August 22, 2006

Teacher burns a flag.

A middle school social studies teacher burned a small American flag in each of two classes in what he says was an effort to motivate them for a writing assignment about free speech. Now that it's hit the press, they're looking into criminal charges -- because of the open flame, right?
"The issue is the possible endangerment of children by having an open flame in the classroom," School District representative Lauren Roberts said. "That is definitely a safety issue. And then also the issue of the actual burning of a flag and the symbolism of that is highly offensive to many people. And could there have been a better way to have demonstrated those concepts to those students without going to that extreme?"
I'd say you've already screwed up your effort to prosecute him for the fire violation. The man, Dan Holden, has been teaching since 1979. He was trying to get the students excited about free speech. He could have just said something inflammatory, like "I hate the American flag and everything it represents." But real fire does excite kids, and it probably did spice up a subject they were inclined to think of as dull. But, I think, the retribution against their teacher is an even more attention-getting lesson.

How should the school deal with this? Use it for more education. Stage a debate about free speech, flag burning, and what should happen to a teacher who burns a flag in class to get students excited about free speech issues. And don't punish the teacher.

118 comments:

Wickedpinto said...

The DEUCE YOU SAY! Liberal Arts majors, who spent 4 years being indoctrinated into socialist communist ideology can ONLY find a job in the public education system?

I CAN'T BELIEVE it, other than the fact that I EXPERIENCED IT more than 20 years ago.

Wickedpinto said...

Seventh grade?

You know what I learned in 6th grade? I learned about the 50 states, in my social studies class,cuz it let me understand my fellow Americans, of the 50 different states.

In, 7th grade social studies, I didn't learn how to burn a flag, cuz I was a kid, I burned a LOT OF THINGS!!!! that is what CHILDREN do, they destroy things, but in my 7th grade social studies class, well, I can't really tell you about ANY of my social studies classes in middle school, cuz I always got in trouble, and I wrote about the foundation of america based on the conquest of the aztecs, and then I had to write essays on presidents of the US in order from beginning to end, assigned on my own mistakes.

Later after I hit lincoln in my "punative" essays, I had to start writing essays about war.

How many students of YOURS madame althouse, that even in the north, that "bull run" was called manassass, it was only the northern stats that forced the name of "bull run" on the first and second battles of manassass?

anyways, Exactly along these lines, only my teachers chose the path of VALUE! and EDUCATION! punished me.

A shitty student (a great learner, but shitty student) realizes that this is outright BLASPHEMOUS!

BURN the WITCH!

El Presidente said...

In the socialist wonderland everyone has the right to burn the American Flag.

Bob said...

Sorry. I question his patriotism and think he should be fired, too. He probably said "And for extra credit, go out and spit on a soldier."

Icepick said...

"The issue is the possible endangerment of children by having an open flame in the classroom," School District representative Lauren Roberts said. "That is definitely a safety issue...."

What? The district is concerned about a small open flame in the class room? Are they trying to turn our children into wusses? Back in the day, we built bombs (stink, smoke, concussive, etc) in class! When we weren't trying to convert the Bunson burners into legit flame-throwers, of course.

It's a public safety issue if the children don't learn about this stuff in school. Do we want them to learn about flame-throwers from some moron on the street?!

WickedPinto, you can worry about the teachers being Commies. Me, I'm going to worry that they aren't properly instructing children in the proper way to create, maintain and use ordnance. What a world, what a world....

Paul Zrimsek said...

What should happen to a teacher who burns a flag to get his students excited about free speech issues? The same thing that would happen to a teacher who called black people "niggers" to get his students excited about free speech issues.

Goesh said...

- starting a fire in a classroom, the first consideration for termination, and another whacko lefty bites the dust, betrayed by a failed and rotted ideology..

yetanotherjohn said...

Perhaps he could have just hurled racial epitaphs at the students. Or mayber he should have shown them some pornography. Both of those are likely to "excite" the kids with out exposing them to the dangers of open flames.

Abraham said...

Well, at least is was only an American flag, and not something meaningful, like a Mexican flag or a gay pride flag.

David said...

He's toast!

He can start his own school using Ward Churchill as Principal with a scholarship fund from Reuters!

Who hires these wackos who preach ideology under the guise of Freedom of Speech? It is comforting to note that the school has a funtioning PTA that should shine some light under the rock this fool came out from under.

The NEA wonders why school bond issues are hard to pass! For a really good laugh go to an NEA convention and observe what these folks deem important for the classroom!

charlotte said...

Seems there's free speech for me and another for thee when it comes to rights and offense. Dissent is one thing, but hateful and destructive "dissent" expressed toward identity groups based on race, belief or orientation doesn't seem appreciably different from that expressed against national identity. Does anyone think for a second that this teacher could get away with burning another country's flag?

I vote for less offense in public schools kindergarten through grade twelve. What in the world is wrong with teaching respect for each other, love of one's country, and how to engage in respectful dissent to school kids? Let the college young adults be excited by flag-burning professors (and their parents thrilled over the tuition payments.)

Joan said...

I think if my child came home and told me his teacher burned a flag in class today, my first reaction would be "What?!" and my second reaction would be to ask, "Why?" I would want to know, in excruciating detail, what happened before and after the burning. And I'd also want to know why the smoke detectors didn't go off.

I don't think burning a flag in class represents very good judgement on the part of the teacher. It's very early in the school year, too. It makes me wonder what other stunts the teacher has planned for the rest of the year. Or is this something he has been doing quietly for years that just got noticed now? Someone with that much teaching experience must recognize that burning a flag -- the freedom to destroy somethng -- is just a tiny fraction of the power that freedom of speech gives to us. And if he burnt that flag not in protest of anything, but merely to show a flag physically burning, then what was the point? Flags are burned every day. It's how you dispose of a flag, after all.

I don't think criminal charges are warranted, but a disciplinary review by the school administrators would be appropriate.

miked0268 said...

As a kinda-conservative mostly libertarian type, I'm usually pretty irritated by the perennial anti-flag-burning rhetoric that comes out of the conservative side of the aisle sometimes. I think it gets thrown out there from time to time when there is a "lull in conversation", and a conservative politician feels the need to make noise about something that he knows is not really substantive. Or better yet, when a liberal politician wants to try for some "I'm a patriot!" brownie points (yeah, sure, Hillary, I'll bet your blood just boils when you see someone burning a flag....).

But meanwhile, Paul Zrimsek above makes a really good point. The attention-getting trick he describes is about perfectly analagous to burning a flag, and we all know it would get the teacher fired within at most 15 minutes. Forget about being "suspended" pending an "investigation"! The principal would probably come and personally throw the guy out the window.

Goesh said...

If one my kids was in a room where an adult started a fire, I would press charges, at least Wanton Endangerment charges. I would want my attorney to be talking to the school board too about any other dangerous stunts this person had done prior to endangering my child in this manner.

charlotte said...

Would "free-speech" absolutists and the ACLU be as sanguine about a public school teacher paid with tax dollars burning a crescent and star flag in front of middle schoolers? What about hoisting the Confederate flag in a classroom and letting it remain there as an educational exercise? What about teaching the 9-11 conspiracy theory as plausible to public school kids in the name of academic freedom?

Free-wheeling academic freedom seems more appropriate to the university and its majority-aged students. Of course, free speech there tends to be truly free in one direction only--

George said...

Stage a debate?

For who? The sixth/seventh/eighth graders?

When? During class time?

Who'll be debating? The pyromaniac teacher and..who...a law professor?

Not with my children and not with their time.

Immediately fire the teacher and have the principal come to all his classes to explain why what he did was wrong. Only the rarest and most intelligent sixth grader is capable of understanding the finer points of First Amendment law, such as are presented by this "teacher."

Richard Dolan said...

It's always amazing to me how little common sense any of the "professionals" involved with public school education display. The teacher in this instance showed remarkably poor judgment, and now the school board is showing even worse judgment.

The commenters on this string all assume, perhaps correctly, that the teacher is some far lefty wacko, displaying contempt for the flag. Perhaps he is, but if so, he is hardly alone among professional "educators." For those who are getting all worked up about this story, the fact is that there is no political test for public school teachers. That's obviously a good thing. And the 12 years old kids in this teacher's class may as well get used to the fact that a lot of their teachers will be lefties as they move through the educational system.

The second aspect of the story that jumped out at me was that, according to the linked article, none of the parents of the kids in this teacher's class complained. Why this incident because a local cause celebre is unclear. Perhaps the incident has become part of some local political race. Whatever the reason, it's turned into a classic case of bad judgment and lack of common sense by a teacher resulting in worse judgment by school "authorities." The silliness about the "open flame," and the ham-handed way in which the school board is acting, are breathtakingly dumb. No doubt, the federal lawsuit is already being drafted.

Taranto often carries a "zero tolerance" item on his Best of the Web column, where he features some remarkably boneheaded move by public school authorities -- disciplining a six year old for drawing a picture of a gun, or playing cops and robbers in a way that runs against the PC grain, that sort of thing. This kerfuffle would fit right in.

Sadly, it's all par for the course in public education today.

Freeman Hunt said...

I wouldn't punish the teacher. I wouldn't punish him even if he had done all of the things others mentioned like burning the flags of other countries or throwing out a racial slur.

Context matters. I think his lesson idea makes sense in the context of a lesson about free speech.

I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he said something like this, "Okay, so we all agree that free speech is important. What about limits on free speech? Should there be limits? What should those limits be?" Some kids say that there should be no limits. "Okay, so are you saying that I should be able to do this?" [Insert offensive thing here.] "What did you think about that? Should I be able to do that? Why or why not?"

class-factotum said...

The fire itself is a non-issue. Science teachers have fires in the classroom all the time. Fires and dangerous chemicals! Goodness! The story doesn't make it clear, but I would expect that this guy had the flag in a non-flammable container. If not, then he is too stupid to do anything but ask if you want fries with that.

I don't like people burning the flag either, but he has the right to do it. And if someone punches him in the nose for doing so, well -- That's the chance he takes.

But maybe he thought -- no pun intended -- this would get his students fired up. He is in central Florida, a very conservative area. Maybe he wanted something they could write passionately about.

I assume he has already covered Ponce de Leon...

Freeman Hunt said...

Is there any evidence that he was trying to make a political statement by burning the flags? All I see in the article is that he was doing a lesson on free speech.

altoids1306 said...

Someone should start a business in selling easily combustable US and Israeli flags. Seems like there is quite a market, and growing.

Personally, I don't believe flag-burning should be criminalized, it just seems like a petty thing to do. While I understand (or at least think I understand) the importance placed on the flag by many servicemen/women and citizens, it just seems we should be spending our energy fighting real threats to our security that idiot flag-burning public school teachers. I'd much rather see NSA/CIA leakers hunted down and prosecuted.

Stories like this just contribute to the comicial nature of the public school system. And the ACLU, if/when they jump to this lunatic's defence.

Jeremy said...

Freeman-
Do his intentions matter that much?

Scott W. Somerville said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MadisonMan said...

If the parents of the students don't complain, then what really is wrong with it? I completely agree with those who talk about the context -- we know nothing of the context that this was done. Or even how small the flag was -- 4 inches by 6 inches? That's hardly a fire hazard if burned over, say, an empty metal trash can. Of course, the facts here are lacking. Other than no parent complained.

A minor tempest in a teapot. People will enjoy wringing their hands, and wailing, and ignoring Iran, Iraq, N. Korea, the corruption in DC, outrageous overspending, . . .

Scott W. Somerville said...

If burning a flag is okay, how about wearing a cross?

altoids1306 said...

"Okay, so we all agree that free speech is important. What about limits on free speech? Should there be limits? What should those limits be?" Some kids say that there should be no limits. "Okay, so are you saying that I should be able to do this?"

Teacher burns flag, eats his own thumb, kills a dog, throws leftover pizza at the ceiling, and/or head-butts an innocent Italian bystander.

"What did you think about that? Should I be able to do that? Why or why not?"
---------------------------
Are standards really that low? Since when did burning anything in school (other than in chem/physics) become "educational"? It's fine and good to talk about free speech, but should these kids worry about old-fashioned math and writing first?

paul a'barge said...

In "you've already screwed up you're effort", "you're" should be "your".

charlotte said...

Richard Dolan and Madison man, parents did complain. Link:

"Pat Summers, whose daughter was in Holden's class, said he was among more than 20 parents upset about the incident at school yesterday. Holden apparently told the students to ask their parents what they thought about the lesson, he said."

"She said, 'Our teacher burned a flag.' I'm like, 'What?' " Summers said. "When I was (at the school) at 8 a.m., the lobby was filled with probably 25 or 30 parents" who were upset, he said."

Also, you're missing the fact that most commenters here would consider the demonstration of destructive protest "speech" to middle school kids just as offensive had it been similarly expressed toward another country, religion or identity group. (Well, almost as offensive- we are at war, btw, with troops' lives on the line for us.) This is less a partisan reaction to a seemingly partisan action, which can cut both ways, than it is about respectful teaching in the classroom.

Abraham said...

I wouldn't punish the teacher. I wouldn't punish him even if he had done all of the things others mentioned like burning the flags of other countries or throwing out a racial slur.

I tend to agree with this, but I think the point here is that while this is excused as the toleration of thought-provoking speech, it is extremely probable that he would in fact be severely disciplined for doing other, less "politically correct" actions.
People aren't to concerned, I don't think, if the lesson being taught is that "even offensive speech is protected." But the blatant double standards mean that the actual lesson being taught is "hating on the United States is not offensive."

Der Hahn said...

Combining Paul Z. and Scott S., why didn't he burn a cross?

Not only could he discuss 'free speech', but why certain ideas are suppressed by calling them 'hate speech'

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

Unless the teacher was burning the flag to destroy it in accordance with retirement and ceremonial burning, then this was a political act.

So one wonders, what should a seventh-grade social studies teacher actually teach?

We used to teach citizenship and American History. What kind of syllabus is this? What could one possibly learn? How could kids think this was offensive "speech" if they've never been taught to honor it first?

And why the double standard? Burning a US flag? OK! Burn a lesbian/gay symbol, Palestinian flag, or a any other PC idol would have been swiftly dealt with, of that one can be sure.

What kind of parents give such odious or incompetent behavior a pass?

When did anti-Americanism become mandatory in grade schools?

Bissage said...

I find it offensive that some people choose to burn a U.S. flag to make some vague, inarticulate political statement.

I find it much more offensive that many more people leave their flags out at night without illumination, that they leave the flag out in the rain, that they let it touch the ground, that they do not raise and lower it appropriately, that they do not fold it properly, that they display it in tatters, etc.

bearbee said...

We see he has provoke comments by the adults. Did he accomplish with his students what he set out to do?
There should be plenty to think about with controversy created and with the action/reaction of the school board.

He probably should have set fire to a couple of TV Guide's....or blown up a tv or some video games.......

MadisonMan said...

Thanks, catherine, for the added info. Upset parents are a no-no for a teacher. Still, since he asked his students to tell parents what he did and what the parents thought of it, I think it's a pretty thought-provoking exercise in free speech. But I wonder if it'll be lost on some of his students and/or supervisors.

Given the teacher's previously apparently sound teaching ability, it reads like the principal/superintendent have no backbone. I prefer principals who back their teachers 100%.

Kent said...

May I gently suggest that the real problem here is that the teacher employed a rotten teaching method?

When a teacher does something this inflammatory*, forget the rest of the lesson. All that the students are going to remember is the inflammatory act.

A teacher who resorts to such techniques is admitting to all the world that he lacks any real teaching skill. It's like a watch repairman whose first act, on being brought a watch that has stopped running, is to pound it with a sledge hammer in hopes that it will start ticking again.

Of course, there is also the possibility (quite high, in my opinion) that teaching something about freedom of speech is really the last thing the teacher has in mind.

----------------
*No pun intended. Honest. ...Why are y'all looking at me that way?

MadisonMan said...

What kind of parents give such odious or incompetent behavior a pass?

I would -- if my kids learn something from it. I think this would cause a nice discussion around the dinner table at home. The number of subjects to discuss is really really big, too.

Of course, if this happened in my kids schools, I'd not hear about it -- the son never tells us anything unless we ask, and the daughter is a teenager now, so if she's being teenagerish, I don't exist

charlotte said...

Madisonman,

Should a principal back up her teacher 100% if he burns a flag of Islam in a demonstration of free speech?

What if there are a Muslim student or two in the classroom?

Freeman Hunt said...

Do his intentions matter that much? -- Jeremy

Yes. If the flag was burned in the possible context I described above, that's instruction. If the flag was burned as part of some non-instructional political ranting, that's jackassery. The school should support instruction and should not support jackassery.

Teacher burns flag, eats his own thumb, kills a dog, throws leftover pizza at the ceiling, and/or head-butts an innocent Italian bystander. -- altoids

I don't think you can equate burning a flag with self-mutilation, dog killing, and assault.

Aspasia M. said...

What? The district is concerned about a small open flame in the class room? Are they trying to turn our children into wusses?

yes - this is hilarious! An open flame - pffft. In seventh grade I remember when a lab partner spilled liquid cyanide all over the floor.

In High school my teacher blew up phospherous in front of us. That was fun.

And you wouldn't believe what happened in AP Chem.

Doug H. said...

If a teacher wants to engage in such an act he ought to get permission first (from the administration and parents). I think I'd have less of a problem with this if parents would've had a choice whether to let their children participate.

Of course then only the really enlightened parents who understood what a thought provoking exercise this was would've signed off on it.

monkeyboy said...

Well, now that the first amendment is done, can we move on to the second? I'm sure that there is a gun range nearby he can take the children to.

Maybe next semester he can have the kids bring soldiers home to live.

PatCA said...

This is an example of the indoctrination that has replaced teaching in the public schools. I'm sure they would all get an A in I-Hate- Amerikkka Studies, but I wonder how they would do on this test.

Palladian said...

I would -- if my kids learn something from it. I think this would cause a nice discussion around the dinner table at home. The number of subjects to discuss is really really big, too.

That is, until MadisonMan Jr. leaps up and sets fire to the roast in the center of the table to protest being subjected to compulsory family discussions. Burn, baby, burn!


That this teacher chose to provide an object lesson in free speech by committing one of the most generic, mute acts in the canon of tiresome street-theater agitprop is a good indication of his poor skills as an educator. Instead of talking about the civil rights movement or taking the class to a town meeting or something, he chose to torch a polyester flag. The real lesson for the students is that free speech is theatrical, violent, offensive and completely devoid of substantive content, thus inspiring another generation of kids who smash Starbucks windows rather than learn to speak out with coherent arguments.

There is one good lesson coming out of this: that with the freedom of speech comes responsibilities; the freedom to speak does not also confer freedom from the consequences of that speech, something that the flag-burning variety of "speaker" often forgets.

miked0268 said...

Bissage:

All true, hardly anybody follows all the flag rules anymore. I get a little perturbed by all the things you've mentioned - however, publicly burning a flag in protest has a much different character of intentionality. Most people who violate all the other flag rules probably don't know about them at all.

Elizabeth said...

can we move on to the second? I'm sure that there is a gun range nearby he can take the children to.

Gun safety is a regular part of many jr. high and high school phys ed courses in small-town and rural schools in my state.

Jennifer said...

The fact that he would definitely be punished for a provocative display of racism or what have you should not have any bearing on whether he should be punished for this or not.

It seems like rather poor judgment on the teacher's part. But, at the same time, at least he is trying to get the attention of his students. It must be incredibly difficult to motivate and engage some of today's high schoolers.

Pogo said...

And now we have another example of the American failure to develop right reason, moral imagination, cultural history, and political knowledge among the rising generation.

They know not civics, but learn protest.
They know not logic, but learn to shout over objections.
They know not their rights and duties as citizens, but learn to turn their endless wants into ceaseless demands.
They know not an excellent and truly liberal education, but learn medicority.

And there are parents who condone it, either agreeing with such outrages outright, or because they defer to their child's discretion whether or not to be concerned with what is taught.

Moreover, since when is it any concern of the teacher that the student is "motivated", whatever that means, or "engaged", whatever that means? Their appeal to attention is at its worst 'to fail' and, from better parents, 'to succeed' as reason enough.

I think too many here have mistaken schoolwork for entertainment.

Jennifer said...

Geez, Pogo. You get all that from a single assignment?

MadisonMan said...

Should a principal back up her teacher 100% if he burns a flag of Islam in a demonstration of free speech? What if there are a Muslim student or two in the classroom?

Are there really flags of Islam? I'm curious.

But to answer your question, I'd hope that behavior would engender a principal-teacher meeting, as I'm sure the one in Kentucky did. The teacher in Ky reportedly had no political agenda, and did this to make a clumsy point. That's the way the principal should have relayed it to the parents. Maybe he (she?) did -- I don't know. The reaction and reassignment of the teacher makes me think the principal does not back up this teacher. And if he has been a good teacher up to this time, as reported, that's unfortunate, especially for the other teachers (who might want to try (cough) innovative ways to teach but won't be sure now that the principal will back them).

To answer your 2nd question, there were Americans in the classroom and he burned an American Flag. I'm not sure I cotton to the distinction between annoying a majority vs. annoying a minority -- unless that was a teaching point, tyranny of the majority and all.

altoids1306 said...

Freeman Hunt:

I was being mostly tongue-in-cheek there, but I wanted the show the absurdity of doing "offensive things" just because they could possibly become teachable moments.
-----------------------
There are some pretty obvious things here that idiot-teacher-with-captive-audience apologists are missing.

1. Flag burning (and I'm pro-flag-burning!) is an obviously politically divisive act. To say this was just pedagogy, with no deliberate undertone or agenda, is to be deliberately obtuse. It's quite obvious that his first priority was not teaching the students effectively.

2. Burning stuff in class. For all the hand-wringing worries liberals have about selling soft-drinks and chips in school, and all the sharp, hard corners in the playground, they sure are enthusiastic about fire in the classroom. I wonder why that is. Burning stuff in chemistry has an obvious pedagogal value that has no ready replacement. Burning flags and burning sodium salts are completely different.

3. Double-standards. As Senator Allen and Mel Gibson show, certain offensive remarks can sink you instantly. But burn a single flag, and thousands will flock to your defense, like so many moths to a flame. Might even get a book tour out of it. The mind boggles.

MadisonMan said...

There is one good lesson coming out of this: that with the freedom of speech comes responsibilities; the freedom to speak does not also confer freedom from the consequences of that speech, something that the flag-burning variety of "speaker" often forgets.

When the teacher is reinstated, I'd hope this would be one of the things he'd discuss with his class.

Pogo said...

Re: "Geez, Pogo. You get all that from a single assignment?"

Yes, I do.
His performance (and I mean that in the theatrical sense) speaks volumes. 50 years ago, this guy would've been fired, and those who hired him would be off the promotion track.

These days, his 'technique' makes him suitable to teach at a University.

I'm passed tired of letting events like this go. Not any more. There's too much at stake to allow boneheads like this to have charge of a classroom, even if their only fault is making "a clumsy point". He could be teaching Madison or Burke. Instead he teaches Abbie Hoffman, so he's an idiot, and de facto too dumb too teach.

Bissage said...

miked0268: I concur. For example, I’m sure many people do not know how to fold a flag or about the exception by which the blue field on a soldier’s arm goes nearest the heart. And I certainly don’t want to hold myself out as someone who knows all the intricacies about showing proper respect for the flag. I don’t.

That said, not a day passes that I don’t see where someone has put out the flag, likely in a passing spasm of patriotic mood, and promptly forgotten about it. Maybe it has something to do with my living in a Rino county in a Blue state. I dunno.

Anyway, I try not to get all bent out of shape over it. Every now and then it occurs to me to knock on someone’s door and remind them how easy it is to simply bring the flag indoors and leave it there. So far, I've thought the better of it.

Regarding flag burning, I agree with Palladian that it is an attention-craving, paltry, theatric gesture. It occurs to me that any given flag burner is substantially the same as this kid I knew in high school who liked to repeatedly taunt his religious peers by daring God to strike him dead, right there and then. He’d also say blasphemous things about the Virgin Mary participating in non-procreative sexual relations.

He was a sophomoric ass.

So too are those who burn the flag.

Freeman Hunt said...

To say this was just pedagogy, with no deliberate undertone or agenda, is to be deliberately obtuse. It's quite obvious that his first priority was not teaching the students effectively.

I don't think that this is obvious from the available information. From another article:

Roberts said the flag burning did not appear to be politically motivated, based on an interview with Holden.

knoxgirl said...

Stage a debate about free speech, flag burning, and what should happen to a teacher who burns a flag in class to get students excited about free speech issues.

Yikes! Ann, I respectfully disagree. This puts me in mind of when a kid is throwing a temper tantrum and parents want to sit down with them and have a talk about how they're feeling... If flag burning were a meaningful, original statement of protest, maybe a discussion would be useful. But I'm with Palladian on this--it's a meaningless gesture--tired and juvenile to boot--that people do simply to be incendiary (no pun intended). There's not really much to discuss about it.

RogerA said...

And how is this situation any different from say the UW Provost and administration's response to Mr Barrett and his 9/11 theories? (oh--other than the issue of adult supervision manifested at which school?)

From my perspective, as long as the teacher took some preventative action to prevent any spread of said fires, looks like a great teaching point to me--as well as many of the more daring suggestions put forward in the foregoing thread.

John(classic) said...

Can I have a redo on my suspension for three days and required essay after I lit a fireworks snake in seventh grade?


I assure you I was merely making a political point.

bill said...

My concern is the material of the flag. If we're talking a natural fabric, like cotton, then no problem, and a potentially interesting lesson.

If the flag was vinyl, or some other synthetic, and burned in an enclosed space, then we have issues with noxious fumes and the lesson now involves chemistry.

Freeman Hunt said...

Instead of talking about the civil rights movement or taking the class to a town meeting or something, he chose to torch a polyester flag. - Palladian

We don't know that he didn't talk about these things. Discussion of those things doesn't make the same point. Of course everyone will say, "Yes, freedom of speech is wonderful because look at these great things accomplished through it."

Discussing something offensive addresses something else: Not everything done using freedom of speech will be nice and warm and make all of us feel a surge of pride and achievement. Some things will be crude. Some will be highly offensive. These are the things that challenge our support of free speech. I think that's worthy of discussion in a classroom.

Simon said...

So far as the issue of flag burning is concerned, I tend to agree with Justice Stevens, see Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 436 (1989) (Stevens, dissenting), but as the parent of a son who just started middle school, my more immediate concern is, where can I get teachers like that for our school? And by "teachers like that", I mean teachers who have gotten through the whole social studies syllabus already, who - after barely a week of school - have taught to much so efficiently that they have run out of other topics to teach that they have had to search for other topics such as this. I think a social studies teacher should absolutely be entitled to burn a flag in their classroom, but only on the condition that if any one of their kids fail the social studies test I'll set for them of what I think kids at that grade should know, that teacher's going to get kicked in the nuts by every student whose education he's failed. Any takers?

(I'm not kidding about my son - I'm actually nervous for what he's going to get taught in social studies.)

Pogo said...

Re; "I think that's worthy of discussion in a classroom."

I do too, but only for adults, not 7th graders.

I think maybe they should first learn how to fold the flag, raise it, salute, and read stories of men who died for it in 1776, 1865, and 1944, long before they learn how to burn it.

Barry said...

altoids1306 wrote: "But burn a single flag, and thousands will flock to your defense, like so many moths to a flame. Might even get a book tour out of it. The mind boggles."

If you allow evidence of the comments here, I'd say just the opposite. I see much more condemnation of this teacher's actions that rushing to support. The vitriol against this teacher's actions surprises me.

And I think all the "what if he burned/said/did this instead?" speculation is really avoiding the issue. If you think that there's as much to burning an "Isalmic flag" in the name of free speech as there is in burning the American flag, then what's the point in your complaint?

The safety issue is probably a red herring - it's not too hard to have a controlled flame in the classroom if you're conscious of what you're doing. But it looks like the teacher and the kids are going to win here - they're getting a first hand look at the lesson he says he was teaching. Should be a valuable lesson.

charlotte said...

Freeman Hunt,

Crude and highly offensive free speech are worthy of discussion in a classroom? Do you see any limits of expression for a teacher of middle schoolers? Any limits for public education employees on the taxpayers' dime?

Freeman Hunt said...

Crude and highly offensive free speech are worthy of discussion in a classroom?

Of course they are. It is imperative that a lesson on free speech includes talking about the negative aspects of free speech. It's very important that the students understand that free speech doesn't only protect people we like (i.e. civil rights leaders) but also protects people we don't like (i.e. flag-burners).

He could have just said, "What about someone who burns a flag? Should that person have the right to do that?" He chose to do it in a way that he thought would be more engaging.

peter hoh said...

I can vividly remember my 7th grade science teacher demonstrating how a dust explosion happens. Nice big fire. In the classroom. Over in an instant, but still in my memory 34 years later.

So I'm all for fire in the classroom.

And for all you conservatives who decry the dearth of sensible, right thinking men and women in our nations classrooms, what are you going to do about it? When are you going to sign up to teach?

Pogo said...

"When are you going to sign up to teach?"

I tried to do so. But in Minnesota, my 4 years of medical school, 3 years post-grad, 2 years fellowship and 1 year public health training, and experience teaching in medical, NP, and PA schools is insufficient to teach science in high schools or grade schools.

The teacher's union demands a minimum 2 year full-time teaching degree in addition to my apparently useless training.

It's a racket. Lots of middle-aged and older folks went to our local 're-training to teach' seminar only to find out the union made it impossible for grown adults to become teachers. How about you?

charlotte said...

If you think that there's as much to burning an "Isalmic flag" in the name of free speech as there is in burning the American flag, then what's the point in your complaint?

Barry,

One point is that both are unnecessarily offensive and not the least bit illustrative of constructive protest speech to middle schoolers. It's simply a puerile disrespectful act and even more so while we are at war. Why didn't the man just have a political tattoo put on his neck and pierce his septum with a Peace ring during class to illustrate free "speech" and self-expression? Should parents be OK with that, too, or is flag-burning just somehow more acceptable?

The other point is about double standards. Were far more liberal sites and of course the Kos kids to discuss this controversy, they'd fall squarely behind the teacher's right to burn the American flag as a "teaching" point for his young classroom. But had the teacher burned an Islamic flag or stuck needles into a Ted Kennedy doll for a "teaching" moment, do you seriously believe they and the ACLU would countenance such offensive behavior? They would call it hate speech, not free speech, and insist it had been done to indoctrinate and intimidate, etc. That said, I would hope the parents would descend upon the school and object to such a vile display of "free speech" to their seventh-graders, as they did wrt the US flag burnings.

Joan said...

Catherine, surely you know that talking about crude and offensive speech is not the same thing as using it. The teacher could have, for example, discussed more current events suchs as Skinhead groups being granted permits for marches. Or taken up any number of editorials criticizing the president and his administration, without fear of reprisal.

If he burnt the flag just for the heck of it, and not to protest American imperialism or something, then the whole thing was just a stunt. I'm inclined to agree with those above who have pointed out that teachers who rely on stunts to reach their students are not good teachers.

SteveR said...

Simply put, there are many equally, if not better ways, to get the point across. A good teacher doesn't need to go there.

When I taught 8th grade science 20 years ago, I used to melt the zinc core out of a modern penny with a bunsen burner, to illustrate melting points.

bearbee said...

Although effectively controversial with the school board, I agree the burning of the flag was a .....tired display, rather, teacher, for example, might have used some sort of play-acting with 'elected' students placed in charge of thought control putting together a list of prohibited (or perhaps only acceptable) thoughts, words, phrases, actions, etc with penalties attached when students express any listed item.........

Aspasia M. said...

2. Burning stuff in class. For all the hand-wringing worries liberals have about selling soft-drinks and chips in school, and all the sharp, hard corners in the playground, they sure are enthusiastic about fire in the classroom. I wonder why that is. Burning stuff in chemistry has an obvious pedagogal value that has no ready replacement. Burning flags and burning sodium salts are completely different.

hmmmm...I have to admit - I would be a lot more concerned about my kid eating lots of crap food like coke & potato chips over the course of Junior High school, then I would be of a single non-political flag burning situation in a classroom.

And, so far, it sounds like the burning of the flag wasn't in a political context.

If he pulled out a small flag (like something you put on a birthday cake) and lit it -- and then talked about issues surrounding the debate of free speech by presenting all sides, then it sounds like a technique for getting the kids attention.

Now - if it truly was a fire hazzard - with a large flag burning indoors - of course that's another story. (But, i should have expected that to set off the fire alarms & really created some excitement.)

You know, the thing about burning a flag is that the context is all important to the meaning of that act. (Yes, I used to be a Girl Scout.) As others have noted, burning a old flag is the traditional way to dispose of a flag.

----------------------------
And, FYI, my friends once did actually set off the fire alarm doing, uh, not entirely sanctioned activities in AP Chem. So I'm not about to collapse on the fainting couch if this teacher didn't even set off the alarm.

Just Saying.

charlotte said...

Joan,

You missed the point. Burning flags that are important to people can never be just a "stunt," even if a teacher claims it was just a teaching thing. I doubt very much that the brave and edgy teacher would have burned a picture of Mohammed in front of Muslim students, burned a cross in a black middle school, or thrown darts at a picture of Kofi at the UN.

Burning the American flag is such a cheap protest thrill because other Americans are not supposed to take grievous offense at it, unless they're reactionary Repubs. There seem to be few manners, anymore, demonstrated toward American citizens as such, only toward protected and very sensitive identity interests, and, boy, do we ever hear about offenses real and imagined against them!

For the record, I do not support the flag-burning amendment, hate crime laws in the States, or hate speech laws in Europe.

Aspasia M. said...

Lots of middle-aged and older folks went to our local 're-training to teach' seminar only to find out the union made it impossible for grown adults to become teachers. How about you?

Try the local community college.

Or -- if you have time to volunteer -- teach a class through your local park district. I taught a Jr. Great Books class several years in a row at our local library for 7th & 8th graders.

altoids1306 said...

Freeman Hunt:

Roberts said the flag burning did not appear to be politically motivated, based on an interview with Holden.

Deliberately burning a flag, simply at face value, is a political statement. But lest anyone wonder whether he was burning flags to scare-off bears, he burned a flag to make a point about free speech. He knew that this is a point of widespread political contention. He didn't stop at debating about flag-burning, be burned one. Let me say that again. He intentionally performed an act that one side finds abhorrent. And yet this Ms. Roberts, district spokeswoman, is trying to claim political neutrality or objectivity?

This is CYA, pure and simple. What else could she have said?
-------------------
With regards to teaching free-speech, controversial stuff in the classroom, go teach yourself, etc etc...

I don't oppose flag burning. Buy a box, light 'em up, go ahead, it's your money. I think it's a bad idea, at least as offensive as swearing in polite company, but it's your call.

I oppose burning flags in school, because this is not the purpose of school. Parents have a right to expect classroom instruction that isn't merely legal (God help us if illegal activity were allowed because it was "a teachable moment"), but reasonable, and in keeping with expectations of what school should be - instruction in basic skills, and smooth integration into the larger society. As I stated before, burning flags in a classroom, while legal, says something about the teacher's priorities.

"Go teach yourself, you neo-con." Even if I wanted to, would you let me? Seriously, do we really want to start this game again? If I'm not a teacher, I can't criticise teaching?

PatCA said...

Gawker today also reports on more fake diversity in the nation's classrooms and textbooks.

Jim said...

Of course, free speech is boring and no fun to debate if it's not offensive. If I were a teacher, I would seek to offend. Isn't that part of what it means to be a teacher?

Good writing and good poetry, not to mention good music, are often offensive. I think of Chaucer, Solomon's Song, Dickinson, Leonard Cohen and rap.


Burning an Amerikan flag is done to jerk the chain of Amerikan fascists. In England, you would need to blaspheme the Anglican Church, in Germany just wave a flag with a swastika, and in Mexico just refer to some guy's wife as the bitch she is to get in deep trouble.

Oh well, as Tom Lehrer remarked, political satire died when they awarded Henry Kissinger the Nobel Prize.

peter hoh said...

Pogo, the teachers' union doesn't impose those rules -- the state does, in response to political pressure from the teachers' union. But yes, those are frustrating rules. And those rules keep me from teaching math at the middle school level.

The university system is also to blame, as some have made it impossible to graduate with a science teaching degree in 4 years. They require the 4 year degree in one of the basic sciences and then a 2 year masters degree in teaching. Used to be that this could all be accomplished in 4 years, but since there is a shortage of science teachers, well, you figure it out. I can't.

A high school biology teacher told me that rules in the No Child Left Behind act have made it even harder to get qualified people to teach high school science classes. Teachers who have an undergraduate degree in biology, for instance, and have been teaching general physical science classes for the past 10 years, are no longer allowed to teach those classes (even the most basic intro chemistry and physics classes). Since there are not enough qualified physical science teachers out there, these classes will have to be led by long-term subs who have even less background than the teachers they are replacing.

altoids1306 said...

geoduck2:

Chemistry was awesome. There is still a large black spot on the ceiling of a certain chem lab, when, rather than adding a little aluminum perchlorate, my buddies and I added a lot.

But back to the point at hand. You have to admit, even if you don't find burning flags offensive, that some people do. As mentioned before, burning flags is at least on par with swearing. So even without the political implications, should the teacher be doing the equivalent of swearing in class? Is this how to teach? Doesn't this say something about the teacher, his skills and effectiveness, to say nothing of his possible agenda?

And let's not dance around with "burning flags is a respectful way to dispose of them." You and I both know this was not the context intended. He was talking about free speech, not proper flag disposal.

reader_iam said...

Re; "I think that's worthy of discussion in a classroom."

I do too, but only for adults, not 7th graders.


It strikes me that adulthood would be rather too late to be discussing such issues, given--among other things--our national voting age, but maybe that's just me.

In one of the articles linked (between Ann's original and a commenter's), the reporter notes that kids were saying they couldn't believe that a teacher burned a flag. That indicates to me that the kids were previously aware of flag-burning (and really, I should hope so, given that it's been a "hot topic" at least a couple of times during the 11 years they've been on the earth) and that it has implications, and that it is controversial. We are not talking about kindergartners here, and it seems to me that we aren't giving the kids themselves very much credit at all.

As for debating controversial subjects, this one seems to me to be ... not all that much of one. I can remember, back in 7th grade (1972-93), in social studies class, participating in organized debates over Roe V. Wade! Now there's controversy for you, given the time frame. I seem to remember both sides making pretty sophisticated arguments, too. But then, we also debated the bringing home of troops from Vietnam and the Middle East war of that era during middle school, too.

Are we sure this isn't a bit of a big to-do over a relatively little to-do?

For the record, I can no more imagine burning a flag (other than for legal destruction, which I have done) than I can stripping my clothes off and walking nude down the street. (And I do think, as others have said here, that it's a tired, rather puerile exercise of political theatre, by this point.) I reflexively stand at all playing of the national anthem, even at home at the start of televised sporting events.

My son, who started first grade yesterday, already knows to stand and salute, and he also has a basic idea of how to properly handle and fold a flag.

And yeah--he's aware that there are people in the world who burn the flag because they're mad about something.

Gasp! Horrors!

Sigh.

Pogo said...

Re: "And yeah--he's aware that there are people in the world who burn the flag because they're mad about something. Gasp! Horrors!"

I agree. And such people, because they are mad, shouldn't be teaching 7th grade.

Craig Ranapia said...

Ann Althouse:

Vulgarity also 'excites' kids - so, why didn't he try and provoke them into getting excited about free speech issues by letting fly with a string of obscene epithets? It would certainly be more relevant to their lives - as any parent who has had to set boundaries about television viewing, the internet etc., or had the 'and where did you learn to say that' conversation could testify.

XWL said...

back in 7th grade (1972-93)

RIA, I'm surprised, from your posts here, and elsewhere, I wouldn't have expected you to have repeated 7th grade 19 times.

You've made tremendous progress since then, if so.

(alternate theory, typo)

As far as this 'controversy', meh.

That's right, I said, meh.

Aspasia M. said...

But back to the point at hand. You have to admit, even if you don't find burning flags offensive, that some people do. As mentioned before, burning flags is at least on par with swearing. So even without the political implications, should the teacher be doing the equivalent of swearing in class? Is this how to teach? Doesn't this say something about the teacher, his skills and effectiveness, to say nothing of his possible agenda?

And let's not dance around with "burning flags is a respectful way to dispose of them." You and I both know this was not the context intended. He was talking about free speech, not proper flag disposal.


It depends on the context. I mean, if he got the kids to stand up and chant "death to America" and dance around the flag - well that's something else.

But if he lit a miniature flag, saying for example: "Should this be a criminal act?" and presenting it in a non-judgemental, calm way. And if he presented both sides of the debate, and opened the floor to a debate on the question? Do you all really want to fire him for that?

Look, context matters here & so does his pedagogical method of how he taught his section on free speech.
-----
As to swearing in class --

I have read racially offensive language written by 19th century writers when teaching about abolition and the civil war. I read out loud a word that is very offensive, and would be considered more offensive then most swear words. We were reading a primary text in that class -- it was not said as a racial epithet, but to explain how racial epithets were used in the 19th century context.

(In all honesty, if I teach again in the future, I do not think I would do this again. Nobody complained or had a problem with it -- but if someone did complain it could seriously impact my career.)

-----------------------
I could see a Jr. High school teacher lighting a minuature flag to get the attention of the kids, but not intended as a political act. I don't know the situation, but according to the attached story here - the parents of these children didn't complain.

This says something about the parents not having a history of a problem with the teacher, and it suggests that the teacher did this as a simple way to get the attention of the kids.

Should this teacher be fired and be charged with a criminal complaint because of this? A teacher who apparently has no prior record? A teacher who doesn't have prior complaints?

That's the bottom line of where this story is going.
----------------------

I just saw a FOX News report and they are really going after this guy. John Gibson wants him fired, it looks like. The name of this teacher is on national news. The school has "reassigned" this teacher. The locality is investigating criminal charges of this teacher.

I find that scary. Sounds like a witch hunt to me.

(by the by - Fox News said something different form the linked story. John Gibson said that the students were "traumatized" this teacher & that the parents of the students in his class had complained. So either the reporting in the linked story is bad, or the Fox News reporting is bad.)

Is Fox news going to go after teachers for debates about evolution or abortion in class? What if a teacher assigned a class to read Roe v. Wade or Bowers v. Hardwick or Lawrence. (I wouldn't do it in the current political atmosphere. You might end up on Fox News with your name being smeared across the nation.)
-------------------------

I also would suggest to any teachers that you not to do anything that could be construed as controversial or offensive in their class. (Even if you do not intend it to be controversial - be very careful of how it could be construed.)

I can't believe this is a national news story. Then again, the 24 hour news channels are obsessing about a decade old murder case - so I guess this is the quality of our international and political "news."

Yikes -- now I have to go get work done.

reader_iam said...

XWL: LOL.

Well, I would have gone for a 20th stab at that grade level, but you know, after a certain point, it becomes clear that persistence can be an overrated virtue.

Actually, didn't I ever mention that I was the inspiration for "Groundhog Day"?

Really actually, the thought of repeating 7th grade, or any part of middle school (or high school, or school prior to college, period) would be my first nomination for an addition to Dante's circles of hell.

Shudder.

Pogo: I'm not clear from the links that the teacher was mad. If he was/is, that of course is a critical point in assessing the circumstances.

Eli Blake said...

Hey, all you people complaining about schools, teachers, etc.

If you really cared that much about it, YOU'D TEACH! If you have a bachelors degree, getting a teaching certificate is generally as easy as taking a couple of classes that you could get at the local community college, and for that matter in many states they can give you a 'district certification' that allows you to start in the classroom even before you take those classes.

It is no secret that there is a shortage of teachers in American schools. So it wouldn't be that hard, if you have a bachelor's degree, to get hired to teach if you really want to. You'd probably take a pay cut, but that is part of teaching.

So then, who chooses to teach in a high school? Simple: people who are motivated more by a desire to help kids learn, change the world, or maybe push some agenda than they are by a desire to make money. Maybe even a few people who feel that making money is evil, but mostly just people who don't feel it is a high priority. Then they impart that philosophy in the classroom, not even consciously in some cases but because that is who they are. So quit complaining about liberal teachers. Either 1. Volunteer to teach yourself, 2. pay teachers good enough so that not just people who think making money isn't important would go into teaching (yes, this might involve raising taxes), or 3. don't complain that people who teach are mostly people who don't share your philosophy on life.

It amazes me when conservatives don't spend money, and then complain about the results.

reader_iam said...

"... kids were traumatized ..."

Traumatized?

Oh, good grief. Oh, please. Traumatized? Either John Gibson--who jumped the shark long ago, IMHO--is engaging in hyperbole or the parents are.

Otherwise, what a generation of fainting fannies and freddies we are raising! Not a a reassuring thought.

charlotte said...

Few people here are really addressing what limits, if any, there should be to a teacher's demonstration of free speech to middle schoolers at tax-funded public schools. Would it be OK for such a teacher to burn a Bible or stomp on a Koran to get his students' attention? How about shredding the Palestinian banner?

What about bringing an effigy of Bushhitler or that of a pedophile priest into the room and parading it around as an example of free speech? Should our kids watch their teacher (and often role model) taunt independent women as ball-busting witches who will never be as good as men? What about displaying a protest placard that reads, "Muslims and Mexicans Not Welcome".

Free speech has so many expressions. Teachers could act out all sorts of offensive expression to "motivate" their pre-teen students, and apparently this is OK to many of us. If your ox isn't gettin' gored in this instance, who cares, right?

(Eli Blake, I volunteer-taught at my kid's schools, mentored students, and later home schooled for advanced curricular, not religious, reasons.)

Freeman Hunt said...

If your ox isn't gettin' gored in this instance, who cares, right?

You're assuming that our oxen aren't being gored by the flag burning. I don't like flag burning, but that's pretty much the point. What is the point of teaching free speech only as it regards generally acceptable speech? Speech that everyone likes doesn't need protection. Freedom of speech is specifically guaranteed to protect unpopular speech.

We don't know that this was a teacher's "demonstration of free speech." It was probably specifically a demonstration of offensive free speech. He probably chose flag burning over other options because it wouldn't single out particular students as it can be assumed all of his students live in the United States. His choice of flag burning is more universal than the other ideas people have mentioned. It also doesn't appeal to 7th graders' puerile interest in bad words.

charlotte said...

Freeman Hunt,

You didn't answer as to what limits parents could reasonably expect, if any. Are there none in demonstrating "offensive free speech" to seventh graders?

And what's wrong with "singling out" certain students with offensive free speech if the point is to offend as a "stunt"?

Freeman Hunt said...

You didn't answer as to what limits parents could reasonably expect, if any.

Yes. I think you can expect limits. Content should fall within a PG rating. I would argue that flag burning does.

And what's wrong with "singling out" certain students with offensive free speech if the point is to offend as a "stunt"?

Children that age are extremely sensitive to being singled out. Singling out was easily avoidable in this case by doing something universal. I would call it an "example" and not a "stunt."

charlotte said...

Freeman,

You didn't actually answer concerning the specific examples I gave. Presumably, since it wouldn't be a sexually or violently "R" rated incitement, it would be OK to, say, display a Koran in a piss bottle to teach offensive free speech to seventh graders?

Aspasia M. said...

Should Mark Twain's book, Huckelberry Finn be banned from schools because it contains the "n" word?

Is this an example of offensive free speech?

why or why not?

Freeman Hunt said...

Presumably, since it wouldn't be a sexually or violently "R" rated incitement, it would be OK to, say, display a Koran in a piss bottle to teach offensive free speech to seventh graders?

What would be the point of specifically singling out the Muslim students? It would also seem to violate separation of church and state for a teacher to make condemnatory statements of certain religions. So I don't know if that particular example would be allowed or not, but either way, I don't see the advantage of that over the flag burning.

Aspasia M. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
charlotte said...

Well, OK then, Freeman. There apparently are inherent "advantages" to burning the US flag in front of American middle schoolers, as opposed to engaging in demonstrations of other types of potentially offensive free speech.

I give up!

Bob said...

Stage a debate about ... what should happen to a teacher who burns a flag in class to get students excited about free speech issues. And don't punish the teacher.

Some debate--you've already predetermined the outcome.

Freeman Hunt said...

There apparently are inherent "advantages" to burning the US flag in front of American middle schoolers, as opposed to engaging in demonstrations of other types of potentially offensive free speech.

As regards the other types you mentioned, yes, I would agree with that statement. Your examples of alternate activities were not analogous to the activity that actually took place. Alternates mentioned have either been age inappropriate, needlessly individualized, or could run afoul of other Constitutional protections. None of these qualities applies to the flag burning.

altoids1306 said...

Geoduck2:

But if he lit a miniature flag, saying for example: "Should this be a criminal act?" and presenting it in a non-judgemental, calm way. And if he presented both sides of the debate, and opened the floor to a debate on the question? Do you all really want to fire him for that?

Look, context matters here & so does his pedagogical method of how he taught his section on free speech.


There's no evidence that he was that calm - I've never seen a calm flag-burning - but let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Let's say you're right. But even then, he was way over the line. Why?

As I stated previously:

Deliberately burning a flag, simply at face value, is a political statement. But lest anyone wonder whether he was burning flags to scare-off bears, he burned a flag to make a point about free speech. He knew that this is a point of widespread political contention. He didn't stop at debating about flag-burning, he burned one. Let me say that again. He intentionally performed an act that one side finds abhorrent.

It is literally impossible to burn a flag non-judgementally. The very act is laden with symbolism. Why isn't this obvious? I can't make it any plainer.

If you want to argue he shouldn't be fired, sure, we can have a reasonable discussion about that. If you're arguing that burning flags, in any context, is good teaching, I'm sorry, that's just ridiculous to me.

altoids1306 said...

To put it another way, is it possible to "non-judgementally" burn a Koran?

Freeman Hunt said...

Deliberately burning a flag, simply at face value, is a political statement. But lest anyone wonder whether he was burning flags to scare-off bears, he burned a flag to make a point about free speech.

It's all about context. What is the political statement he is making? America is horrible? I don't think so. His statement in burning the flag could easily be, "In this country we protect free speech. That means protecting unpopular speech. You live in a country where speech like this is protected."

Ignoring context doesn't make sense. We don't ignore context when people burn a flag to dispose of it. We don't assume that there's really a sinister underlying political statement. Why ignore the context here and assume that this teacher is some kind of protest jockey?

To put it another way, is it possible to "non-judgementally" burn a Koran?

In a madrasa in the Middle East with a Muslim social studies teacher demonstrating to his Muslim class the kinds of things Americans are allowed to do. Or demonstrating the surah (I don't remember the number; it's somewhere in there.) that the Koran is written in all of creation and would still exist even if the printed book did not.

That's really not a totally analogous example because there are many who believe that the Koran, by virtue of being Allah's word, must be respected as a sort of divine writing. I've never heard anyone attribute divine-ish qualities to the flag.

charlotte said...

And THAT's the kind of thinking that kept most western news outlets from re-publishing those so-called religiously offensive riots-and-death-fatwas-upon-you Mohammed cartoons. Some free speech.

Freeman Hunt said...

And THAT's the kind of thinking that kept most western news outlets from re-publishing those so-called religiously offensive riots-and-death-fatwas-upon-you Mohammed cartoons.

Note that I said you *could* "non-judgementally" burn a Koran. I pointed out that it wasn't analogous, and it isn't, but both flag and Koran burning are and should be protected speech. I would have republished the cartoons.

reader_iam said...

A thought:

I think people are missing the durability of the symbolism of the flag of United States. That is to say, I think they're underestimating the nature of of its durability.

That nature is exactly why it can withstand (unless people go all oversensitive) creative, or inflammatory, or even abusive uses of it. It can certainly withstand a a burning by a KY teacher as a lead-up to assigning an over-the-weekend essay on free speech.

Or even whatever other morality play is being enacted just now, based on people's inflamed and at-the-ready reactions to the limited facts that have been publicly releaseed.

Our flag has survived ambiguity, and does and can and will so.

It's durable.

Are we? Do we live up that?

Quite a different question, and, perhaps, answer, I think.

PatCA said...

Catherine,
I agree with you and would venture to say most reasonable people do also. It's always frustrating though to argue with someone whose answer to A is Yeah, but what about B?

altoids1306 said...

Since all the apologists seem intent on ignoring the main points of my statements, let me state them so concisely that they are impossible to ignore.

1. He didn't stop at debating about flag-burning, he burned one. He intentionally performed an act that one side finds abhorrent.

2. It is literally impossible to burn a flag non-judgementally. The very act is laden with symbolism.

3. I'm not arguing about legality, I arguing about whether burning flags in classrooms constitutes good teaching.

Wickedpinto said...

I think "letter writing campaigns" are retarded.

I suggest, in this particular case? Everyone send that teacher a red white and blue T-shirt, then to tell their children to ask him to burn the flag again.

Cedarford said...

Abraham wrote: I think the point here is that while this is excused as the toleration of thought-provoking speech, it is extremely probable that he would in fact be severely disciplined for doing other, less "politically correct" actions.
People aren't to concerned, I don't think, if the lesson being taught is that "even offensive speech is protected." But the blatant double standards mean that the actual lesson being taught is "hating on the United States is not offensive."


I agree with his point strongly and add another comment.

1. If you exist in a school environment where a single grave lapse in PC, such as burning a Koran, a Mexican flag, or gay porography would result in strong repercussions to the teacher, but any anti-American or anti-Christian "demonstration" is regarded entirely differently - as protected free speech, you send a strong message to those 7th graders. That, to the average 7th grade mind, it is OK and permissable to attack your country (because all the people saying America is bad must be right!!) - but incredibly wrong to attack any other symbol.

2. The discussion seems to ignore that public school, properly, is NOT a pure free speech environment. Schools and school boards have wide discretion on regulating speech, or actions related to free speech, that disrupt or impair a learning environment or the discipline of the teachers and students therein. And control or materials and actions that fall under unrestricted free speech in larger society but are carefully screened and evaluated (or should be) for age appropriateness. Parents expect that. What is OK for college students...a 1st-Amendment protected R-Rated movie of high merit that has swearing, nudity, violence in it...is highly inappropriate for 4th graders.

So any discipline discussion would have to go past the red herring of "any teacher has absolute free speech rights: - to include resolution on if this teacher had sought approval of his personal demonstration outside the curriculum, if it was within his required teaching guidelines, if it was sanctioned as OK by his supervisors. I somehow doubt his management would say the 12-13 year olds were at a mental age to understand why burning a US flag was OK, while desecrating most other symbols or a teacher showing free speech protected pornography to 12-13 year olds in class would get serious disciplinary action.

Freeman Hunt said...

Since all the apologists seem intent on ignoring the main points of my statements, let me state them so concisely that they are impossible to ignore.

I have specifically addressed points two and three. I have disagreed with point two saying that you cannot throw out context and that flag burning is not a de facto political statement. We have been discussing point three at some length. As for point one, that is a statement of fact, not a point to be argued.

Freeman Hunt said...

Except I do take issue with the "one side" part of your point one. I'm conservative, but I don't think that my side has a monopoly on loving flag and country.

Side note: My earlier violation of concreteness has been bothering me. The image of several "oxen being gored" has been stuck in my head.

charlotte said...

"I'm conservative, but I don't think that my side has a monopoly on loving flag and country."

This is an interesting point if you turn it around, Freeman. How often do centrists and conservatives burn the US flag in protest?

Doesn't one side of the political spectrum have a de facto monopoly on burning our flag as a form of "free speech", because the rest of us are offended by the symbolism and/or puerility of setting fire to the flag that represents us all, no matter the President and US policy?

Freeman Hunt said...

The fact that all A are B does not prove that all B are A.

Even if flag burners are all leftists, that doesn't mean that all leftists are flag burners.

Freeman Hunt said...

I certainly never said all leftists or Dems burn our flag. Where did you get that?

Because we had been discussing Icepick's assertion that "one side" finds flag burning abhorrent. My apologies for misunderstanding you.

This is probably the main place where you and I disagree. I have not seen any evidence that he was protesting anything or making a political statement by using flag burning as his example in class. I don't attribute any political motivations to him because to me his example was a good one and makes perfect sense. I am also highly skeptical that any child had his feelings hurt during the lesson.

Freeman Hunt said...

That's weird. It ate catherine's comment.

charlotte said...

I'll repost:

"Even if flag burners are all leftists, that doesn't mean that all leftists are flag burners."

I didn't say that, Freeman. Read, again. The form of free speech the teacher chose to demonstrate to his seventh graders is an act that mostly leftists and many anti-Americans engage in both here and abroad. Surely an arch conservative has burned a flag here or there, but you never hear about it. I certainly never said all leftists or Dems burn our flag, or that even many of them do. Where did you get that?

Would it have been acceptable for the teacher to bring into class protest signs with pictures of aborted fetuses on them? I think not. The burning of the American flag is just as offensive to many people (some of those children could very well have loved wars deployed overseas,) or more so because it is so broad a slam at the country, than would be the demonstration of anti-abortion free speech which is targeted and on point (whether you agree with it or not.)

While we should keep flag-burning legal on the street corner or on one's property, it's simply too tasteless and intellectually lame an expression of free speech to demonstrate- not talk about- to middle schoolers. Do these middle schoolers have the right to burn the flag at school, as well, (under fire-safe conditions), to exercise their free speech? Do federal workers get to burn flags and effigies in their offices as a political exercise or apolitical demonstration of free speech and keep their jobs? Doubt it.

The exercise of free speech doesn't mean freedom from censure for what one says or does and where one commits it. Work place rules and general social consideration should always be taken into account. All this teacher showed many of us is that he's an offensive attention seeker who may have wished to indirectly point out the "fascism" of those who object to his rude act (despite his protestations of innocence.) It would seem some of his students who weren't afraid to take offense are actually more mature and on point than he. And, no, I don't think that was the response he was trying to elicit.

Jim said...

It has never been true that what is taught in public school needs to pass the censorship of parents. There are many of us out here, lovers of liberty, who are not parents and who support public education, if at all, partly because it liberates young minds from the oppression of their very parents.

Burning the flag was age-appropriate, since young minds need to be liberated from fascism before they turn to flag-waving and patriotism.

charlotte said...

Last thought (not for Jim):

I don't understand what free speech the teacher was demonstrating by burning the American flag without any accompanying political expression, because, absent specific context and explanation, burning our flag is a generally considered to be an anti-America statement. Was the teacher who claimed neutrality actually hewing to this subtext, or was he simply committing a stupid act of torching something to give offense for no particular reason?

In the latter case, the middle school social studies teacher wouldn't be demonstrating "free speech", merely a jerky act; the teaching point could have only been about the legality of burning a flag rather than speaking freely. In the former, the lesson learned is that he is, indeed, "speaking", though he disingenuously denies it.

Joan said...

Catherine, you said before: You missed the point. Burning flags that are important to people can never be just a "stunt," even if a teacher claims it was just a teaching thing.

But then you asked: Was the teacher who claimed neutrality actually hewing to this subtext, or was he simply committing a stupid act of torching something to give offense for no particular reason?

My take is that he committed a stupid act for no particular reason, which is why I classified it as a stunt, a meaningless act designed to captivate his students with the sight of the pretty, pretty flames.

BTW, I agree that parents should expect limitations on the speech that students -- even past middle school, 7th grade is considered jr high around here -- will be exposed to in the classroom. We have to trust that the teachers aren't complete idiots, or we'll all end up home-schooling.