Most people would call me opinionated. I’m passionate about what I believe. So much so that I oftentimes come across as intolerant to other people’s opinions, which is unfortunate since I go out of my way to read and understand varying opinions of all people, even if they bother me all the way down to my moral core. (These days that happens pretty often.) Still, it’s an aspect of my character I need to work on.

More importantly than how I’m perceived or how freely I give my opinions, I believe you need to take the time to think about issues and, when necessary, stand up (or sit down) for what you believe in. This is what my husband and I teach our daughter. This might be why a few days ago I found myself staring at the cursor on my screen and typing the words “Dear Principal, I am writing in regards to an incident today in class.”

This might be why a few days ago I found myself staring at the cursor on my screen and typing the words “Dear Principal, I am writing in regards to an incident today in class.”

I’m more than happy to wade into the “take a knee” discussion with people who want to have an actual, civil discussion. (So that pretty much excludes almost all people who use Facebook or Twitter as their primary means of communication about their opinions.) However, I did not expect to get pulled into a debate on “taking a knee” via my daughter’s school.

It all started when….

It all started when my daughter came home a few days ago and recounted a story about one of her teachers who lectured students in class who chose not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. My daughter is in 7th grade at a public middle school. She didn’t kneel, but she did sit in her chair quietly. She has her own reasons for doing this. As parents, our only requirement should our daughter choose to exercise her right to free speech and protest is that she has thought through those reasons and can articulate them when asked. (Suffice it to say, she has her reasons, which if you’d like to ask her, she’ll tell you.)

The teacher, who I will call Ms./Mr. X since my goal here is not to single out a particular person, didn’t notice my daughter sitting that day. She/he was too focused on the boys in the front of the class who rose out of their chairs and dropped down on one knee. This prompted a one-way lecture shaming the students for their choice to kneel that made my daughter uncomfortable. She didn’t understand the feeling, she’s very intelligent and thoughtful, but still only in 7th grade. She didn’t realize that this was one of her first real-life glimpses of people being persecuted for their beliefs. If she’s my daughter, it probably won’t be her last. It’s hard to stand up for what you believe in. It takes courage and guts and she’s got both.

My daughter has something else though, critical thinking skills and a big heart. Through friends, family and her parents she has been exposed to all types of opinions. She knows it’s important to be open to other’s thoughts. Therefore, she listened carefully to her teacher, trying to internalize Ms.Mr. X’s point of view.

The aftermath…

After the class and throughout the day though, my daughter couldn’t stop thinking about what happened. We talked about it during a walk through the neighborhood and up until dinner. She tried to process it. The experience left her with a nagging sense of discomfort that it took her some time to understand. The problem? My daughter sat and listened and tried to understand another person’s point of view. The teacher didn’t do the same.

The other problem, if you’re going to mess with a writer’s daughter, be ready for Mama Bear to break out her sharpened pencil claws.

The other problem, if you’re going to mess with a writer’s daughter, be ready for Mama Bear to break out her sharpened pencil claws.

The letter…

While my daughter thought about how she’d handle class the next day (sit? stand? talk to her teacher?), I stewed, angry that my daughter had been made to feel this way. Angry that the school system flouted the law. (And yes, free speech and expression are still the law in the US.) However, instead of letting this anger push my fingertips against the keyboard and shoot off an irate email, I waited. I gave myself many hours of thoughtful consideration of what to say. I paced, I rolled words over in my brain. And then I opened my laptop.

(Note: As I stated earlier, I have no desire to call out specific people here. That’s not the point. Therefore, names/information/specifics have been modified and I’ve removed some items for brevity. Passionate writing sometimes lead to long-winded statements!)

Dear Principal,

I am writing in regards to an incident today in Ms./Mr. X’s class. While I understand that this is a politically charged time, I do not think it is appropriate for teachers to force their opinions on their students or make their students feel bad for having an opinion contrary to the teacher. This morning, according to my daughter, Ms./Mr. X told children who were kneeling/sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance that they must stand and recite all the words, stating it was “disrespectful” to our country to not stand and told the children to, ironically given the demand of them, “think for themselves.”

While I respect Ms./Mr. X’s opinion, it is an opinion. The fact is that the County school rules state that “Students are expected to recite the Pledge of Allegiance…unless the student or his or her parent objects to participation in such exercises. Nonparticipating students are expected to sit quietly, or to stand silently, and to refrain from engaging in any disruptive or distracting activity. A student’s decision to participate or not to participate should be respected.”

As far as I understand it, no one was being disruptive. And if anyone is being disrespected here, it’s the students.

In addition, my husband and I go out of our way to explain to our daughter the various opinions on matters so she can “think for herself.” In fact, when recounting this incident, my daughter was very gracious to Ms./Mr. X, noting that she/he didn’t have a mean tone and was passionate about the topic. My daughter respected her teacher’s opinion but it also clearly upset my daughter, who wants to be a Civil Rights lawyer like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that her teacher didn’t show the same respect for the opinions of the students.

There are plenty of people, including current and former military members, who feel that they fought for this country so that people could exercise their first amendment rights, which include not standing for the pledge or the national anthem. Not to mention that forcing people to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance demeans and minimizes the act by relegating it to something people are forced to do rather than something they choose to do. 

If Ms./Mr. X truly wants the students to think for themselves, she/he should have encouraged the students to discuss their differing opinions so that they can learn to understand each other. However, her/his behavior did the opposite, it shut down dialogue and belittled the intelligence of the students.

My daughter tells me Ms./Mr. X is a great teacher. She has the utmost respect for her/him and enjoys the class. I am not looking to get Ms./Mr. X in trouble. However, I need to voice that I think what she/he did was extremely inappropriate and technically against school and county policies. I’m not asking for any action other than to request that Ms./Mr. X not engage in further conversations about opinions unless she/he wants to truly embrace the concept of allowing students to think from themselves by having an open discussion.

I thank you for taking the time to read this email.

Sincerely,

K. L.

There are many people who likely don’t agree with my stance on this issue. But if that’s the takeaway from this blog, I’ve either done a poor job of making my point or the people reading it aren’t interested in dialogue. But that’s what we need. That’s what this whole issue has always been about. There needs to be a discussion about what’s prompting people to “take a knee” or protest at all. And that discussion needs to start with the adults. If Middle School students are bearing the weight of being our only moral touchstone, we’re failing to be good adult leaders. So get off Facebook. Get off Twitter. Read an article from a publication that has a different opinion than yours. Talk to someone who disagrees with you, in a civil manner. Start with a discussion of the very different reactions and consequences to Colin Kaepernick and Tim Tebow’s choices to kneel. It’s a decent discussion point worth thoughtful exploration. Try to understand each other. Put compassion and empathy ahead of your fears and anger. And maybe, I know it sounds crazy, be open to that those words we’ve for some reason deemed so terrible: compromise and change. If we can’t do that, we’re not the country we think we are.

 

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