Editor’s Note: Whatever happened to free speech? Well, here goes… “I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the nation that gave my people smallpox blankets, stole their land, and forced us onto reservations—”
by Carey Wedler
In the wake of the Colin Kaepernick national anthem controversy, American nationalism has shifted from overdrive to hyperdrive.
Though internet temper tantrums and jersey-burning have dominated protests against Kaepernick’s protest, the backlash is being felt in a different and more institutional way: in public schools.
This week, two stories of public schools forcing patriotism on students made headlines, highlighting a deeply-ingrained sense of American pride that pervades society — one that often begins in grade school with daily recitations of the pledge of allegiance.
One high school teacher in Lower Lake, California lowered the grades of two students who refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance, CBS SF Bay Area reports.
One of the students, Leilani Thomas, is Native American.
She says she won’t say the pledge “because of the history that happened here. On my land. My people’s land.” She added she is “not going to stand for the people who did this to my people.”
Thomas and another female student have refused to cite the daily pledge in their first-period class since the first day of school, a decision that upset the teacher.
“When the girls got their grades Friday, their participation scores were docked from a five to a three because they refused to stand. Thomas recorded her teacher’s explanation in class.
‘Here’s the deal. If you really, really have an argument and feel so strongly about, then I need to see it written out — your argument — in an essay form,’ the teacher is heard saying. ‘Like, why? Why, because here’s the thing; those people, they’re not alive anymore. Your ancestors.’”
Thomas further elaborated on why the teacher insists the pledge is mandatory. “She says that it represents the military and that they risked their lives for us,” she summarized. “And I always tell her, ‘Well, my people risked our lives for our land, for our freedom. For our rights.”
The teacher is being investigated by the Lake County school district superintendent following a complaint from Thomas’s father.
In Collier County, Florida, however, compulsory patriotism has pervaded the administration of one high school. Local outlet NBC-2 reports:
“Lely High School Principal Ryan Nemeth told students during video announcements they’ll be ejected from school sporting events if they refuse to stand for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’
“Nemeth told students the issue is very important to him, and the policy applies to students at all school-sponsored sporting events.”
“You will stand, and you will stay quiet. If you don’t.. you are going to be sent home, and you’re not going to have a refund of your ticket price,” he reportedly told students.
Nemeth’s harsh policy directly parallels the Kaepernick controversy, and like the incident in Lower Lake, it constitutes a violation of the first amendment.
Public school efforts to force shows of patriotism are often met with legal challenges and criticism. Even so, instances continue to occur across the country, sometimes incurring suspensions for ‘protesting’ students.
While incidents like these are often isolated to individual teachers and administrators, the notion that these individuals may force students to engage in nationalistic behaviors is contrary to the values said rituals allegedly revere.
Unfortunately, compulsory adherence to such rituals is but one example of the rigidity and conformity often imposed in public schools. It should be little surprise, then, that the American school model is based on one created in 19th century Prussia. As the Atlantic has explained, that system “was designed to build a common sense of national identity.”
But as the Lower Lake superintendent said:
“Students don’t lose their First Amendment rights when they walk in the door.”
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