Comments Regarding Militarism and Patriotism in Howard County Public Schools (4/2002)

From the minutes of the meeting for worship with a concern for business, 4/28/2002:

Report on Meeting with Howard County Public Schools’ Superintendent

Sherri Morgan and Jean Leslie met with the Superintendent and the Human Relations officer.  Sherri and Jean said that their suggestions were listened to and appreciated.  The Superintendent asked for practical alternatives for children who don’t choose to say the Pledge of Allegiance for reasons of conscience.  It was suggested that we meet with local members of the Jehovah’s Witness and Church of the Brethren fellowships to discuss alternatives.

A copy of the written comments and recommendations from Patapsco Meeting to the superintendent are attached.

The Superintendent invited our group to attend a follow-up meeting in the summer (June or July).  Jean Leslie suggested that a Young Friend attend this meeting.  The informal working group on this issue includes Jean Leslie, Sherri Morgan, Diane Reynolds, John Buck and Ramona Buck.

Comments of the Patapsco Friends Meeting (Quaker)
Regarding Militarism and Patriotism in Howard County Public Schools

Friends Support the Public Schools

As Quakers and members of the Patapsco Friends Meeting in Ellicott City, Maryland we seek a fruitful dialogue to resolve our concerns.  We recognize the difficulties of teaching children and administering a large, and growing, school system.  The continuing good work of the administrators, teachers and staff is greatly appreciated.  We understand that the Howard County School System has utilized various aspects of mediation and conflict resolution programs and we particularly appreciate these ongoing efforts to teach students to resolve conflicts without using violence.

The School System Has Demonstrated Responsiveness

The tragedy of September 11 and the war in Afghanistan have created changes affecting all of us.  We are aware of numerous efforts on the part of teachers and administrators to be sensitive to the needs of students in the past several months, such as:

  • Projects to support the victims’ families and recognize the heroism of those who died trying to save lives.
  • Accommodation of Muslim students’ religious obligations.
  • Recognition of families with members serving in the armed forces.
  • Acknowledgement of loss for students who lost a loved one on September 11.

Quaker Students’ Religious Beliefs

  • Quakers are called to seek the Divine in peoples of every nation and ethnic group, even those who perceive us as their enemies.  This calling prevents us from supporting war and violence in any form.  We lament the victims of terrorism and war, whether they are citizens or soldiers and irrespective of nationality.
  • The current military connotations of nationalistic and patriotic displays in the schools sometimes generate discomfort and even dismay for some families in the public school system, including some Quakers.  It is not that Quakers do not want to support the country in which we live, but we would also like to look beyond the United States to foster the idea that we are citizens of the whole world.

Quaker Students May Experience Difficulties in the Schools During a Time of War

As members of the Patapsco Friends Meeting in Ellicott City, Maryland we are concerned that Quaker children (and others with like beliefs) may feel intimidated or pressured by the schools to violate their religious beliefs and practices as a result of specific actions by administrators, teachers and staff or due to a general atmosphere of intolerance for dissent.  Two issues are potential sources of conflict for Quaker families in the public schools:

  • Some children, including some Quakers, do not recite the pledge of allegiance to the American flag for reasons of conscience.
  • A number of Quaker children live with parents who actively oppose the current military campaign waged by our country for reasons of conscience.

Request for Action

We believe that with leadership from your office, principals and other school administrators can set a tone that encourages respect for all.  To further that end we support the following measures:

1.  The Right to Dissent and Individual Stands of Conscience Should be Supported

Students, particularly those in the elementary grades feel an enormous sense of pressure to comply with the expectations of teachers and school administrators.  We recognize that   classroom discipline and a peaceful learning environment depend on the respect and trust developed through a meaningful relationship with these adult authority figures.  In matters of conscience, such as taking an oath or pledge, it is particularly important that adults in such positions create an atmosphere where students appreciate differing views and encourage respect for individual conscience and the will of each student, no matter how young, rather than expecting compliance.

  • Children should not be questioned about their refusal to stand or salute the flag, nor should they be subjected to long lectures or speeches promoting flag celebration.  To do otherwise impinges on the exercise of some students’ religious beliefs and practices.

2.  A Broad View of Patriotism Increases Tolerance of Religious Differences

We recommend that discussions of the current international conflict in classrooms, general assemblies, or elsewhere within the schools, promote a diversity of responses.  We suggest that patriotic activities in the schools, such as musical programs and service projects include the full panoply of citizens’ patriotic expression, such as caring for the ill, voting, growing food, picking up litter, working to change unjust laws, etc.

We believe that Quaker students’ religious beliefs can be accommodated when the public schools promote a broad view of patriotism that includes the duty we have as American citizens in a democracy to inform our leaders about our viewpoints and to serve our country by serving our family, neighbors and community.  Education, by its very nature, promotes the exploration of diverse ideas.  We suggest that the legitimacy of dissent (regardless of one’s personal agreement of disagreement) be actively promoted at all grade levels.  In a pluralistic society such as ours, tolerance for those with differences is another means of expressing support and ‘patriotism’ for the values of America’s founders.  Squelching dissent may foster harassment of students who disagree with the majority due to their religious beliefs.

3.  Specific Recommendations

  • Asking that principals and other school officials lead the Pledge of Allegiance without embellishing commentary.
  • Distributing a letter from the Superintendent reminding principals that all students have a Constitutional right not to participate in the Pledge in ANY form (including standing).
  • Inclusion in the social studies curriculum of non-violence in history or peace studies.
  • Opportunities to organize parallel activities during the times that militaristic or flag celebrating activities are taking place (e.g. similar to how some alternatives to Halloween are offered).
  • Advance disclosure to parents of any militaristic and/or flag celebrating activities so that they can choose on a family-by-family basis how they will respond or participate.
  • Provide guidance to principals about inclusion of a wide variety of non-violent civic activities as representative of ‘patriotism.’  Promote a balance of activities when militarism is presented (e.g. if members of the armed forces are invited to speak to student, invite a conscientious objector to speak as well).

We appreciate the opportunity to present these concerns in person in order to foster increased understanding between the public schools and the families they serve in Howard County.

Respectfully submitted,

Sherri Morgan, Clerk
Patapsco Friends Meeting

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