Wednesday, October 11, 2017

When an authority figure goes too far

I am not here to argue a point, discuss patriotism, or debate kneeling when our national anthem is played. This post is not about any of those things.

I want to share an incident that happened everyday when I was in 8th grade, and tell you how it indirectly affected me.

We were mostly innocent and immature thirteen-year-old students attending a public, inner-city school. We sang patriotic songs in music class honoring all branches of the US military. When The Star Spangled Banner aired over the intercom, we were to stop moving, stand at attention and place our hand over our heart. Then we would say The Pledge of Allegiance to the nearest American flag.

A girl named Paula who was very quiet, stood out from the class because her religion dictated she wear long hair, skirts, and long-sleeved shirts. She was not permitted to wear shorts for gym class. She wasn't allowed to sing the national anthem, nor participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Our male gym teacher continually bullied this young girl mercilessly and threatened her with failing 8th grade if she did not dress out or say the Pledge.

"Rules are rules!" he bellowed. "I don't care what your parents or preacher tell you. If you do not follow the rules, you will fail 8th grade!"

He made her sit on a bench. Some of us argued (yes, I spoke up) in her defense that she could still participate in class even though she did not wear shorts. He shot us down with his authoritarian comments and blatant insults. I suppressed my anger, confusion, and inability to help Paula. I felt helpless and overpowered by this man who went on to become a  prominent district athletic director. 

Paula did graduate, but no child should be shamed for their parent's beliefs and/or religious values. Paula tried to explain, "My parents say we pledge allegiance to one master, and that is God."

At that time, the words of our anthem and pledge were meaningless to me. Today, more than five decades later, I have analyzed the words and some disturb me: "liberty and justice for all" I am not talking about incidents making today's nightly news. I speak of incidents that happened to our family who did not receive justice after being killed by a drunk driving football player in town.

I am concerned about nations that indoctrinate children to blindly follow policy without question. I am not slamming our country, our leaders, our citizens... merely seeing things in a different light. 

I welcome your comments and will simply leave them as your commentary and not debate.


Sandi said...

I had a friend in third grade who did not say the Pledge because of her religious beliefs. I asked my mom why she didn’t and my mom explained that she did it out of respect for God, He is higher than everything. I respected my schoolmate’s decision even at that young age. Her decision was based on respect (for God) not disrespect.

“Our male gym teacher continually bullied this young girl mercilessly and threatened her with failing 8th grade if she did not dress out or say the Pledge.”

I can not believe he got away with that!! Today he and the school system would have been sued back to the stone age.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I agree, Linda, no child--no person--should be shamed for race, religion, economic status, educational background, disability, or even the color of their hair. But of course, it happens every day...

I'm not sure why, after all these years, we still haven't learned basic respect and tolerance. I have a good friend, someone who knows my religious convictions, and yet she can't seem to help pointing out at times why my convictions are wrong and/or stupid (when they disagree with hers). It's frustrating, for sure; she's a good person in so many ways, but can't seem to see her own arrogance and intolerance.

I'm sure I have moments of arrogance and intolerance toward her as well. And I wonder if two people--who are friends, for cryin' out loud--struggle with respecting each other, how can we hope to find a way for an entire country to calmly and respectfully tolerate our differences?

Pat Wahler said...

Shaming another person isn't acceptable on any level. I try to stay optimistic that someday, the world will be a happier place.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

Our country was founded for religious freedom ..... that is what we were taught in school. And, yet, we seem to forget that when we are put to the test. Like you, I don't want to get into a political debate, but any time one person insists on bullying others to follow their beliefs under penalty of consequence, it should not be tolerated!

Thistle Cove Farm said...

That teacher was a jerk and, if he called himself a Christian, certainly didn't have the fruit to show himself same.