Occasional Paper Series #40

This is About Us: Drama Workshop as Patriotic Education

by Samuel Tanner

For 15 years, I was a drama teacher in two large urban high schools in Minnesota. My classes were designed with the belief that theatre requires the downplaying or even sacrifice of the individual for the success of the collective. Yes, these classes involved practices that helped students rehearse basic tools of performance but, more importantly, they required participants to work together as a group. Each semester-long class ended with a theatrical production written, produced, and performed by the students for audiences of their peers. Careful not to impose my vision on the content of their productions, I worked to facilitate open-ended playbuilding, which is a complex process by which people collaborate to consider a concept through the creation of a dramatic production (Norris, 2009).

In this piece, I invite readers to consider that preparing students to embrace the potentials of democratic patriotism goes beyond the purview of social studies education and should be part of how students and teachers interact with one another across disciplines. Westheimer (2006) argues that “caring about the substantive values that underlie American democracy is the hallmark of democratic patriotism” (p. 612). Among these values are freedom of speech, protection of civil liberties, high participation in governance, and working for social and economic equality.

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About the Author

Headshot of Samuel TannerSamuel Jaye Tanner is an assistant professor of literacy education in the Penn State system. His research concerns issues of improvisation, literacy, and anti-racist education. Samuel is also a creative writer, and has published two memoirs. Learn more about his work on his website.