Quiet Desperation

Patriotism isn't as simple as slogans

Column by Craig Marshall Smith
Posted 10/14/14

Like everyone else, I have been absorbed with the recent argumentative developments in Jefferson County.

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Quiet Desperation

Patriotism isn't as simple as slogans


Like everyone else, I have been absorbed with the recent argumentative developments in Jefferson County.

The school board has had its hands full, hasn't it?

I am not going to point fingers at anyone or advocate anyone: That's done much better somewhere else.

But one thing did stand out that I thought could serve my purposes here, and that was the proposal to foster more patriotism among students.

I thought I knew exactly what the word means, but even so, I looked it up again. And I was right - but it made me wonder just how patriotism could be approached in the classroom.

I think the course or the seminar or whatever it was going to be would have to begin with a disclaimer:

"Not everyone feels the same way about the United States as you do. Some of you feel more strongly than others, and are willing to chant 'U-S-A' whenever you get the chance, and others would rather eat their hand than chant 'U-S-A'."

I would rather eat my hand.

Some of us have an American flag on our houses day and night, and some don't.

Does that mean that the ones with flags are more patriotic, and the ones without flags are less patriotic?

Of course.

Some people love the Fourth of July and some don't. If you don't like the Fourth, does that mean you are less patriotic?

Of course.

It's my least favorite day of the year. It comes with loud noises and obnoxious behavior.

Oh, here and there, a few people remember why the day is being celebrated, but mostly it's an endorsement to get intoxicated, blow things up, and set fire to patio furniture.

Let's say Patriotism 101 was going to be a 3-credit course. Who would you bring in to teach it? The winner or the loser of a drawing?

If I were asked to lead the course, I would aim for balance, and perhaps for irony.

Everyone would have to listen to John Philip Sousa 24 hours straight.

Everyone would be expected to watch "Coming Home" and fast-forward to the scene where Jon Voight, who is a paralyzed Vietnam veteran, speaks to a roomful of young men who are considering enlistment.

I would ask them, "Was Jon Voight more patriotic before he enlisted and is he less patriotic now, or is he more patriotic now than he was before?"

Everyone would have to recite the Gettysburg Address to a bunch of second-graders, who might be hearing it for the first time.

Everyone would have to find out who Joseph McCarthy was.

And who First Lieutenant Audie Murphy was. Second Lieutenant William Calley. Corporal Pat Tillman.

Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

I would ask my students if you can be a racist and a patriotic American at the same time. Or if you can be homophobic and a patriotic American at the same time.

I would ask if conservatives are more patriotic than liberals, or the other way around.

That's where it gets tricky. Once that question is asked, the can of worms becomes very wormy.

I would require everyone to experience some kind of civil disobedience regarding a perceived inequity, and then to write a 650-word essay, like this is, about it.

How would the students be evaluated? Maybe I would ask each of them to name the 43 people who have been sworn in as presidents of the United States. No, that would be too easy.

It couldn't possibly be that specific, because patriotism can't be defined for everyone anymore than love can be or God or even art.

I never asked my students, "What is art?"

It would have taken up the entire semester, and in the end it would have answered nothing.

I thought it was ironic that this bit about "patriotism" was to be required in a county named Jefferson.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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