The Right to Burn the Flag and Shoot Ourselves in the Foot
On Monday, Education Wonks did a post on the Kentucky teacher who burned two American flags in his classroom. In the comment section, a number of people supported what this guy did. Although I'm repeating some of my own comments, I've decided to piggyback and do my own post on it.
Those who supported what this teacher did argued that it is his constitutional right to burn the flag, and that it was done in order to make the kids think. I want to make it clear that I am no right-wing conservative, and I do not favor a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning. I also have no desire to see this teacher get fired, because I understand that he had a fairly good record before this incident. Nevertheless, I do think what he did showed incredibly bad judgement. We have the right to do all kinds of things, but there is such a thing as using those rights in a responsible manner. A teacher doing things that are outrageous and offensive to a significant number of people in order "to get them to think" might be appropriate in a college classroom, but doing this in a K-12 classroom shows a complete lack of common sense. If I can't get my kids fired up about an issue as controversial as flag-burning without actually burning a flag, then I'd better find another line of work.
Public school teachers don't have to be concerned that their actions reflect on all of the rest of us, but I wish more would be. Public education is under attack. If you don't believe that, just look at our national educational reform plan, No Child Left Behind. It is totally punitive, and it is designed to declare more and more schools to be "failing," until they've got just about every school in the nation into that category by 2014. And, of course, when public schools are designated as failing, parents who care about education are encouraged to pull their kids out of them.
There are people who can't wait to use something like this incident to condemn us all. I had heard about the flag-burning teacher before I read the Ed Wonks blog because I watched good ol' John Gibson on Fox News earlier in the day. He and another "journalist" that he had with him had a field day with this. How about all those swell folks in the "Exodus Mandate" whose goal it is to get a million parents to take their kids out of public schools? Does anyone think they won't use this for everything it's worth? They already preach that public schools are part of a plot to indoctrinate kids into communism. This ought to help them convince a few fence straddlers.
I think public education is important, and I think most public school teachers do. But we need more to really care about that, and to act like it. I think public education has served as "the great equalizer" in our country and it still does today for kids who are willing to work hard enough to take advantage of the opportunities we give them. We sure aren't perfect. There's probably room for improvement in every public school in America, and there are some places where the schools are horrible. Nevertheless, this is a system worth saving. But when teachers show a blatant disregard for the values of any portion of our population because they have a right to do so, they sure don't help the cause.