July 3, 2010

Parade is a 'teachable moment' for kids, about U.S. values

By Julie A. Jacob

On the surface, a Fourth of July parade may seem like simply a fun summer event—a chance to sit outside, hang out with friends and family, and be entertained for a few hours by a stream of colorful floats, marching bands, clowns and horses.

Beneath the summer fun, however, an Independence Day parade has a deeper purpose. It teaches children about American history, strengthens the bonds among residents in a community, and reinforces American values, noted Helen Rosenberg, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and faculty director of the Community Based Learning and Research Center for Community Partnerships.

Because many children participate in a Fourth of July parade—riding on a float or as a member of a band or drill team—and many more youngsters watch the parade, it is a perfect moment to teach children about American history and ideas, she said.

“This event become an opportunity to talk to our children about American values,’ said Rosenberg, citing individualism and pride in the American character as among the values children might be taught by attending a Fourth of July parade.

Parades also help create a spirit of unity, she said. First, parades are a chance for various groups in a city — corporations, small businesses, service organizations, athletic teams, youth groups, amateur theater groups and so on — to highlight their contributions to the community.

“The Fourth demonstrates the presence of diversity in our community,” said Rosenberg. “On the other hand, we might ask who is not in the parade and what messages that conveys about who is excluded or feels disengaged from the mainstream of the community.”

Also, in an era when many people work alone in cubicles or spend long hours surfing the Internet, a parade is a way for people to mingle with others face-to-face and draw closer to both their families and community.

“The actual parade unifies the community,” said Rosenberg. “However, many friends and family get together for a picnic or meal prior to or after the parade. In a sense, the parade is an opportunity for us to plan a group event with those close to us and then reinforce our relations through participation in a community event.”