Public schools in this country have always been responsible for teaching patriotism. Although there have been student protests in one form or another over the years, it seems that the latest expression involving kneeling during the playing of the national anthem is the most controversial (“Protest Started by Colin Kaepernick Spreads to High School Students,” The New York Times, Oct. 3).
Yet we need to remember what occured on high school campuses during the Vietnam War. The high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District where I taught for my entire 28-year career was the scene of almost weekly demonstrations by students. When the school newspaper published an editorial against the war, the principal seized all copies. But the issue was most on display in 1969 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that students do not shed their right to free speech at the schoolhouse gate.
The present controversy needs to be viewed in light of that decision. Not standing for the national anthem is a clear sign of disrespect that deeply bothers me, but I also accept that doing so is a form of nondisruptive political speech protected by the First Amendment. Trying to punish such behavior will be counterproductive.
A far better way is to use the behavior as a teachable moment. Under the guidance of a skilled teacher, the issues raised by the protests can be the basis for invaluable class discussions. I realize that doing so may be viewed in some school districts as tantamount to encouragement, but I don’t think we can coerce patriotism.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.