April 26, 2013

Why Is A Matter Settled 70 Years Ago Still An Issue In Our Public Schools?

I love my country.

I love my country's flag.

But I love my country's Constitution more.

That is why this teacher is more than a little bit pissed off by the arrogance of some educators who seek to punish or coerce a student who is merely exercising her constitutional rights in a way long recognized as legitimate by the Supreme Court.

She’s an honor roll student and accomplished violinist.

She also refuses to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Enidris Siurano, a student at Damascus High School, was born in Puerto Rico. Siurano says she hasn’t recited the pledge since seventh grade to protest the political situation there.

“The government that’s there should be the one that’s running it, not one that’s miles and miles away,” she said.

But only recently has her refusal caused so much turmoil that she and her family turned to the ACLU of Maryland.

“Enidris was repeatedly directed by her teacher to stand,” said an ACLU attorney.

In a letter to the superintendent, the ACLU said that Siurano is being harassed, that she was called out of class and told to report to the assistant principal’s office.

“She told me that I was disrespecting the military and military families and students who had family in the military,” Siurano said.

The ACLU of Maryland says this is not the first time a case of alleged harassment has happened within Montgomery County Public Schools over not reciting the pledge.

I'm with the ACLU on this one. They are exactly right -- and those at Damascus High School are dead wrong -- on the issue of forcing students to say the Pledge or even stand for it.

In 1943, as our nation fought against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan, the United States Supreme Court dealt with this very issue. What it decided then, as our soldiers fought and died on behalf of our country and our Constitution, is as valid today as it was on the day the decision in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette was handed down.

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.

"No official, high or petty."

That includes school teachers and administrators.

By coincidence, my students and I were discussing this very case only yesterday. I had several students -- including one who is a Jehovah's Witness like the children in the Barnette case cited above -- tell me about efforts by some of my own colleagues to require that which cannot be required or punish that which cannot be punished under the laws of this country. Good heavens! Why are we even still fighting this battle seven decades later? Why aren't my fellow educators, men and women who are charged with helping to form our students into good citizens in addition to teaching some content area or another, modeling that by actually doing what we are constitutionally required to do? Has the day come when it isn't just school districts who face lawsuits, but individual teachers as well -- not just in their professional capacity, but in their personal capacity as well? Will that finally get the message across?

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As a high school student in the late 60s/early 70s, I also refused to stand and recite the pledge. I believed our country did not offer liberty and justice for all. The homeroom teacher asked me once why I refrained and left me alone once I explained why. As an older and wiser adult, I returned to my childhood love of the pledge, this time with more understanding and great appreciation for my country. Forced and insincere expressions are both meaningless and ineffective in changing minds. Thanks for this article and your wisdom as a teacher.

|| Posted by Petunia, May 2, 2013 09:12 AM ||
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