Friday, November 11, 2016

Pledging Allegiance

Even from my analog cave, I do get trickle-down news of things like the controversy over Colin Kaepernick's stand/sit/kneel decisions.  I don't really want to comment on this per se, except to say that I don't see how it could be disrespectful to soldiers sworn to uphold the Constitution for a citizen to generally exercise his rights under that Constitution.  To the contrary, the oath of soldiers in the US is to protect those very rights, so a civic-minded citizen making a political statement protected by the First Amendment is in fact showing his appreciation of soldiers' work in the most profound way.

Anyway, I stumbled across this other article that muses on the larger implications of when children see role models like Kaepernick practicing civil disobedience.  It made me recall my upbringing in the Chicago Public Schools, where Pledges and order and standing at attention were indeed the norm, though probably less so than in today's climate of uniforms and standard tests and draconian discipline.  I often chafed against certain aspects of this system, but I am glad that I went through it as opposed to a friendlier alternative school model.  This is because the things that I chafed at in school are the very things I still chafe at in society, so learning to navigate, negotiate, and often outright resist what I saw as unjust or absurd rules was valuable training for life after school.  A great example of young people resisting the system in creative and powerful (and also morally ambiguous) ways was when some of my peers at a different high school, the best in their class, threatened to intentionally flunk a test that would determine funding levels and ratings for their school.  They were protesting what they saw as an excessive focus on standardized testing (and this was before the boom in tests of the 2000s!).  Some people agreed with them, while others decried their lack of collective spirit to help their school prosper.  But either way, they were thinking critically, grappling with complex questions, and learning how to exercise their role as citizens.  This is the type of stuff we need more of in education, so I am happy to have had the opportunity to have come through a rather rigid system that inspired us to push back.

Of course I'm saying all this as a middle-class white kid, who didn't and doesn't encounter in society at large an all-encompassing, stifling repression on my movement and thoughts.  A conservative, order-obsessed public school culture was good for me because it was just a taste of repression in my otherwise charmed life.  For a kid constantly subjected to oppression and humiliation in every sphere of public life, as are many of the black and brown kids in our large urban school districts, adding school to the list of repressive, unsafe spaces is not a constructive experience nor a formation in civic life, as it was in my case.

Anyway, I thought the above Kaepernick article was an interesting reflection on the interplay between loyalty, patriotism, obedience, and critical disobedience.  It's not easy to know what is the most coherent way of responding to things like the custom of standing up for the National Anthem.  But it's good that people are asking themselves hard questions and trying to find the right way to be in the world.

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