In the film American Creed, several U.S. citizens share their stories about what core values they believe uphold our democratic society. Through their stories, we see the dilemmas many U.S. citizens face in our society each day but are also offered a glimmer of hope that our common ideals, or American Creed values, are strong enough to transcend our differences and overcome those dilemmas. American Creed values are ideals that a person cares deeply about. These American Creed values are the driving force for the way a person speaks, acts, thinks, and views their society (Bean, Soles, Steiner & Ball, 2017). Because these values influence the way a person thinks and acts, I believe that it is important that we take the time to help our children and youth develop these important American Creed values, specifically the values of education and diversity. Through the adoption of progressivist and social reconstructionist teaching philosophies, as well as the teaching of democratic principles and characteristics, teachers can help students develop the values of education and diversity and encourage them to let these values drive their participation in society.
First, I believe that in order to effectively teach my students the American Creed values of education and diversity, I must take a progressivist and social reconstructionist approach to teaching and learning. In my opinion, progressivism and social reconstructionism go hand in hand with each other. Both philosophies place a heavy emphasis on teaching students to be able to solve problems in our democratic society, which I think is a huge step in preparing students to be active, and productive members of society. Progressivism also places an emphasis on “creating an environment rich with opportunities for student-directed learning and group problem solving” (Oakes & Lipton, 2003). These opportunities allow students to have a choice in what they learn and how they learn it. When students are engaged in the learning process and are able to play an active role in their own learning, they are much more likely to develop a positive perspective on education and learning and will hopefully carry that perspective on throughout their life.
Although social reconstructionism is similar to progressivism, one aspect of social reconstructionism that I believe to be particularly beneficial for students is that they are taught to solve problems to promote “equality, justice, and democracy in the social environment” through the curriculum (Oakes & Lipton, 2003).When students are taught about the different injustices and inequalities in the world, it is important to teach them that much of this inequality is experienced by marginalized groups. If students embrace and value diversity, the hope would be that they possess the compassion that would motivate them to take action to solve these social problems. I believe that compassion and understanding are qualities that all people should possess and incorporating social reconstructionism into my classroom is one way to help students develop these critical qualities.
In addition to the influence of progressivism and social reconstructionism on the teaching of the core values of education and diversity, I also believe there are certain principles and characteristics of democratic schooling that students should learn or become aware of that can also help foster the development of these values. One principle that Beane & Apple discuss in their book Democratic Schools: Lessons in Powerful Educationthat supports the concept of democratic schooling is the existence of “faith in the individual and collective capacity of people to create possibilities for resolving problems” (Beane & Apple, 2007). This means that in democratic schools there is the notion that individuals, as well as groups have the ability to come up with solutions to solve problems. I have seen this at work in my own life. When I was a senior in high school, my AP Biology class collaborated with the food service director at our school to come up with a solution to help students and families in need of fresh food. As a group, we decided that we were going to buy different types of chickens, so that we could use the eggs in our cafeteria and make them available to students on free and reduced lunch to take home. In addition, the chickens would serve as a real-life tool for Biology students to develop their knowledge of genetics. We then determined which chickens we were going to buy and helped with the construction of the chicken coop. This directly aligns with Beane and Apple’s principle of democratic schooling. We saw that there was a need in our community, and our school and teacher believed in our ability to propose a solution to help alleviate the problem. This project became my class’s passion and we were so excited when we finished the chicken coop and were able to purchase the chickens that would later provide eggs to those in need at our school.
In my opinion, this principle is important for students to learn because we have to believe that we have the ability to create possibilities for resolving problems in order to be a productive society. At our root, the United States has always been a place where you are encouraged to come up with an idea and take action to change something you do not agree with or see as unequal. In order for students to learn this principle, they need to be active participants in the world around them. One way to teach to do this is do something similar to what my Biology teacher did. My teacher saw that we wanted to resolve a problem in our school community and adjusted the curriculum, so we could do just that. Not only were we able to work for the common good, but we were also able to learn Biology at the same time. My teacher did exactly what Beane & Apple suggest to make schooling more democratic, which is for educators to “explicitly attempt to put in place arrangements and opportunities to bring democracy to life” (Beane & Apple, 2007). Developing curriculum around your students’ needs, desires, and ideas not only helps teach your students important democratic ideals, such as the value of education and diversity, but it also allows gives them a choice and the opportunity to participate in their own democratic schooling.
I believe that it is through the implementation of progressivism and social reconstructionism in the classroom and the teaching of the characteristics of democratic schooling that we, as teachers, are able to teach our students the critical American Creed value of education and learning. In the film American Creed, former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, describes her perspective on the important of education. Rice described that education was so highly valued in her family because it served as an armor against barriers to opportunity. This was important to Rice because she grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, where barriers to opportunity were an everyday occurrence (Bean, Soles, Steiner & Ball, 2017). After hearing about Rice’s experiences, I realized that I value education for similar reasons. Throughout my childhood and into my high school years, my parents faced several financial hardships. My parents contributed much of their hardships to the fact that neither of them went to college. Because of this, my parents worked very hard to encourage my brothers and I to go to college and frequently reminded us of the importance of education. Similarly to Rice, my parents valued education because they did not want their children to have to face barriers to opportunity and financial hardships in their adult lives.
As a teacher, I believe that education is something that I have to value, or else I should not be going into the profession. When I get into my own classroom, my goal is to make sure all my students know that they can accomplish anything that they set their mind to as long as they are dedicated and put in hard work. I want to make sure my students know they all play a vital role in my classroom and each of them brings something unique to our class. I also want to create an environment where my students desire to be lifelong learners. College or not, I want my students to be curious about the world around them and always strive to expand their knowledge base and be informed about what is going on in the world. Not only will this encourage my students to value education, it will also encourage them to be informed U.S. citizens.
In addition, I also believe that it is important to foster a classroom environment where I can teach my students about the American Creed value of diversity. The concept of immigration can help shed some light on the importance of this value. In the American Creed, Condoleezza Rice talks briefly about immigration. One of the reasons our country is so diverse is because of the number of immigrants that come to the United States on a yearly basis. Rice addresses how so many people believe that immigrants will come to the U.S. to take advantage of welfare programs, when in reality our welfare system is not very good. This proves that immigrants typically come to the United States to make life better for themselves and the future generations (Bean, Soles, Steiner & Ball, 2017). Because of these false perspectives on immigrants, many individuals will treat immigrants poorly and will question their validity as U.S. citizens. This is why I think the value of diversity is so important. When a person values diversity, they are able to approach life with an attitude that embraces differing perspectives and they are able to treat people with compassion and understanding. In a classroom, diversity is an important value to teach students. As a teacher, the goal is to create a classroom where all students, regardless of race, gender, religion, or any other differences, can feel safe, accepted, and love. By encouraging students to value diversity, you are able to great a non-threatening learning environment for all students.
Most importantly, I believe that by creating a classroom environment that fosters the development of the American Creed values of education and diversity, I am able to better prepare my students to be active participants in their society. When a person deeply values something, they will hopefully express this value in their own life. With that being said, I want my students to value education and diversity, so that they are able to take those values out into the world and encourage others to value and understand the importance of education and the importance of embracing diversity. Not only does this help to make our democratic society more productive, but it also allows the purpose of democratic schooling to be fulfilled. Schooling in the United States is not only about teaching our students knowledge and how to apply it, but it is also about teaching our students to be active members in their communities, teaching them to fight for the things they believe in, and teaching them to be compassionate and understanding human beings. It is important for teachers to keep in mind that their responsibility to their students and society expands far beyond merely teaching content.
Overall, I believe that teachers have many obligations to their students, but my main responsibility as a teacher is to teach students to be active members in their society. By encouraging my students to develop their own core values, such as education and diversity, and empowering them to be critical problem solvers, I believe that I can best prepare by students for success in our democratic society.
Apple, M. W., & Beane, J. A. (2007). Democratic Schools: Lessons in Powerful Education (2nded.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Bean, R. (Producer), Soles, D. (Producer), Steiner, K. (Producer), & Ball, S (Director). (2017). American Creed [Motion picture].United States: Citizen Film.
Lipton, M., & Oakes, J. (2003). Curriculum: Philosophy, History, and Politics: What Should Students Learn?(2nded.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill