Character Education

How to Teach Patriotism and Respect

June 23, 2014
Photo credit: Thinkstock

"Ok class, I want to hear it today! Please stand for the pledge of allegiance." I look around the room as some students are facing the flag, hand over heart, reciting the words of the pledge. Others, I note, are only standing because I demanded it -- not reciting, and seemingly not caring. "Gosh Mr. Johnson, you sound like a social studies teacher!" is the response when I tell the students nearly every day that they live in the greatest nation on the earth and they should show respect and be grateful.

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As I understand it, one of the main purposes of school is to educate the students about their government so they can be responsible voters. For example, objective five from the Texas Education Code, chapter four states: Educators will prepare students to be thoughtful, active citizens who have an appreciation for the basic values of our state and national heritage and who can understand and productively function in a free enterprise society.

San Antonio, being a military town, has numerous monuments and reminders of patriotic events. The sacrifice of our soldiers in behalf of our freedoms is a common theme in advertisements, billboards, and commercials. Yet, I am worried that the message is not getting across to the younger generation. How do you teach respect and patriotism?

For the most part, elementary students do what you tell them to do. More importantly, they will do what you do mimicking even your zeal and earnestness. But for some middle school students, it is like they forget all the things they did in elementary school. Ok, I'm blowing off steam here: I know it is not fair to say that just because the students fail to stand up straight, fail to recite the pledge, fail to look at the flag, and show a general lack of enthusiasm about the process doesn't necessarily mean that they do not respect the flag or the country. But if it looks like a duck... . Anyway, if the students did not recite the pledge appropriately, I frequently gave them the opportunity to do it correctly once again. They got the message of what I wanted, but did they really take it to heart?

It is Each Teacher's Duty to Teach Patriotism

Is it the system causing this problem? Routinely the pledge is part of the announcements broadcast over the intercom. Right after the pledge, according to law here in Texas, the students get a moment of silence to pray or think or reflect, then the daily announcements and inspirational thoughts. Most keep quiet, few do anything but stand there. I know I pray silently in those moments that the day will go smoothly and my learning plans will work. In some schools, the pledge is left up to the individual classroom teacher. While giving the teacher's control and responsibility of this important duty is important, pressures of the day, or lack of conviction on the part of the teacher can cause that in some classes the pledge may not be done on a regular basis if at all.

I would not maintain that the pledge of allegiance is the basis of patriotism, but I would say that it is an opportunity to show it and perhaps for some, to plant a seed. As a child I vaguely remember learning about the pledge and what each word means. I remember singing every day, "God Bless America." I remember learning the national anthem in class. Do they do that still? When do they teach about the flag and the pledge? Certainly, they do not teach it enough.

Show and Share Patriotism in Class

In this age of political unrest, where citizens and even politicians show little respect to the flag and the nation, it is easy to become cynical and bitter. We must be careful because our attitudes as teachers are picked up by students in the comments we make about our nation. Even if we really believe what we are saying, we do not have the right to inculcate a captive audience of children with our personal views. Our country and the system has its faults, but we do live in the greatest country, not because of its greatness, but because of its freedom, even the freedom to fail.

Each teacher should find ways to show their own patriotism. Find good things to say about our country and our country's heroes. With a little effort teachers can create class projects that allow students to learn patriotism from local veterans and local and national history.

Patriotism is Something to Live By

Ultimately, patriotism is not the tear in our eye when we recite the pledge, or how straight we stand, but true patriotism is demonstrated in the way we live. Perhaps, the best lesson on patriotism is from a graduation speech about the commitment to change for the better given at the University of Texas at Austin by General William McRaven. He shares ten things he learned from his experience as a navy seal that have changed his life and made the world a better place. From simply showing pride in making our bed every day to being committed to never accepting less than our best performance; these are the things that honor all those that have sacrificed their lives so we can enjoy the freedom to live and do as we please to find success and happiness in this life.

The American ideal of being the best is not just the basis of patriotism it is the basis of education. Please share in the comments section below your success in raising the level of patriotism in your classes.