The goal of this final lesson is to provide a bridge from the examination of individual identity in prior lessons to the study of the history, literature, or civics of the United States with which students will engage throughout the rest of the year.
Students will start the lesson by considering the idea that nations, like individuals, have identities. They will also consider the relationship between a nation’s identity and the identities of the individuals who comprise that nation. Then they will look at evidence of the changing demographics and increasing diversity of the United States and analyze what that information suggests about the complexity of the country’s national identity. Finally, students will respond to the idea that a cohesive national identity requires knowledge and values shared by all individuals in a nation, and they will consider a variety of ideas about the knowledge and values that unite Americans.
In this lesson, and through the course that follows, students will discover that the identity of the United States is the product of interactions between many different groups, or communities, and many different types of people. Thus, the choices people make about their identities, and the way they live with others, all contribute to the national narrative as well as to the national identity. Students will also discover that, because people with so many different backgrounds have contributed to the identity of the United States, the ways that people think about the United States often vary and sometimes conflict with one another. That tension itself might be part of how one defines American identity.
As students continue to study American history, literature, or civics, they will hopefully be able to recognize some of these themes of identity: the choices, the labels, and the legacies that inform what the United States of America has been and continues to become. More important is the hope that they will be able to recognize their part in the narrative of the United States and their ability to influence the next part of the story.
Consider the following ideas for a final assessment or project for this unit before launching the next part of your course on United States history, literature, or civics:
- Interviews about American Identity: One way to continue students’ inquiry into the connections between individual identity and the identity of the United States is to have them interview others in the school or community to find additional perspectives in response to the question, “What does it mean to ‘be American’?” As a minimum, they should interview three other students and three adults. Students could record others’ responses to this question and create a short video (with their phones), or they might transcribe the answers. Either way, they should accompany their findings with a paragraph discussing the common themes that they heard, as well as the ways their own research either connects to or differs from the ideas they encountered in this lesson.
- Inquiry Questions: Another way to assess students’ thinking about the identity of the United States and to help pivot toward the country’s history or literature is to enlist the class in creating a list of inquiry questions for the year. In this last lesson, students’ thinking has been made visible in a variety of ways, including the identity chart the class created for the United States. They might now pause and ask, for example: Why do some people think being American is about arrogance, while others think it is about generosity? Or: What is it about the history of the United States that leads to different ideas about what American identity really is? At the end of class or for homework, ask each student to survey all of the ideas that they and their classmates have written down and write two questions that they would like to find answers to over the course of their study of the United States. As you read and evaluate students’ questions, you might group and synthesize them (to eliminate repetition) and compile a shorter list of questions that you can post in the classroom and return to throughout the year.
- Written Expression: A final way to conclude this unit is to read the poem Immigrants: First Generation by Ijeoma Umebinyuo and have students create their own version of this poem. The poem is a tribute of sorts to the stories of immigrants and the lives they lead in America. It is a collection of short sentences, each of which offers a brief portrait of an immigrant experience, giving voice to both their outward and their potentially hidden identities. Because it is a kind of a poetry collage, it could be presented as a prose version of the Flag of Faces image. As an assessment, students could read the poem and then create their own series of “Here’s to . . . ” phrases to honor the individuals and groups that they think contribute to American identity.