Historical events and holidays frequently seem like absolute truth to students; yet behind such events are many possible truths, myths, and stories, allowing us to discover who we were as people and who we are today. Although few young people realize it, understanding these truths and myths illuminates the ways that their values and beliefs have been shaped by the stories they have grown up knowing, by the education they have received, and by the landscape within which they have lived. All these contexts have contributed to their world views as individuals, as members of families, and as members of communities.
Most Americans think of the Fourth of July as Independence Day—but is it really the day the United States declared its independence?
Invite students to explore all the dates and stories associated with the Declaration of Independence, focusing on the reason there are so many different dates and signings of the document and why we celebrate the nation’s birthday on July 4th rather than one of the other dates. Next, ask students to write and discuss questions about how to tell truth from fiction. Finally, lead students as they research to find the truth behind common myths about Independence Day and the signing of the Declaration of Independence and present their findings to the group.
The Library of Congress offers many resources tied to the Fourth of July that can be used for student inquiry:
- Today in History
- Independence Day: Americans Celebrate the Birth of Their Nation
- Fourth of July Celebrations: Topics in Chronicling America
- Favorites for the Fourth from the Library’s Primary Sources
- Memories of Independence Day with Primary Sources
Which observations do students still agree with? Which would they change? What would they add? How about you?
Curious about the NCTE and Library of Congress connection? Through a grant announced by NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE is engaged in ongoing work with the Library of Congress, and “will connect the ELA community with the Library of Congress to expand the use of primary sources in teaching.” Stay tuned for more throughout the year!
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.
Lisa Fink is an NCTE Staff Member, a former elementary teacher, and a current university instructor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached on Twitter @fink_girl.