Remember September 11, 2001United We Stand!
Or so proclaims the sign over the entrance to my children’s elementary school. And as if the US flag on that sign wasn’t enough, there’s a faded paper flag two windows away that came out of the local newspaper in the days immediately following 9-11. And as if that weren’t enough, there are, of course, the cloth flags hanging outside and in the lobby. And I’m sure there’s at least one in each classroom.
I stared at that sign over the door when I visited the school the other day and wondered why we have signs hanging in our schools encouraging children on a daily basis to remember the atrocities of that autumn day. What is the motive? What is the message? It seems to be directing children to remember the tragedy of that day and be proud to be an American. Why do children need the murder of 2500 people to make them proud to be American? And why do they need so damned many images of the flag? Will they forget if they don’t see it? Then it’s not a very strong symbol, is it?
The plethora of flags at the school really made me uncomfortable in a way I am trying to put my finger on. It reminded me that I was not taught to question the actions of the government when I was in school — at least not in elementary school. I was taught that only “other” countries use propaganda to manipulate their citizens. I learned to sing patriotic songs and pledge my allegiance to God and my country. We never talked about why we did those things — it was just part of the day. We didn’t have an honest discussion of what patriotism is — we were taught that patriotism was about displaying the flag with “pride” without much consideration of what that flag symbolizes.
Critical thought wasn’t, in my experience, part of the curriculum. Parents, myself included, give some of their authority over the content of their child’s education to the school when they enroll their children. There is information that is overt and there is information that is covert. Our children are not just informed by what is said, they are informed by the body language of the person speaking, by the subtle nuances of speech and most certainly by images around them. Images of flags and slogans, like the one on the door that caught my attention make me feel slightly queasy. Putting a slogan with a symbol is like dictating what that symbol means and in the case of the flag, I find that to be a little too much like marketing for my tastes. (As an aside, I wish that “United We Stand” had a different meaning in American society today. I wish it meant “United in Diversity.” I fear it means, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” To paraphrase a certain village idiot.)
So what should I do? For me, yanking my kids out of school is not the answer. I think what I will do is use this as an opportunity to talk about things like patriotism and the effect of print advertising. It is something they will face in their lifetime whether it’s now or later and I would like the chance to weigh in while they’re young.