Colin Kapernick’s Kneeling Gives Schools a Teachable Moment: What Lesson Will They Teach?
Colin Kapernick, the SF 49ers second string quarterback, has generated a national conversation on race by virtue of his decision to kneel during the playing of the national anthem in a pre-season game and in the games since. That conversation is now spreading to high school campuses as some students have decided to follow his lead and, as Education Week blogger Evie Blad reports, this action by students is provoking varied reactions. She writes:
“Let me be crystal clear: When that anthem is being played, you are to stand and you are to be quiet,” Ryan Nemeth, principal of Lely High School in Naples, Fla., told students in a video announcement, according to the Miami Herald. Students who don’t stand will be removed from games, the Herald reports.
She goes on to describe that the case law on this issue is also crystal clear: public schools can’t discipline students for silent acts of political protest.
It’s not just that schools should not discipline students for their national anthem protests, it’s that they cannot discipline them, he said. Turns out there was some legal precedent for the way my high school handled my peers’ refusal to say the pledge.
In the 1943 case of West Virginia State Board ofEducation v. Barnette, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a school would violate the free speech rights of its student, a Jehovah’s Witness, if it forced him to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
“To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds,” Justice Robert Jackson wrote in his majority opinion.
But enforced patriotism seems to be more important than the First Amendment in the minds of many school administrators and politicians. Ms. Blad recounts how her school dealt with a situation when some of her Mennonite classmates refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance following the burst of patriotism following 9-11. Instead of punishing them for their principled stand, the teachers led discussions about their choice that she felt “stretched my mind and my worldview”.
Some might take the position that the kneeling is a political statement and not a religious one and is faddish and not principled. But no one can ANY position if the right to free speech is unilaterally taken away… and no one can have discussions that might stretch the minds and worldview of students if punishment for non-compliant patriotism is “crystal clear”.
Students need an opportunity to exercise free speech and to hear the varied and sometimes conflicting views of their classmates. To silence dissent is to deny democracy.