A Lesson from My Elementary Classroom about the Confederate Flag

I started teaching back in the mid 70’s, which admittedly were “wild and woolier” times in schools than the times we live in today The school in which I taught was an alternative school sponsored by parents, but run as a part of the local school system. One of the problems I experienced in my classroom from time to time was with kids “swearing” or using inappropriate language. Frankly, I had no personal problem with my students using such language. I grew up in the sixties and early 70’s. For my peers and I a sentence wasn’t complete unless it contained multiple, multi-syllabic variations of words beginning with f and ending with k. Besides, I believed words were just words, and they only had shock value if we gave it to them.

On the other hand, my peers and I did enjoy the shock value of the language, as I’m sure my students did as well. But my parents finally asked me to stop using four letter words around them as the words offended them. I snidely replied that I would do so if they stopped using certain five letter words that offended me. They agreed and asked what the words were. My reply; Nixon and Agnew.

But within my parents response to my teenage snark was the key to dealing with swearing in my classroom, and ultimately to the confederate flag. They didn’t tell me the words were bad, or not to use the words. They told me not to use those words around them because my parents found them offensive. I used that same approach with the children in my own classroom.

When kids used what some folks consider to be inappropriate language in my classroom we first had a class discussion about it. I told my class that those words made some kids uncomfortable, and made some of the kids parents uncomfortable. Because that language made some people uncomfortable it was unacceptable in our classroom. I neither made nor implied any judgment about the language itself nor did I say they couldn’t use it elsewhere.

That simple message, that in our community we don’t do things publicly that make other members of our community uncomfortable is the same message we should be giving to the folks who want to retain the confederate flag. They should be welcome to retain the flag for their own private purposes and fly it on their own homes and vehicles if they wish. But we do know that the flag offends some folks, and whereas some people see it as representing a distinct history and heritage, others see it as a symbol of hatred and racism. Simply because a significant number of people are offended by it is reason enough that it should no longer be displayed in public spaces.

My students learned this lesson about how we treat other members of our community in my elementary school classroom. I only wish that schools were still focused on teaching children how to treat others well in our society instead of on the common core, testing and test prep.

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