Protest is a word we’re hearing a lot lately as Kaepernick has made headlines by peacefully protesting during the National Anthem at the beginning of each of his NFL games. In schools they learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Million Man March on Washington as a form of peaceful protest, or Rosa Parks peacefully protesting on the bus.
We, as parents, are prepared and inspired to talk about these great leaders of the past and how they shaped the present. But what happens when the idea of protest becomes a little too real, and hits a little too close to home?
Yesterday, a parent of a student at Massey Hill Classical High School of Fayetteville, NC posted a photograph of teacher Lee Francis standing over a crumpled American Flag on the floor. She stated that after no one having a lighter or scissors in the classroom, he put the flag on the floor and “stomped” on it in an effort to show the protections of the 1st Amendment. This got me to thinking, how do we talk about this with our children? Is school the right place to overtly express the 1st Amendment? I say overtly, because this was an alleged demonstration of our right to free speech, not an actual protest, but did it need to be done this way? What would I say to my child if he or she came home and said this happened in the classroom? Honestly, I’m not sure I would even believe it!
In Tinker vs. Demoines (1969), a famous Supreme Court Case, Justice Fortas wrote, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” And yet, here we are in another era of turmoil, with the American Flag centered in controversy, and Lee Francis decides to capitalize on the moment to prove a point. As a teacher I GET IT! It is hard to reach our students and get them impassioned about current events, politics, government, and change. Sometimes you need to make it dramatic for them to pay attention. But as a parent, living in this military community of Fayetteville, I cannot make sense of this enough to explain it to my child.
Currently, the incident is under investigation and I’m sure more details will come forth as the day progresses. But in the meantime, I’m going to sit back and think, and pray, and think some more. Was this teacher having a John Keating moment? Or was this an example of abuse of power on the part of Mr. Francis?