The Most Important Teaching I Did (Or Didn’t) Do on July 4th

Multiple FireworksBy: Nick McDaniels

This summer, more so than the last few, I have been able to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my daughter. Charlie just turned three and her language, thinking, and personality are just exploding. Her little brain is picking up new things every day. She has started repeating things she hears on NPR, singing songs that she has learned, and of course curse words that she hears too (I don’t know where she has heard those). What fun!

As I am having all of this fun, watching her learn, recognize letters, try to read everything, try to learn to swim, I am wondering really what I am teaching her. My most important job as a teacher is teaching my child. Not because her education in the grand scheme of things is any more important than the educations of my students, but because I get to spend the most time with her, therefore it is my duty to teach her the most.

She will learn to read and add and think from school and interactions with other people, from books, and television, and radio, and of course from her parents. We will make sure of it. But what about the other things, the non-academic things, that we must teach our kids. How will I teach her how to be a person for others? To understand oppression? Privilege? Resistance? Racism? Classism?

Exposure, I guess. Or maybe by lack of exposure to the things that reinforce the lines between us. I took her to a 4th of July parade in an affluent Baltimore suburb (because I knew I’d be able to find parking and shade there on a 90 degree day). And I was uncomfortable with the display of whiteness and money the parade showed.

There were different neighborhood associations from around this area marching in the parade (dozens of adorable little white faces marching around with their parents having no idea how lucky they are). The citizens on patrol (thank goodness they weren’t carrying a “Free George Zimmerman” sign). Marching bands (from country areas, all white, with the money to rent buses and travel during the summer to a far away parade to awkwardly perform hip-hop tunes on their horns), classic cars (driven by wealthy white collectors), a few floats (representing corporate interests), military units, local sports mascots, and the local politicians (because the election is always just around the corner).

Then there were about three or four entries (of over 100) that I could say I wanted to expose my daughter to, though she is still too young to understand. The Rosie the Riveter Association was there, maintaining the legacy of women in the workforce. There were three marching mothers, all black, whose sons have been killed in senseless wars. What an important lesson to see grieving mothers march in memory of their sons who died for the interests of rich, white men. The Purple Heart Recipients entry struck me in a similar way. And there were two black color guard units. All of these entries received light applause, mostly from older parade watchers who might understand and respect the implications of these entries. But the kids, I noticed, had no idea and no one was telling them! Why?

Not far behind were “Freedom isn’t Free” banners, and these good war-supporting Americans had flags and candy to hand out to the kids. And there was the Geico lizard that kids wanted to wave to and hug. Nothing like some good ol’ American war-mongering and corporation-hugging to keep us reminded about our fight toe be independent from an oppressive regime, eh?

Thank goodness for the multiple Scottish pipe and drum bands and the few classic community marching bands playing Sousa tunes. Otherwise, nearly the whole parade would have looked like a celebration of rich, white America.

So did my daughter notice all of this? Probably not, but am I starting to take risks by exposing her to such things? Probably. I made sure that she clapped for the entries I thought we most important. Did she notice this? Probably not, but maybe so. I can tell you the I am sure the hundreds of 5-15-year-olds lining the parade route noticed, either consciously or subconsciously. What a shame! Not only was there no one there to help them be critical of what they were seeing, but there were thousands there to help them celebrate every part of it.

Am I a failure as a parent for taking my daughter to participate in this? NO WAY! It is a 4th of July parade for goodness sake. No big deal, really. Over time though, these experiences compound and maybe as parents, though we can’t protect our kids from everything, have a duty to try as best we can to shield our kids from certain evils.

All I know is that next year, I will choose a different parade or celebration. One where Charlie, then at 4 years old, will be able to at least understand that she is seeing the NAACP members marching along with the Young Republicans (does this happen anywhere?). Maybe when she is old enough, we can go back to the other parade, and be critical of it together. That would be a good lesson, because it would be more reflective of the world we are purposefully raising her in, where there is a difference between a cute lizard and a cute lizard trying to sell you something, where the lines between us, at least on July 4th, are blurred, not darkened.

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