Occasional Paper Series #40

Loving America with Open Eyes: A Student-Driven Study of U.S. Rights in the Age of Trump

by Margaret Nell Becker

When Emma Goldman was put on trial for encouraging young men to resist the draft during World War I, she was accused, among other things, of being unpatriotic. In her speech to the jury, Goldman (1917) offered her own definition of patriotism: “The kind of patriotism we represent is the kind of patriotism which loves America with open eyes” (p. 158).

What does it mean to love America with open eyes? It is a question I have pondered greatly, in and out of the classroom, since the election of Donald Trump. Goldman (1917) said, “[W]e love America…but that must not make us blind to the social faults of America” (p. 159). Inspired by Goldman, I believe that to be a patriot is to question one’s country and seek the answers to those questions. Part of the way in which I enact this patriotism is through my teaching. That is, my students and I ask tough questions about the past, present, and future of America, and we seek to answer them. In doing this inquiring, we are learning and striving to be patriotic. In fact, I see such patriotic learning and teaching to be vital to the future of America.

This paper recounts how, during the 2016–2017 academic year, my group of fourth graders, prompted particularly by the election of Donald Trump, asked tough questions about their country and then sought to answer them. I begin by placing this story in the context of our school and its commitment to teaching and learning to promote social justice. I then story our curricular work in the wake of the election, focusing on our exploration of constitutional rights and the Civil Rights movement. I conclude in the spring of 2018, as my students (then fifth graders) marched for tougher gun legislation with students nationwide.

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About the Author

Headshot of Margaret Nell BeckerMargaret Nell Becker has spent the past seven years teaching inquiry-based learning in public elementary classrooms across New York City. A graduate of Teachers College and a lifelong New Yorker, Nell is dedicated to and inspired by the diverse population of learners she is privileged to work with daily. She has presented at the Museum of the City of New York’s Intersectionality Conference and is a recipient of the Yoga Foster grant to bring accessible yoga and mindfulness into the classroom. Currently, Nell teaches the 4th and 5th grade at Central Park East 2, a progressive school in East Harlem.