Thursday, August 24, 2006

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.

I was surprised by how many teachers defended this man's actions. Would they have thought it was okay if this teacher decided to burn a Koran in a classroom made up largely of Muslims? Would they have thought it was okay if he wore a Ku Klux Klan robe into a classroom made up largely of African-Americans? There are times when it is appropriate for teachers to question values and beliefs of students, but the action this teacher took was way over the top.

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.



Blogger Elizabeth said...

It must be against fire codes to set fabric on fire in a classroom...I would think he would have gotten fired just for that.

He could have just shown a film of people burning a flag and had the students discuss it.

By the way, you misspelled "judgment."...but don't worry, you still get 100 percent on content!

8/23/2006 6:31 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I was not sure about my spelling of "judgement" so I checked the dictionary. The dictionary I checked listed both ways of spelling it. That actually surprised me, because I was pretty sure it was wrong, too. In any case, that's why I stuck with the one I used. I know this sounds defensive, but you hear so much these days about teachers who can't spell that I AM defensive. I really do appreciate your comment, though (especially the 100%!), and your suggestion about using film is similar to one that Coach Brown made on Ed Wonk's post. Both of you are right.

8/24/2006 8:09 AM  
Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

I couldn't possibly agree with you more. I understand what the teacher was attempting to do, but I think you summed my thoughts up best by saying, "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."
I would think that this would be distracting more so than get students thinking. Students would be more emotional than actually thinking about what's happening...but maybe that's just me.

8/24/2006 3:23 PM  
Blogger Deb S. said...

The teacher used poor judgment.

8/25/2006 10:01 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Welcome back, AT. When can we start looking forward to your posts on a regular basis again? You're one of my favorites!

8/25/2006 4:38 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I would never do such a thing, and I'm all about free speech. But I'm more about common sense and setting a good example.

And my dad was a World War II veteran. And I was a Camp Fire Girl. We burn the flag only to dispose of it when frayed or soiled, and only with reverence. Period.

8/28/2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

There are about 55 million kids in public schools, and about 9 million in private schools -- perhaps, at the outside, 2 million homeschooled.

If a million parents took their kids out of public school, it would be less than a 2% drop in enrollment. It would overtax the private and parochial system, however, and already dismal performance among charter schools and other non-public schools would fall farther.

Maybe we should hope?

8/29/2006 10:23 PM  

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