Patriotic, not Political

Today, football teams all over the country responded to the President's remarks concerning behavior during the National Anthem and I've been unusually upset by the situation. I'm typically quite reserved about expressing my political beliefs. Throughout the day, as I continued to allow my thoughts to dwell on this controversy, I found it remarkable that this would be the one thing that would get me so riled up. But as my emotions formed into words, I found it even more remarkable what exactly I was really riled up about.

At the high school where I work, every morning during the third period announcements students are invited to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I always participate. In fact, I don't just stand. I actually say the pledge of allegiance loud enough that people can really hear me. I do that because I am deliberately presenting an example before my students: that of an American who is proud to be an American. I do this in such a manner for exactly one reason: in the classroom of some thirty people who are being given the option to stand for the Pledge, I am the only one standing.

I am a mathematics and computer science teacher. I don't teach history, I don't teach government. I don't teach law. I don't have the opportunity to teach anything that I think make this country great or anything We the People can do to keep it that way. If I used my classroom to do any of that, I wouldn't be doing my job. Instead, I get this one opportunity – the opportunity to say the Pledge of Allegiance – and that is when I take a stand.

I stand for freedom. Specifically I stand for a country that allows its citizens to not have to stand. Every time I stand during the Pledge of Allegiance and I notice no one else standing, I remember that this is a country that grants them rights despite their unwillingness to stand and I absolutely love that. I love it so much that I wonder if anyone could simultaneously fully understand all that comes with being an American and yet remain seated. We still have some serious problems. It could even be said that it is impossible to understand the profundity of our problems and continue standing, but I will say this: a line has to be drawn somewhere, a line to divide our nationality from our issues. Our nationality isn't defined by our politics, only our Constitution. Our Constitution is what enables us to tackle our problems. We can't accomplish anything by disengaging from our nationality, but by embracing it. It is okay to say: "I am an American and thoroughly unsatisfied with the direction our country is headed in." In fact, you can even refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance just to bring attention to your disapproval. Personally, the fact that we are a country that tolerates, even invites that form of expression gives me all the more confidence in our Constitution's inherit ability to better our Union.

I take a stand because I'm tired of seeing my students confused by adult behavior surrounding politics. In 2009, the school interrupted its normal program for an assembly to watch Barack Obama's inauguration. In 2017 it felt more like we were climbing under a rock to hide from the outside world. I've heard my students made jokes about President Trump and while I initially allowed and even chuckled at that sort of joking, I soon began to question what made my students engage in that type of humor: my students are only modeling what they hear from adults. Now I'm not a huge fan of President Trump by any measure, but to me, it's a problem when political division confuses our youth's perception of citizenship, national pride and American identity.

We the People of the United States of America have a voice. When the results of a vote are announced, that doesn't turn us into a country of losers and winners. This is how democracy works: It starts with the premise that everyone's voice is equal. So if my candidate loses and your candidate wins, on the basis of that premise of equality – not the outcome – I am supporting the winner and fighting anyone else who tries to interfere with the result. We are not a country of losers and winners. My job isn't to criticize the President, neither is it to agree with him. My job isn't to add to the cacophony of rumor and conspiracy theory about what he is trying to do to this country. My job is to help him be the best President he can be. I can do that by acting on my responsibilities as a citizen and if there is anything I disagree with, there is a respectful and responsible way to go about trying to enact change. The way I see it, if I did anything else, I wouldn't be doing my job.


Flag photograph by Jnn13, distributed under a CC-BY 3.0 license.