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Lessons in patriotism

You can’t take a pledge you don’t understand

Published: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 10:06 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The other day I was trying to give my 7-year-old daughter a lesson in patriotism and the proper way to care for the U.S. flag.

I explained that the flag should never touch the ground.

I added if it becomes worn or tattered, it should be destroyed with dignity either though burial or by giving it to a patriotic organization, such as the Boy Scouts or the Veterans of Foreign Wars, to be ceremonially burned.

My daughter gave me a perplexed look and asked, “Daddy, how can you bury a flag without it touching the ground?”

It’s good to know that my daughter is the best kind of patriot – a questioning one.

Patriotism is not blind obedience to a government, but adherence to shared values of our Constitution. It is something we carry in our hearts and pass from one generation to another.

My first exposure to the concept of patriotism came at the hands of my first-grade teacher, Carolyn Broadhead, at Bateman Elementary School in Galesburg.

Mrs. Broadhead would have my class stand up straight, place our right hands over our hearts and then direct our  eyes to a flag hanging in the corner of the classroom.

She would then explain in a careful, pedagogical tone each word of the Pledge of Allegiance before any of the 6-year-olds were allowed to recite the words “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”

For Mrs. Broadhead, words were important. After all, she had taught generations of youngsters to read. It was important that none of her pupils made a promise to a flag that they didn’t understand. 

I still remember the waxed tile floors, the dusty chalk boards, the old wooden desks and the careful inflection of the words “and to the republic for which it stands” echoing through that quiet brick building.

Later in life, as a young reporter, I would hear that pledge spoken again – this time in a federal courthouse.

Hundreds of new citizens would stand before a flag hanging at the front of a courtroom and recite in a cacophony of accents from around the world, “one nation under God, indivisible.”

It was a sound that could bring tears to the eyes of even the most hardened journalist.  

After all, we are a nation of many ethnicities, religions, heritages and races.

We lack a king or queen.

Our nation is more than an accident of geography and politics.

We exist as a people joined by a belief in freedom and law.

The wisdom of those flawed men who signed the Declaration of Independence 237 years ago permeates our republic to this day.

It is with those shared principles we can say: “with liberty and justice for all.” ———

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org. Readers can subscribe to his free political newsletter by going to ILNEWS.ORG or follow his work on Twitter @scottreeder

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