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Brea McClung: Continuing Confederate flag displays just don’t fly

While I know this opinion may not be popular with everyone, I feel this is the appropriate time to share an issue which has long tugged on my heart. As an American history teacher, I firmly believe that understanding our past is important so we can create a better future for us all.

On a daily basis, I drive by Confederate flags flying on poles at many houses; some are placed beside the U.S. flag and are flown together, as if those inside the home are taking some sort of stance without understanding that the two represent very different emblems.

Often, I see trucks with Ohio tags flying the confederate flag, some even have a matching bumper sticker, I often wonder if people even realize that Ohio has no tie to this flag, as we were a Union state.

There is not a day that goes by in which I do not witness this flag.

Clearly, there is a lack of knowledge when both the U.S. flag and the Confederate flag are flown side by side. They each represent distinctly contrasting historical stances.

The Confederate flag represents treason, confounded by men who believed it was worth creating a new country because they wanted to keep human beings as slaves.

The U.S. flag is one which exemplifies unity, freedom and honor to The United States of America.

Let me say that symbols matter. In the aftermath of WWII, the United States sent our military in with a specific job to remove all Nazi symbols. Our soldiers sandblasted every single Nazi symbol from every building, no stone was left unturned.

Why did our country think this mattered? Was this symbol not just simply German history?

Our leaders decided that. for people to heal, this symbol had to be destroyed. as it was a graphic reminder to many American, French and British soldiers and so many who lost their lives during the Holocaust under the horror of Hitler and the Nazi symbol. We found the emblem was too offensive to remain.

We can educate in context by learning what the Confederate flag is without flying it, the argument that it is part of our history or heritage, just simply does not fly. We cannot use heritage as a cover-up for what is blatant racism or an ignorance to history.

Our country has recently experienced a wound reopened. Many feelings have resurfaced about historical Confederate war figures and the names of several military bases which honor confederate war generals.

These historical figures and symbols should be taken down and only remain in the context of history for learning purposes, we cannot pretend that it is simply OK to keep these symbols, statues, and names of our military bases in a manner which exalts or idealizes them. Confederate Gen. Henry Benning even bragged that Virginia seceded to “prevent the abolition of her slavery.”

This leads me to the larger pull on my heart. As a firm believer in free speech, even symbolic speech, I often do my best to respect speech which I find distasteful or disagree with, while still respecting the rights of all.

Public schools fall under a different category when involving speech. Students still carry the right to wear symbols such as anti-war, pro-war, political candidates, etc.

The Supreme Court upheld that students do not lose their rights at the school-house gates in Tinker v. Des Moines. However, the courts have also given schools the ability to stop speech when it becomes a disruption to the school day, such as a shirt portraying drug use, alcohol, products or profanity.

Here is my big point. Students enter our school buildings almost daily wearing Confederate flag shirts, belts and buckles and somehow most of us seem to never bat an eye.

I feel as if, as educators, we often police spaghetti strap tank tops and Budweiser T-shirts, yet we often pretend we do not see that Confederate flag shirt, the one that represents people who wanted to keep slaves.

We have black students who enter our school house doors. What does this say to them when we turn a blind eye?

We cannot pretend that it does not matter, that this flag is not offensive or a disruption. In lieu of the current crisis, I urge you to re-evaluate your stance and lack of recognition to this. Our job is to provide an environment where ALL students feel respected, valued, loved, safe and equal.

This should not be a left vs. right political issue, this is a lesson in choosing humanity, which is the most important lesson we can give our children.

Complacency has no place on this issue. I can no longer pretend it does not bother me to see a flag that represents hate in our schools where all children deserve equal value.

I will forever be a proud American who is grateful for the chance to voice my opinion. I understand that this will anger some, and some will wish that I never spoke these words, but, ultimately, I can only hope this will help some of you to change your stance.

Brea McClung, of Lawrence County, has taught American history for 20 years in Gallia County public schools.