Taking a Knee for Public Education

Call me a son of a bitch, I don’t care. The national anthem is not sacred. The United States is not about one single person, belief system, or song from the war of 1812. Nothing is sacrosanct and that is why the United States will endure.

What can students learn about the NFL controversy and President Trump’s remarks? The biggest lesson to gain from this is that we can disagree and survive. To quote the 18th Century French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire, who raged against the Catholic Church, promoting crushing that infamous thing, would definitely be on my side of this argument.

First a caveat: I am not a “sports fan.” I don’t watch football and I don’t care about the sport. I have often thought that some Americans take it too seriously, and I would much rather play any sport than watch it. This post is not about football.

Second caveat: I love the U.S.A. I am a patriot. I proudly stand for the pledge of allegiance every school day. I teach social studies with respect for American law and institutions. I am neither a communist nor a member of ANTIFA. I am not radical. I am a white, middle-aged (sorry, my friend, Jen, said I can’t describe myself like that). I am a white, mature, middle-class woman living on 40 acres in Upstate New York. I am related to many war veterans and I greatly appreciate their sacrifice. This post is about patriotism and how dissenting is a form of patriotism.

So, why do I connect the NFL with public education? Where is patriotism instilled? In public schools, every day when we stand, put our little hands on our hearts and pledge our allegiance to the U.S. of A. Because every American is entitled to NOT stand when the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance is recited. Dissent is liberty. Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy — it is a form of action.

By not standing for the anthem, or for the pledge, individuals are sending a message. Our country is bent — not broken, but bent — and is in need of repair. The knee represents the need for dialogue and collective introspection. Blind loyalty is not patriotism, it is a form of vapid nationalism.

Public education is my “knee” issue. If President Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy “Amway” Devos, is able to dismantle public education further, I will take a knee. Every time that I have stood for the anthem, and the pledge, since the 2016 election, I have reflected on the state of my country. Since the election, I have grown more and more aware of the savage inequalities that permeate our schools, our communities — all threats to the American dream.

Jose Vilson, in his recent post entitled “A Note On Teaching as Activism,” writes about this issue with more clarity. He points out:

“It’s little wonder that less than 20% of the entire teaching force is of color. It’s even less curious that the schools with higher percentages of educators of color are more subject to scripted lessons, standardized testing, crooked teacher ratings, and oppressive staffing decisions — including suspension and expulsion for frivolous reasons.”

 

So, stand if you believe our country is a great place and deserves praise. Kneel if you don’t. Maybe you have a “knee” issue, maybe you don’t. Transparency, discussion, and dissent are “the way home through Baghdad.” Change happens with resistance, not stasis. We will never embody the message of Francis Scott Key, or the words in the Pledge of Allegiance if we don’t have a country that values every resident and gives everyone a voice.

#whyweM4PE

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