Archive for April 22, 2008

A Small Lesson On Being A Good Citizen

April 22, 2008

[Updated Below]

Today, one of the kids in one of my classes was placed in our in school detention. I saw her in the hall between classes and asked her why. She told me that when it was time to say the pledge of allegiance this morning, she did not stand up, nor say it. Her teacher then scolded her, told her to stand and, when she refused, sent her to detention, but not before telling her she needed to move to another country if she did not like this one.

I know this student, and when she told me this, I was a bit sceptical about whether she was actually sitting quietly during the pledge. While throwing a kid out for refusing to say the pledge is absolutely unconstitutional, throwing the kid out for disturbing the class is perfectly legal. On the other hand, I also know the teacher, and the student’s version does sound like something the teacher would do. Also, when her class came to me today (absent her), I asked them about the student, and they gave me the same version she did. I asked specifically about noise, and they denied it. I’m reasonably convinced, then, that the teacher threw her out for no reason other than failing to say the pledge.

What did I do? First, I explained to them that they have the right to sit quietly and respectfully during the pledge. Second, I told them that if I was in their shoes, I’d organize a class wide sit down during the pledge tomorrow.

Will they do it? I don’t know. They asked a lot of good questions about it. I hope they do. It seems like all they ever learn about being a citizen is that they need to follow asinine rules. Today, for instance, one of my other kids, a child with a very strong A, had to spend the day in detention because his shirt tail was untucked. Granted, teaching seventh graders how to control themselves is a high priority. But they also need to learn how to properly confront authority. And exercising their right not to say the pledge is, I think, a good way to learn that. To those who in response would cry “9/11” or “patriotism” I can only quote Justice Jackson:

The case is made difficult not because the principles of its decision are obscure, but because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power, and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.

UPDATE: No protest. The kids were all fired up about it before school, asking me questions and promising they would sit and be quiet during the pledge. Unfortunately, though, I decided yesterday that while I wanted to teach the kids how to properly defend their rights, I also probably ought not encourage teacher-student conflicts. So I sent the principal an e-mail in which I outlined the situation (without using names) and asked her to remind all of us teachers what the law is. She did that this morning, prior to the pledge. That defused the situation. Oh, in addition, the offending teacher was absent today. That also settled them down. So, it looks like all is well.