This teacher learned what ‘freedom’ really looks like in 2015 America.
In the latest assault on freedom of speech in America, a Chicago school teacher was fired for stepping on a small flag while giving a lesson on…freedom of speech. The teacher’s swift and harsh punishment highlights a tragic pinnacle of America’s frantic, nationalistic obsession with symbols that no longer represent the values they once did.
Jordan Parmenter, who until recently taught at Martinsville Junior-Senior High in eastern Illinois, attempted to incorporate the flag into a discussion on the first amendment. When a student complained that doing so was disrespectful, Parmenter says he stepped on the American flag to demonstrate the meaning of the concept. It was a thoughtful approach, considering freedom of speech is designed precisely to protect offensive speech.
Shortly after the lesson, however, the Martinsville School District voted 6-0 to fire Parmenter. He declined to comment on his experience but said he is speaking with his union representative to deal with the situation.
Public schools in the United States have a long history of penalizing anyone they believe has disrespected the American flag. Usually, these punishments are applied to students who exercise their right not to say the pledge of allegiance (a peculiar ritual relatively unique to the United States). In most cases, punishments are reversed when courts rightly find such punitive actions to be in violation of free speech.
It is likely that Parmenter’s case will also be resolved in court, but unfortunately, the damage is already done. In fact, it was inflicted before his incident ever occurred. His experience merely signifies a crossroads in America, where a government that has waged criminal wars and domestic oppression in the name of “freedom” and “democracy”—while waving the accompanying holy flag—now stomps on the ideals it allegedly represents. Rather than seeing the state’s grotesque, propagandistic use of the flag for what it is, most Americans cheer the very same government that violates the meaning of the national symbol.
This incongruence between artifacts, what they purportedly represent, and reality is perhaps best illustrated by public schools themselves. In them, students read chilling dystopian novels about authoritarian governments as part of the mandatory curriculum. From 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Animal Farm to Brave New World and the Giver, school reading requirements seem to warn of the dangers that come with violations of freedom. With this curriculum, schools paint the illusion that the students who read them are free—free to observe how unfree they could be if they were not so privileged as to live in the United States. After all, what kind of authoritarian society would promote stories about the consequences of denying freedom? The same one that requires them to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth, apparently.
As schools boast commitments to education and critical thought, police officers patrol the halls, students must ask permission to exit their seats and use the restroom, and teachers who attempt to truly educate are kicked to the curb—sending a dire message to students and others that to stray from the establishment is to risk their livelihood and reputation. These “learning” environments encourage not free minds but dogmatic obedience to authority. They have produced the very kind of person that fires a teacher for stepping on a piece of cloth.
The fear and hatred of dissent demonstrated by the unanimous vote to fire Jordan Parmenter is a trait not of a free country that values—let alone understands—freedom. It is a quality of one so misguided it believes suppressing it is saving it. After all, if war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength, flags must be infallible representations of sacrosanct national values long since drowned in a sea of patriotic propaganda.
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