A few years ago a teacher in my building gently chided me for being a bit overzealous in my patriotic praise. During a June Flag Day ceremony I stated to the students and staff how fortunate we are to “live in the best nation in the world”. While I still believe that, I may have been slightly insensitive to those students, albeit few, who were citizens of other countries. Usually my PC antenna flies high enough to cover my verbal judgement, but in this increasingly international “flat” world, how we perceive our country and our passion for patriotism has broadened a bit.
On Friday, our school held its annual Memorial Day celebration. Thanks to the work of the committee, the event was complete with music, readings from students, and a PowerPoint designed with images of soldiers. Our day custodian was honored as he is our only Veteran in the school and we sang the National Anthem and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. What results can we draw from the ceremony? The adult reaction was generally emotional as one might expect, but it was interesting to note that the students were also affected by the occasion with serious faces and even some teary eyes. I’m sure some of the children were responding to the adult reactions, but I believe there’s something deep within us, perhaps hard-wired, that allows us to see the value of patriotism regardless of our personal experience.
The spirit of patriotism includes values that we treasure:
Sacrifice. Educators and their students understand the sacrifice made by those who are in public service such as policemen, firemen, teachers, and yes, soldiers. At the end of Friday’s ceremony, a first grader came up to me with a story of how his Uncle is about to be deployed to Iraq in less than three weeks. I am sure that this little guy is learning the meaning of sacrifice.
Courage. I recall stories of courage from my father, a World War II veteran. His radio crew in the Pacific Theater would have to set up a communications center in the middle of a battle and while they put their lives on the line everyday, not connecting soldiers to each other would render any operation a disaster. One trick my dad would set up was a switch that would turn the lights off in their makeshift center when the door opened so that the enemy would not be tipped off as to their presence.
Compassion. While the nature of war appears devoid of sympathy, those closest to battle will tell you that to get through each day, they must hold images of the people they are charged to protect, close to their hearts.
Thus, for those who are veterans or have friends or family who have served their country or lost their lives, it is easy to conjure up emotions and a deeply held love for country. But even if one has not been directly affected by war, the values of sacrifice, courage, and compassion often exemplified by our soldiers and others in public service, are values we can all believe in.