Monday, November 28, 2016

The National Anthem and the Right of the People (even students) to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances

During this past August, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand during the playing of the National Anthem to protest the treatment of people of color by the United States government. He has since been joined by other professional athletes, and recently an entire college basketball team knelt rather than stand during the playing of the National Anthem before their basketball game. Many people probably think that professional athletes, as adults, should be allowed to do what they want. But college athletes can also be considered adults. In either case, they should be prepared for the possible consequences of their actions from fans and the general public. However, do we extend the same rights to high school students? Do high school students have the right to petition the government in such a visible and often controversial action?

I know what you are thinking: Dr. Simpson, you are treading where angels fear to tread! I have been told that before. However, I believe deep down in my soul that this issue should be addressed. I cite two United States Supreme Court cases which establish a strong precedent for the right of K-12 students to petition the government.

The first case is the West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette ruling in 1943, during World War II. This time is often considered the most patriotic and unified time in American History. The West Virginia State Board of Education ordered that the salute to the flag be a regular part of the program of activities in the public schools, and that all teachers and pupils be required to participate in the salute honoring the nation represented by the flag. It was clearly stated that refusal to salute the Flag be regarded as an Act of insubordination, and would be dealt with accordingly.

This policy was enforced against Jehovah’s Witnesses, who considered the flag a graven image. Any salute or pledge to the Flag was considered bowing down to an image. They instructed their children not to salute or pledge the flag.

The Supreme Court ruled that the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcended constitutional limitations on the power and invaded the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control. The State of West Virginia could not require children in Jehovah’s Witness families to salute or pledge the flag. Some may argue the citizens in Germany and Japan would have never been permitted to publicly show this level of defiance, and you would be correct. Had they been free to do so, the tide of history may have turned. But they lost the war and we won.

The second United States Supreme Court ruling that sets an even more powerful precedent to this issue is the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District ruling in 1969. In December 1965, a group of adults and students determined to publicize their objections to the hostilities in Vietnam and their support for a truce by wearing black armbands during the holiday season.

The principals in the Des Moines schools became aware of the plan to wear armbands. In December 1965, they met and adopted a policy that any students wearing armbands to school would be asked to remove them. If they refused, they would be suspended until they returned without the armbands.

Only five students were suspended for wearing them. There was no indication that the work of the school or any class was disrupted.

The Supreme Court noted that these students neither interrupted school activities nor sought to intrude into the school affairs or the lives of others. They caused discussions outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder. The Supreme Court ruled that in these circumstances, our Constitution does not permit officials of the State to deny citizens, in this case students, their form of expression. These students had the right to wear black armbands and protest the Vietnam War.

When I was a middle school and high school teacher, I always wanted my students to have the courage to take a stand on controversial issues and to support causes in which they deeply believe. However, when working with students younger than age 18, additional support should be in place. These students often need guidance to think through the possible consequences to their protest. If you refuse to stand during the presentation of the National Anthem in order to call attention to the treatment of people of color by certain government officials, what may be the reactions from peers, fans, and the general public to your protest? Not everyone will be on your side. Are you prepared to stand alone?

Before you conclude that public protest with its possible negative public reaction is too much for a middle or high school student to bear, I remind you of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan. She stood in protest to the Taliban’s war against the education of girls. A Taliban assassin boarded her bus on the way home after school and shot her in the head. She was 15 years old. I hope you know the rest of the story. This attempted assassination strengthened her resolve to fight for the education of girls. If you have not done so, go to You Tube and listen to her speech at age 17 when she received the Nobel Peace Prize:

She puts us all to shame.

On a personal note, this issue is very difficult for me. I have always been patriotic at the core of my values. Three of my dad’s brothers made careers out of the military. My dad and his oldest brother served in World War II. One brother served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The youngest brother served two tours in the Vietnam War as a helicopter pilot. A number of my cousins have also served in the military. I came of age during the Vietnam War, and while attending college had a 2-S deferment. Almost immediately after graduation in 1971, I was reclassified 1-A. I expected to be drafted at any moment. However, the government started a lottery drawing of birthdates to meet military quotas. The drawing for my birthday was well above 250, so I was never drafted. During this time in the history of our country, I was never involved in the antiwar movement, and I was deeply distressed about the treatment of our men and women in uniform. Regardless of my personal views, I defend the rights of students to protest government policies as protected by the First Amendment.

Bless you my children,

Terry L. Simpson

Monday, November 14, 2016

Post Election Reflection...

 During the past week, I have spoken with several of our teacher licensure students and students in general at Maryville College.  Their post-election emotions range from elation to fear about the future.  As Director of the Maryville College Teacher Licensure Program, I believe that I need to make a statement about our program and the future.  I am not concerned about your vote on this past November 8, but I am concerned about the well-being of the children we teach as well as their families. 

I try to be a person of faith, and I know that often I fail to be a role model of that faith.  However, my walk of faith has given me values that form the core of my being.  Over 60 years ago, I was taught a song in my little rural Baptist Church.  I’m sure many of you will recognize the words: 

Jesus loves the little children,
all the children of the world; 
red and yellow, black, and white, 
they are precious in his sight; 
Jesus loves the little children of the world. 

I am not asking you to have the same walk of faith that I have or have any walk of faith for that matter, but as a future teacher in the Maryville College Teacher Licensure Program, I expect you to consider all the children you teach as precious.  In public schools we teach all the children, and these children and their families could be different from you in a hundred different ways.  These differences do not matter.  All children are precious.  As long as I am director of the Maryville College Teacher Licensure Program, this will be one of the foundational dispositions in all we do.  If you cannot consider all the children in your class as precious, you are in the wrong teacher education program.  I suggest you consider another profession. 

Bless you my children, 

Dr. Terry L. Simpson 
Director of Teacher Education 
Professor of Secondary Education  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tennessee Social Studies Standards and Tennessee History

Several of my colleagues in social studies were appalled when the Tennessee Department of Education removed Tennessee History as a one-semester course in the 7th grade. The state education officials assured us that Tennessee History standards would be incorporated into the American History standards. We warned that the Tennessee History standards would be increasingly ignored and finally removed from the American History curriculum because of the emphasis on testing in the American History curriculum. Our predictions are rapidly coming true.

I have been following the current debate over the revised American history standards, which includes the removal of several Tennessee History standards, including the study of events and individuals involved in the Civil Rights Movement. How can anyone justify the removal of standards related to Alex Haley and his saga Roots? I have seen first-hand how the story of Alex Haley inspired African-American students to search for their own roots. One of my students traced her family to a particular plantation. She knew the lack of formal records for slaves would mean she could never go back beyond this point. I will never forget her excitement when she was able to trace her lineage back to this specific plantation, even though her ancestors were slaves.

One of my chief fears is that the removal of these Tennessee standards will weaken our students’ sense of place. In 1971 Dr. Jennifer Cross presented a paper What is Sense of Place? at a conference at Western State College. She identified several relationships to place, which included the following:

  • Spiritual – emotional, intangible 
    • feeling a sense of belonging 
  • Ideological – moral and ethical
    • living according to moral guidelines for human responsibility to place, guidelines may be religious or secular 
  • Narrative – mythical
    • learning about place through stories, including: creation myths, family histories, political accounts, and fictional accounts.

In my Sociology of Education class, I often quiz the native Tennessee students about their knowledge of Tennessee history. I have never had a student that knew that East Tennessee was the home of a strong abolitionist movement. The nation’s first abolitionist newspaper, The Emancipator, was published near Jonesboro by Elihu Embree, a Quaker and abolitionist. Consistently, more than 90% are unaware that in June 1861, 30 counties in East Tennessee held a convention in Greeneville to explore the possibility of Eastern Tennessee breaking away from the rest of Tennessee and forming its own state. They do not know that Andrew Johnson was the Vice Presidential candidate on the ticket with Abraham Lincoln in 1864 because he was a Southern unionist. Some of the young men who drive around with the Rebel flag on their pickup trucks should be told that the majority of rural East Tennesseans were pro-Union, and not Rebels. 

Additionally, few have no more than a rudimentary knowledge of local history. They do not know that Friendsville, which is located a few miles from the Maryville College campus, was originally a Quaker community. They are not aware of the rich oral history of Friendsville as a key player in the Underground Railroad, which runaway slaves used in their escape north to freedom. They do not know that Quakers took a bold stand against slavery in the United States. The southern government closed Maryville College after Tennessee seceded from the Union, and they referred to Maryville College as “that damn Yankee College.” Neither are the students aware that Maryville College was the first college in Tennessee to grant a college degree to a woman, in 1875.

If our schools do not provide this sense of place to our children, we are left with the stereotypes of native Tennesseans imposed on us by others. Just go to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, and you will get the stereotype: Traditional Tennesseans are drunkards, lazy, shiftless, and uneducated, whose children often go barefoot and have few ambitions. I am a native East Tennessean, and these words do not describe me, nor thousands of other East Tennesseans. If schools do not teach the truth and provide our children with a positive and healthy sense of place, who will teach them?

Bless you my children,
Terry L. Simpson

**Photo credit-Cara Alexander