In My Opinion
Teacher Stomps on the Flag in Class: Should He Be Fired?
When I was teaching social studies in the classroom, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not teachers should reveal our own personal political beliefs to our students. On the one hand, as authority figures, we did not want to exert too much influence. After all, our job was to teach them how to think, not what to think. At the same time, no matter what we did, our biases would seep out. Wouldn't it be better to use ourselves as role models of political discourse, teaching them to examine, evaluate, and agree or disagree productively?
In all of our discussions, however, none of us thought to rip a flag off the wall and stomp on it.
However, that's just what Scott Compton, a South Carolina teacher, did in attempt to prove to students that symbols are just representations of ideas -- not the ideas themselves. Trampling the flag does not mean trampling our freedom. The message, however, did not come across as intended to at least some of the students and their parents and Scott Compton now finds himself on leave and facing possible termination.
Compton's defenders point to his free speech rights. Desecration of the flag has been upheld as protected political speech. Teachers retain the right to free speech, even in the classroom.
However, public schools do retain the right to place limits on speech which have a significantly negative effect the education of the students. So, does stomping on a flag negatively impact the learning environment?
While flag desecration is, and should be, protected political speech, the school district has an obligation to preserve order in its schools…and that sometimes trumps free speech. Mr. Compton's actions were disruptive and should be addressed. However, I don't think this teacher, who has been praised as a good educator, should be fired for his misstep.
As a patriotic American, I have the utmost respect for what the flag symbolizes. The school in question is near a military base and, as a military spouse, I have the utmost respect for all of the sacrifices made in the name of our freedom. I believe in the power and importance of symbols...but more so in the ideals those symbols represent.
I think Mr. Compton stomped on that flag not because he hates America but because he wanted to break through to his students and make them think. While I think his heart was in the right place, I think his actions were irresponsible and misguided. As an educator, he needs to create a safe but challenging learning environment. For students who are not ready to separate the symbol from the idea, especially for students who might have parents or siblings or other family member currently deployed, this may have been an upsetting experience. Without the proper context, Mr. Compton's assault on the flag could easily be mistaken for an assault on all a student holds dear.
It isn't Mr. Compton's political beliefs that are unacceptable...it is his lack of judgment as an educator.