Monday, May 12, 2008

Defining Patriotism to Kids

The Times' had this article about 3 eighth grade students in small-town Minnesota who got suspended for not standing up for the pledge of allegiance. It was in the district's handbook of rules but the ACLU wisely let them know that it's unconstitutional to make anyone stand.

It makes me wonder what we are teaching kids about what patriotism means. Pre-9/11, patriotism and being a hero had, to me, more clearly defined parameters. Post-9/11 it is much more murky and woe be to any politician, in particular, who doesn't toe the patriotism police line.

Obama is just raked across the coals because he doesn't wear a flag pin. People said, in a NY Times article a couple of weeks ago, that they couldn't vote for him because of it. (Naturally, I know there's more to it but somehow that's the best argument they could make.) All I can say is that if you define patriotism by wearing a lapel pin, that's not saying much.

My family, along with other families at Roosevelt, is hosting an Italian exchange student for 10 days. We're going to a Mariners game and sure enough, we'll all be standing for the national anthem. Just to be clear, in most countries, people don't even know the words to their national anthem, no less play it at major sporting events. I fully expect our guests to do the "when in Rome" thing (terrible pun, I'm sorry) at the game but it makes me ponder; what do we tell our kids?

Is every cop a hero? Is every soldier? Is there a difference between being disrespectful of the pledge/national anthem versus being unpatriotic? Is being a good citizen by voting, recycling, caring about your school and community enough? Or do you need to wear your flag on your sleeve? What do you tell your kids?

(Before anyone gets too upset, my father and 3 of his brothers were all in active duty in WWII - at the same time. On my mom's side? Her cousin died in the Bataan death march. I understand service to one's country and respect it.)


SolvayGirl said...

I think this is avery important topic and would hope that our kids are learning something about patriotism in school that has more to do with service than flag pins. But, I honestly have no idea what and when kids learn about civic duty--especially when it applies to local government.

As to your question about heroes...I don't think anyone's station in life, be it cop, soldier, fireman, or politician, makes them an automatic hero. Heroism is something that has to be practiced to earn the title. Rosa Parks was as much a hero as was John F. Kennedy when he saved his shipmates on PT 109. The latest heroes I can think of were the first responders to 9/11.

anonymous said...

I think all who put their life on the line for others are heroes, soldiers, police officers and firefighters included. Ask anyone who has been rescued by a firefighter or a coast guard and they will tell you who their hero is. Ask anyone who has been in a life threatening situation when a police officer arrived, who their hero is. Ask your child who his hero is? You might be surprised at the answer you get.

You don't earn the title of patriot by wearing a flag pin.

anonymous said...

And, BTW Melissa, good for you for standing for the Pledge!!! My son goes to a Shoreline MS, and they say the Pledge every morning, like I did when I was in school. I'm glad that they say it, and say it proudly. This is America, after all.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ad Hoc,I have to be honest. I love this country - I've lived other places and it's just a part of me and the fabric of who I am. (I've always wondered, if I met the Queen of England, would I curtsy because that's what you do or would I say to myself, "I thought we fought a war to get away from this nonsense?")

BUT I find a lot of overt patriotism phony. I stand for the national anthem and, admittedly, still sometimes get tears in my eyes (I wore a MIA bracelet in junior high during the Vietnam war and have never gotten over the guy who didn't come back - I found his name on the wall in D.C.). I don't like (and never did) the pledge of allegiance and that's because I like to think I pledge it by being a good citizen to my country every day and so why do I need to cover my heart and say it out loud? But that's just me.

anonymous said...

Yes, I know what you mean Melissa. That's kind of how my family views religion...we don't have to go to church to validate that we believe in a higher power. So, I understand what your saying. I guess I am just happy to see youngsters say the pledge, not because they will believe in what they say or because saying the pledge proves their patriotism, but because it may get them thinking about, and maybe even appreciating, how lucky they are to live in this country.

Unknown said...

lapel pins are often a sign of honor and status and today.