on their heart, listening quietly or singing robustly when they hear it.
2.       Sing patriotic songs with them.  Even little ones can sing and move to “You’re a Grand Old Flag”.
3.       Play patriotic music while driving in the car.  There are plenty of fabulous CDs or collections to download.
4.       Encourage your children to listen to and learn about great American composers and musicians. 
5.       Model an attitude of thankfulness for the events and values that patriotic music exalts.  Talk about how to show gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

Why do you teach patriotic music?  Why not?  Let’s talk about it in the comments.  My next blog post discusses the ways that I incorporate patriotic music in my classroom.  I’ll talk about some activities, workstations and break down a song list by grade level. Read it here:  Teaching Patriotic Music: What to Do

Why Teach Patriotic Music - 3 Reasons You Haven't Considered.  Why is it important to teach patriotic music?  Is it really?  Listen to a veteran music teacher discuss this from her point of view.
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  1. I teach patriotic music because I believe that it is important for our students to know our American heritage and history. I spend 2 - 3 weeks on the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of the school year, so that they know it to sing at the ballgames, so that they understand the meanings of the words and so that they know the history, why it was written. I have tons of books and activities that I have collected over the years and I have a hard time deciding which ones not to use. I usually run out of time and don't get to use all that I had planned before we need to start on the next thing. I feel that it is very important that they know it.

    1. I know what you mean. Now, I have to pick and choose from all the great activities so that it is not ALL that we do all year! LOL

    2. Thank you for bringing attention to the importance of patriotism and why it is imperative to teach it to our children!

  2. I teach that patriotic means "love of country". We do a huge unit in 4th grade on Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. We learn the songs, their history, and complete venn diagrams about each "song" :) Then we play 1931 and decide which should be our national anthem. They hold mini debates and everything! Then we transfer this understanding of patriotism to how the Austrians must have felt when the Nazis invaded in 1938 with a theater study of "The Sound of Music". It's incredible to see how strongly they feel about different aspects of the musical having discovered/developed their own patriotism. Most interestingly, this unit often leads to great conversations connected to current events. Go patriotic music!!!!

  3. I teach patriotic music at the beginning of the year. The end of the unit usually falls around September 11. It's crazy to me that many of the students I am teaching weren't even born yet! We do a lot with the National Anthem (I can't wait to add some activities I found from your blog next year!), especially in 3rd-5th grade. Once our patriotic music unit is done, I have groups on 3rd-5th graders that sing the National Anthem on announcements every Friday. Students are hearing it constantly and learning appropriate behavior for when it is performed.