Update, August 28: Interesting discussion at The Education Wonks.
The 7th grade world geography teacher in Lakewood, Colorado, Eric Hamlin, reached a compromise agreement with the school district over the display of foreign flags in his classroom, according to a couple of reports I heard last night after I posted on the controversy. The World, a co-production of BBC, Public Radio International and WGBH in Boston, carried a thorough report, in audio.
But then he decided to resign from the school anyway, according to Matthew Rothschild at the online Progressive. Denver Post columnist Jim Spencer added a few details, including the very temporary way the flags were mounted (the Colorado law bans “permanent” displays). Lots of comments, including the text of the law, at Reason.com’s Hit and Run. (I have the complete text of the law below the fold.)
It would be difficult to write parody like this.
Having looked at the law, and having seen the flag display explained, I think the teacher was well within the language and intent of the law. Administrators, especially assistant principals who are in many states the enforcers of the school, tend to stop activities first and ask questions later. They focus on discipline, more in the way that a prison warden does, than on academics. This is a case where good education concerns should have suggested careful consideration rather than disciplinary action.
Pedagogically, teacher Eric Hamlin deserves a few medals. At his own expense he has an extensive collection of flags for classroom use — flags of any size tend to run about $20 each. I’ve seen some inexpensive flags for less than $10. If we say the flags averaged $10 each, he had $600 in flag props, no expense to the school. Visual information is more dramatic for students, generally, and sticks with them longer. Color increases information uptake and memory retention.
I do not know Colorado’s world geography curriculum, but in Texas, many teachers have displays of flags they get in their travels, or historic flags they have been able to find.
Among other ways we know this flag law in Colorado is foolish: Were an American history teacher to display the Gadsden flag permanently on his wall, he would be in violation of the law. If he were to display the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write what is now our national anthem, the “Star-spangled Banner,” he would be in violation of the law.
(The Gadsden Flag, courtesy of www.gadsden.info)
The depths of the silliness of the law as written become clear when one looks for offenses: Should the U.S. Air Force Academy, located north of Colorado Springs, decide for any reason to fly the official flag of the U.S. Air Force, it would be in violation of the law. Heaven forbid they should hoist the flag of the Secretary of the Air Force, or the Secretary of Defense, or the flags of the President or Vice President of the U.S. — they would also be violating the law.
Pick any of the flags George Washington used to fight under, in the war for independence in 1775 through 1781. They are not flags of the U.S. today, as defined by federal law. If a teacher displays any of those honored battle flags in a classroom by tacking it to the wall, the teacher violates the law.
Any law that outlaws authentic U.S. history is just stupid. Any law that outlaws the flags that inspired the soldiers and patriots who won our freedom, is immoral.
By the way, this law is contained in the “anarchy and sedition” section of the Colorado Criminal Code. Is Dave Barry president of the Colorado Senate?
Via Findlaw.com, which directs us through Lexis-Nexis:
(1) Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or institutions upon any state, county, municipal, or other public building or adjacent grounds within this state commits a class 1 petty offense.
(2) Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or institutions in any place where it is likely to be viewed by the public or a substantial portion thereof, knowing that under the circumstances then existing such display is likely to cause a breach of the peace, commits a class 1 petty offense.
(3) “Flag”, as used in this section, means any flag, ensign, banner, standard, colors, or replica or representation thereof which is an official or commonly recognized symbol of a particular nation, state, movement, cause, or organization.
(4) (a) This section does not apply to:
(I) The display of the flag of the United Nations or the flag of a foreign nation displayed to identify persons officially representing such foreign nation or the property or premises of the person or nation;
(II) The display of an appropriate flag upon ceremonial or commemorative occasions proclaimed by the president of the United States, the governor of the state of Colorado, the board of county commissioners of any county, or the mayor or other chief executive officer of a city or town within this state;
(III) The display of the flag of any adjacent state with the flag of the state of Colorado at the ports of entry weigh stations, in recognition of the joint state port operation; or
(IV) The display of any flag or representation thereof described in subsection (1) of this section that is part of a temporary display of any instructional or historical materials not permanently affixed or attached to any part of the buildings or grounds described in subsection (1) of this section.
(b) This subsection (4) shall be an affirmative defense.
Source: L. 71: R&RE, p. 480, § 1. C.R.S. 1963: § 40-11-205. L. 73: p. 540, § 11. L. 93: (4) amended, p. 39, § 3, effective July 1. L. 2002: (4) amended, p. 317, § 2, effective August 7.
Cross references: For affirmative defenses generally, see §§ 18-1-407, 18-1-710, and 18-1-805; for requirement that the flag be displayed in certain state institutions, see § 27-2-108.
C.J.S. See 36A C.J.S., Flags, § 2.
Law reviews. For article, “Red Flags and the Flag”, see 13 Rocky Mt. L. Rev. 47 (1940).