C’mon! Admit it. We expect our schools to perform miracles!
Aside from the monumental task of educating a variety of children with what often amounts to a minimum of parental support, teachers are somehow supposed to instill a sense of discipline, spirituality and patriotism in their young charges at the very same time.
Despite the entirely impractical nature of that dynamic, we tend to get really cranky when it reaches its inevitable disappointing conclusion.
So I was rather surprised to read aspiring teacher Andrea Cladis’ letter to the Patch editor lamenting our area schools’ frequent failures in the patriotism regard. Not only does she support Colin McGroarty’s absurd Mill Creek outburst and subsequent District 304 email threat, but Cladis claims some educators’ actions (or lack of them) rise to the level of outright “disdain” for the Pledge of Allegiance. Then she goes on to list her specific grievances.
Even though we know it’s not true, let’s assume for a second that schools should be in the business of instilling patriotic values. Please tell me how the enforced recitation of any pledge will accomplish that?
Reciting a pledge or prayer simply because you’re concerned about the consequences of abstaining means you’re acting out of fear and not love of country. Qualities like self-discipline, spirituality and patriotism ultimately have to come from within to have any meaning.
While Cladis may equate patriotism and respect with repetition and flags, I want our schools to teach children about the good people who, despite their many flaws, sacrificed and persevered in the struggle to forge this country.
I want our teachers to tell them the whole and sometimes sordid story — not some abridged American exceptionalist version that makes them believe we can do no wrong. When we understand and take responsibility for our mistakes, we’re less likely to repeat them.
I want them to encourage our children to ask the tough questions because that’s what makes this country stronger. Perhaps they’ll discover that, though we’re far from perfect, the United States is a far better option than the alternatives.
I want district administrators to give children the space to discover, for themselves, that the freedoms we tend to take for granted are truly worth fighting and dying for.
And forcing anyone to utter a loyalty oath ain’t gonna do it, folks. As Patch reader Colin Campbell so eloquently noted, “Real patriotism comes from something much deeper than simply repeating a few words every day.”
Every second a class spends on empty gestures means less time for those more important endeavors.
But what makes me really nervous is, when we’re taught to believe that patriotism primarily consists of external acts, we set ourselves up to fall for false prophets who grandly exhibit all the trappings we’ve come to expect.
Even worse, those would-be kings can use their brand of artificial nationalism as a weapon against those very freedoms they appear to unerringly embrace. Remember, patriotism is the last refuge to which the scoundrel clings.
Or as Mr. Campbell more subtly put it, “I tend to be somewhat suspicious of those who loudly proclaim their own patriotism while questioning others who do not choose to express theirs in the same way.”
Personally, I love it when a politician refuses to wear a lapel flag pin because it means he may actually have some depth and might be less susceptible to pandering.
Then there’s this thought: If someone walked up to you and said the Earth is flat, what would you do? That’s right! You’d laugh and walk away. You know the truth, so why bother arguing.
Similarly, how does the fact that someone exhibits patriotism in a different manner affect your love of country? It shouldn’t. Whether they fall short of your expectations or they’re blatantly disrespectful (a First Amendment right, by the way), that doesn’t diminish you.
So, could the real problem be that that folks like Mr. McGroarty and Ms. Cladis require the constant and close comfort of other true believers to feel validated? Perhaps they require strict adherence to their particular patriotic regimen because they frequently find themselves standing on shaky ground. Insecurity can be a scary thing.
It’s like those TV preachers who rage against homosexuality only to be caught in a compromising position themselves.
Though I’ll certainly question them, I will also defend your right to your beliefs with my dying breath. But when it comes to foisting them on me, might I suggest you lead by example instead. I realize it’s a lot more work than wielding a cudgel, but it’s far more effective than you might think.