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Teaching Kids About America (living abroad)

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
This is meant as a question for other Americans who are raising their kids in another culture outside of the U.S.

Do you have any favorite books or other resources for teaching about America? I don't mean civics textbooks or anything didactic, dull, or dishonest (as I reached high school and then higher levels of education I had to unlearn almost everything they taught us in elementary school). I don't want to bore my children, but to inspire them with the knowledge that they belong to a country that offers great and varied cultural resources that will be theirs to draw upon.
So how do YOU conceive of your American heritage and what do you try to impart? I know this is a very open-ended question, but what I'm hoping to get is some productive brainstorms.

To fill in a few of our details, I'm American and DH is Czech. We permanently reside in the Czech Republic and visit the U.S. once or twice a year. We are all Czech/English bilingual, and I read the kids all kinds of English books. Some of them touch on "American" themes and others just happen to be written in English. If anyone has a suggestions about age-appropriate things to do when we visit the U.S. that would also be great.
post #2 of 13
We lived in Istanbul for three years, and honestly, American culture is so heavily exported to the rest of the world, that I wouldn't bat an eye. Your kids are going to have enough of an idea of American culture without being "taught." Keep reading, you can't go wrong with that. When/if differences come up, discuss. As for age-appropriate activities, that depends on where you visit.
post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Turkish Kate View Post
American culture is so heavily exported to the rest of the world, that I wouldn't bat an eye. .
This is not what I meant: Plastic Santa Claus. Malls. Bad TV shows (we don't have a TV). Plastic crap toys based on these TV shows and sold at the malls and discount stores. Twinkies, Ho-Hos and Mickey D's.

Our family enjoys a very sheltered life in a rural area. We live in an old log cabin and have no TV. Many of the kids' toys are handmade and the majority are made from natural materials. Movies and books are selected for them very carefully. They attend a Waldorf school where they meet a minimum of international marketing. So actually, they encounter a minimum of the above flotsam and jetsam, and they are still too young to connect it with any particular culture. As I mentioned, we do visit the U.S. sometimes, so it's not that I need to make them realize that there is an "America" out there somewhere. I want to help them build their characters with some of the positive values that Americans past and present have embodied. (No, not every single American is a saint or hero, but we are looking for inspiration, not depression.) I want them to have a generally positive view of America so that when they encounter reflexive anti-Americanism (prevalent here, though the contempt is often mixed with envy) they will not react by being ashamed or denying the soil that nourished half of their roots. I don't want to blindly pass on mythology of the George Washington/cherry tree, Manifest Destiny, or Pilgrims n' Indians beatific dinner ilk, nor do I - eventually - want to shy away from unpleasant historical facts. However, I see it as my responsibility to impart something that they can make their own and grow with.

Got where I'm coming from?
post #4 of 13
If you can get ahold of Howard Zinn's People's History of the US, I would read that and come up with your own bedtime stories/didactic moments. I can think of some great stories in US history that should be passed along and that kids really love to hear. Also, there is a lot of music that has US history, like spirituals, traditional songs, folk songs from the 20th century. Check out the book Rise Up Singing, if you don't already have it. Finally, there is so much that could be discussed regarding geography and the different ethnic/racial groups that make up the US. I'm assuming that it would be harder to buy a bunch of books from the US, and easier for you to just incorporate some of these stories into your life on your own.

Side note, my mom's side of the family is Bohemian and I am dreaming of making it to the Czech Republic someday...you are very lucky!
post #5 of 13
Okay, I think I've got a better handle on what you're looking for now. Still, I wouldn't shy away from the "flotsam and jetsam" because it *is* out there and they will be exposed to it as they get older. You may not have TV, but chances are that they will make friends who do and they'll hear all about it from their friends. (We went through that with DD when we were TV-free in Istanbul.)

If you want to start them off with a positive image of the US and Americans, why not steer towards biographies of people who have made a difference? There are lots of biographies for children about people like MLK, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, etc. (Those were the three most inspiring people I could come up with off the top of my head, I'm sure there are more.)

For me, I have a hard time thinking of things that are positive without simultaneously thinking of all the negatives that go along with that positive item. There is an "ideal" I suppose, that Americans are all about truth, justice, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, but does that really pan out in reality?

Anyway, good luck. I know what it's like to deal with the Anti-American sentiment.
post #6 of 13
Honestly, my concern would be to give them a realistic image of the U.S. Everything you hear about the U.S. in other countries is so idealized that I had serious culture shock when I finally came to live here (I grew up abroad and only lived in the U.S. starting in college).

I truly believed that nobody was ever corrupt in this country, that everyone lived ideal perfect lives, followed all laws all the time, that nobody ever jaywalked (I don't know why--perhaps because street crossing could be so dangerous in several of the countries I lived in--but this was a big one. I was convinced that street crossing was never dangerous here).

In fact, for the first year or so that I was here, I was so convinced of the supposed strict law and order of public life that I was afraid to unwittingly break a law and end up with a fine! Here I was, living in NYC, and I waited at every street corner for the walk light to turn before setting a foot in the street (Nobody does that there. Nobody.)

I think this mostly came about because the expats around me tended to complain so often about things that "weren't right" about the countries we were in. Nobody gets anywhere on time, traffic is so bad/dangerous, people don't take care of their streets/subways/public buildings. It was always complaint after complaint. Which is normal for people trying to learn to live in a foreign country. But for someone who has always lived in a foreign country, all that complaining leaves the impression that things are perfect in the U.S.

I'm not the only one, either. Most of the people I know here who grew up abroad were floored to find that the U.S. and its people are normal like everywhere else.
post #7 of 13
Books and videos about history are one way. Now that the kids are older that helps quite a bit.

In school they learn about freedom struggles around the world and that covered the USA as well. In HK, Bristish colonialism ended quite recently, so that's often a topic for discussion.

We watch the news almost every night, and that covers some things in the USA, which gives us points for discussion.

We go back to the USA about once a year for holidays, which also gives us a chance to give them a more "realsitic" view about it & also visit historical sites.
post #8 of 13
When we lived in Hungary and Taiwan when I was a child, my parents had us read whatever Little House books and Mark Twain books we could manage at the reading level we were. They also told us a lot of history themselves.
post #9 of 13
I'd be interested to hear more responses and BTDT, as well. Yes, American culture is everywhere, but I think it's hard to teach kids growing up abroad about America.

DS is six and we're back in the US for 5 months -- the first time he's ever actually lived in the US. We're usually only here for a week or two once a year, so it's just a vacation land for him.

I don't want to pretend to DS that everything is perfect and ideal in the US. By the same token, there *is* a reflexive anti-Americanism, at least where we live in Europe. I want DS to be proud of being 1/2 American and to know that that means. That's something other than plastic santas and knee-jerk "our way or the highway" politics, but also something different than a whiny "But the US says it stands for this that and the other, but look at all the hypocrisy . ... " and idealization of supposedly more "authentic" cultures. Having lived abroad for most of my adult life on several continents, I can say that *every* country has ideals and every country fails to meet those ideals entirely.

I like the book suggestions and will look into them.
post #10 of 13
With the inauguration coming up, perhaps you could find some stuff for that? Could you get "Duck for President" or "If I Ran for President" or some similar age-appropriate book?

Talking to European and Arabic friends, nearly all have agreed that somebody like Barack Obama would not have been elected President or made it to Prime Minister in their countries... so that may be something to focus on. That with all of the difficulties/problems with America, one still can rise from welfare/food stamps to Harvard Law and then Presidency of the United States. Even with a "Muslim" name and being biracial.

I would also look at American artists, read American literature, listen to American composers, etc. What about watching some of the great classic films or musicals?
post #11 of 13
Americans Who Tell the Truth. The book is a really nice collection of portraits and vignette-type biographies -- nothing so in-depth as to just be flat out dry -- of largely not-the-usual-players in terms of lists of "great Americans." A diverse group of really inspiring people, and very kid-friendly.
post #12 of 13
National Public Radio podcasts. We are not abroad now but will probably go eventually and that's how I taught DH. Also, tapes of Alastair Cooke's Letter from America are not bad.

In general, for American stuff, PBS is wonderfully diverse and accessible to a large audience. I love public broadcasting!
post #13 of 13
how bout the play 1776? Read the script. See the movie. Get the soundtrack (you can buy these online, I would think) and let that open up a great dialogue. Why not start at the beginning (A VERY GOOD PLACE TO START, )?
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