We weren’t in the stadium where the singer was performing, and no one could see us, but there wasn’t a peep in that crowd, which had been boisterous just a moment before. I was actually surprised at this behavior from a New York crowd. I don’t know if this would have happened in New York before 9/11.
Now we’re seeing professional and school athletes taking the knee during the national anthem. This is happening all over the country, sometimes with the approval of the team’s coaches. The athletes say they are showing their patriotism, but through peaceful protest.
I don’t know what to make of it. We all have different ways of expressing our feelings for our country. It’s a confusing time for Americans and it has to be hard for educators. What’s the right thing to do? How should they lead their students?
Patriotism is one of those areas where kids are confused, too. Is it cool to be patriotic? Will they be teased if they show their patriotism? Teased if they don’t? What should educators do? What’s okay and what’s unacceptable?
For kids, going against the crowd is always tough. It’s a topic that we focus on in our books for them, because we want them to have role models who did the right thing, no matter how inconvenient or embarrassing it was.
It’s not always “cool” to do what you think is right. Kids can be teased, shunned, and embarrassed. We want to show them that it’s cool to care, and that it’s okay to be bold and speak up for what they believe. We show them role models—other kids who have spoken up and survived—and who are proud they did! One such story, “I Pledge Allegiance,” which was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Kids, seems particularly relevant these days.
Beth Cato tells us that it was the first day of junior high school and she was excited, but nervous, as she walked into the locker room for her first-period P.E. class. She had trouble with the combination lock on her gym locker, but so did the other girls.
She was settling in when the speaker squawked in the corner of the locker room: “Good morning, Woodrow Wilson Junior High School students! Welcome to the first day of a fabulous new school year. We’ll begin with the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Beth immediately put her right hand over her heart and a few tears came to her eyes. Every time she did the Pledge, she thought of her grandfather. He had died almost a year before, but she still missed him every day. He had served in World War II and the flag had a very special meaning for him. In Beth’s family, even if they heard the Pledge of Allegiance on TV, they all stopped whatever they were doing and put their hands on their hearts.
The second morning of school, Beth noticed something odd in the gym locker room, where she went again for first period. Some of the girls talked through the Pledge and continued to change their clothes. The morning after that, even fewer girls paused to place their hands over their hearts. Beth looked in at the gym teachers and was shocked to see them talking and laughing through the Pledge.
By the second week of school, Beth was the only girl in the whole locker room that stood for the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s when the comments started, because you know how kids that age can be.“What do you think you’re doing?” sneered one girl.“We don’t have to do the Pledge anymore.” Another one chimed in, ““Yeah, there’s no one to make us do it!”
Beth started changing into her gym clothes in the bathroom so she could do the Pledge without anyone seeing her -but it felt wrong to be hiding like that. She felt worse every day, like she was betraying the memory of her grandfather. He had risked his life fighting for our flag. She had even seen him cry when he’d heard Lee Greenwood sing, “I’m Proud To Be An American.”
Beth finally mustered the courage to confront the other girls. She practiced all weekend, and when Monday morning came she was nervous but resolute.
When the Pledge of Allegiance started on the speaker, Beth stood in full view in the locker room and put her right hand over her heart. A girl nearby slammed her locker shut and looked over at her. “Why are you doing that?” she asked. She wasn’t trying to be mean to Beth—she was just asking.
Beth explained about her grandfather. Over the next few weeks, Beth gave other girls the same answer. Everyone stopped asking and there was no more teasing.
Beth realized these girls weren’t really trying to be unpatriotic. Every one of them probably had a family member who was a veteran or was currently serving. There was a Navy base nearby, so many of those girls had enlisted dads.
Those seventh graders were just rebelling against something they were forced to do in school. It wasn’t about the Pledge per se. But Beth wasn’t going to let peer pressure make her do what she felt was the wrong thing, a disrespectful thing that dishonored her family and her country and all the currently serving service members.
Beth tells us, “I never inspired other girls to do the Pledge along with me. That was okay. They made a choice; I made mine. It was enough that I stood there, in the open, to say those words. I was doing it for Grandpa, but more than that, I was doing it for myself.”
She concludes her story by saying, “Grandpa raised me to be proud to be an American, and that pride didn’t stop because I was in seventh grade.”
We all want to see our students stand strong for their convictions, right? It’s our hope that role models like Beth will help our children power through those tough years, confront the bullies and naysayers, and stand up for what they believe. They’ll be better adults for it, and ones with fewer regrets.