Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Introducing Deliberation in the Classroom- First Day Activity

Amongst the biggest concerns I have for the future of this country and my students is the current polarization we are experiencing when it comes to politics.  We have lost the art of the conversation, we have become the culture of "no politics at Thanksgiving."  I often tell my students the story of the Constitutional Convention, that in the hot summer of 1787, a group of men met to draft a new government for the country.  These men came from different backgrounds, and brought with them different agendas and values.  They argued, they debated...and they compromised.  They emerged with an imperfect document for sure, but one that created a government that was, without question, better than the one it would replace.  And they did it because they were able to have a conversation, a dialogue, and leave it without anger, but with compromise.  One could argue that the "conversation" is truly what the country is built upon.  231 years later, we are stuck with the rule of "no politics at Thanksgiving".  It brings to mind the great words of Dubois- “What a world this will be when human possibilities are freed, when we discover each other, when the stranger is no longer the potential criminal and the certain inferior!”

What I know is that, if there is to be any hope of change, it must begin with our students, and that this change can only be achieved if they are encouraged, and given opportunity, in the skill of deliberation.  The challenge of deliberation is talking with someone who may think differently than you, and instead of working to find holes in their thought process, being focused on listening to what they have to say, and appreciating what might be a different perspective.  When we focus on listening rather than attacking, the opportunity for growth is much more likely.  Is deliberation an option for all conversations?  No- there are still some universal truths in which there is no conversation, e.g. racism.  But there is ALMOST always a conversation to be had.

The key to creating a deliberative space is starting on day one, and setting expectations for discussion and, if possible, getting the kids involved in the deliberative process early.  One of my favorite "first day" activities is one that I borrowed from a lesson from the Choices Program that I call "Opening Day Values".  It is worth noting that this is an activity that I typically use with my senior government class, but it can certainly be adapted for younger audiences.  These classes tend to be fairly large, which can impact the way in which the activity is carried out.  The way in which the "values" are put forward to the students can be varied; I will simply explain how I use it.

I begin by having stacks of blank white paper, cut into squares, in the middle of our workspace.  As we begin class I ask each student to pull 10 slips from the pile.  I then take time to explain that, in any society and government, decision-making is a theme to be discussed, and that decision-making is often guided by one's values.  In this activity the students will be presented with 9 key values that could be found in American government, and will be asked to rank those values.  I project the values on the screen 1 by 1, and have the kids write the words on their slips as they go.  As students get new words, they place them in rank in front of them, often reordering them as they go.  The 9 values I project are:  freedom, equality, self-reliance, justice, cooperation, security, competition, stability, and democracy.  There should be one blank slip for later.

Once the students have all of their value words, time should be given for final ranking.  I like to throw some questions at them as they rank their values- "If you had to justify what you ranked first/last, how would you do so?", "How do you define this value? How might someone else define it?", and my favorite "Looking at what you've ranked first, are there any of the other values that one needs before that value can be achieved, and if so, does that change your ranking?"  It's pretty common to see lots of shuffling!

A key part of this activity is the debrief.  I often, if time allows, have the students start by discussing their rankings in small groups.  But I also put the value statements on the board, and ask the students to mark their 1, 2, and 9 values, either by writing the numbers with marker or by using post-it notes.
Once done, we discuss as a class, and students are often surprised to see how the values lay out.  We talk about why some values are ranked high or low, and I open up the room for students to discuss why they ranked values where they did.  The best conversations come from those values that have both 1's and 9's in the same spot!

To wrap up the activity I make sure to ask the students to do two things.  First, using the last blank slip, I ask the students to consider other values that might not have been listed, and if they would like, write this new value and add it to their ranking.  I also ask the students to keep their list somewhere it won't be lost, and we do the same activity at the end of the year, after we've studied our government and discussed current events and issues.

Deliberation is a skill, and one that is desperately needed, and needs the opportunity and environment in which to be honed.  Often times the biggest issue in building a deliberative classroom is breaking through on the first discussion and making students comfortable in lending their voice.  Structuring an activity that asks the students to think and deliberate at a personal level is a great way to found such an environment.

Monday, January 1, 2018

My #OneWord for 2018

My favorite part of the #oneword movement is the reflection.  #OneWord is designed for an individual to conduct a series of introspective exercises in the hope that, in the end, "one word" emerges that sums up one's hopes, goals, focus, direction for the coming year.  My reflection for this year began several weeks ago, and I'm excited to finally come to my word.

As I began to reflect on my focus for the coming year, I considered both my personal life and my professional life, specifically my children and my students.  And I was surprised...actually maybe not so see how frustrated I really am.  And how much my frustration bled between my two foci.  My frustrations as an educator are combined with my frustration as a parent.  My frustration for what I hold as my hopes for my sons are in many ways mirrored in my frustration for the future of my students.  And, as I came to find, my direction, my focus, my "one word" pointedly summed up what I need to do. 

My #OneWord for 2018 is "In".

Before I explain why this word works for me, let me explain the root of this frustration.  As an American, I'm frustrated with the current direction I see our country heading.  After nearly a decade of what I felt was real progress I feel like we are regressing.  I'm frustrated with the dearth of leadership I see in this country.  As an educator, I am frustrated with the current educational paradigm, one in which public education has become far more about tests than kids.  I feel like I've noticed this reality more this year than ever before.  The volume of time we spend in our crooms preparing for, and then administering, tests is alarming.  And one of the most frustrating by-products of this testing mania is the impact it is having on the teaching of social studies.  In previous posts on this blog I have detailed my feelings on the importance of a strong social studies curriculum, and what our students miss without it.  At a time when we need to study history more than ever before, both for the lessons it holds but also for the examples it puts forward, we are cutting it back.  At a time when we need to be encouraging environments where critical thinking and civil discourse are promoted, we are finding social studies crooms a convenient thing to cut.  And, in the end, this frustration comes back to my most important role, as a parent, and in that role I am worried about how the consequences of decisions being made now could impact my sons. 

While I'm frustrated about many things, I've never been a wallower.  I prefer solutions, and my reflection led to the realization of what I have to do in the face of these frustrations.  The answer is in action.  Action in helping to develop stronger leaders.  Action in fighting for the social studies, and making sure that my croom is one in which the skills of critical thinking and dialogue are being encouraged.  Action in no longer being silent when I see something I know is wrong.  I once heard a great teacher say that "silence is dangerous", and I know that's true.  In short, the solution to these frustrations lies not in sitting on the sidelines, but from being "in" the game.

Over the course of this year, my hope, focus, direction is that, if you're looking for me, I will be the one in the croom where students are engaged in discussion, dialogue that is backed up by substance, and where these same students are being challenged to look at multiple points of view.  You will find me here, in this blog, speaking out.  You will find me active in the social studies community, fighting for the present and future of the field.  You will find me on Twitter, learning from the countless educators that make up my PLN.  And, most importantly, you will find me at home with my two boys, helping them to understand the importance of love, respect, and leadership.

Where you won't find me is on the sidelines.  For 2018 and beyond, I am IN!

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Reckoning- The Conversation on the Treatment of Women, and Our Responsibilities as Teachers

A "reckoning."  I'll apologize to my 12th grade English teacher for starting with a definition, but "reckoning" is defined as "a settling of accounts", a moment where someone must take responsibility for realities.  I've heard this term used quite a bit lately to describe this moment in which, seemingly almost daily, allegations of sexual harassment or abuse are being leveled, and major names are falling left and right.  In truth, I think this term fits the time.  Or at least I hope it does.  A reckoning implies reflection, and as males, fathers, uncles, teachers, men need to reflect on attitudes, and how we think of/speak about/treat women.

I remember vividly how I felt last year when I heard the now infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, in which a man bragged about sexually assaulting a woman.  I remember...disgust.  I still feel disgust.  And as angry as that video made me, I remember being even more frustrated at the excuses made to somehow dismiss this kind of behavior.  I remember thinking- "How does someone get away with saying something like that?" And I remember, as I proceeded further in judgment, the personal reflection it sparked in me.  What was I contributing to this environment, this reality?  A reckoning.

In a country facing countless issues, this has troubled me the most.  Perhaps because I am a husband, a father to two young men, a teacher to young men and women I love like my own.  Maybe because I am a man.  Maybe because of the difficult questions this reckoning poses- Can we project ourselves as an image of moral superiority when we are still trying to figure out right from wrong?  What does it truly mean to be a "man"?  What are my responsibilities as a father?  What are my responsibilities as a teacher?

Perhaps unsurprising in a country that took over 140 years after its founding to figure out women could handle voting, we seem to have become quite good at excusing the mistreatment of women.  This mentality has to stop.  When Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape came out, I heard from more than one person "boys will be boys"; I heard this man dismiss it as "locker room talk".  This mentality has to stop.

Before I proceed further, please understand this reckoning has not spared me.  Over the past several months I have been forced to re-evaluate my actions, my sense of humor, my culpability, past and present.  In my youth, did I engage in what might be termed as "locker room" banter- yes (although I can safely say nothing to the level of our President).  I know, and can say confidently, that this is the extent of my part, but we cannot accept this as ok.  I have been forced to think about what I say, do, and think.  And while I'm ashamed of certain things I have, in the past, found humorous, this reckoning had to apply to myself.  I think about this as I consider solutions, and my responsibility.

The nation-wide reckoning must make its way into every mind, home, and workplace, including our schools.  I am a teacher.  I am a male teacher.  As a teacher I am not simply tasked with teaching my students about the Civil War.  I am also guiding my students in life preparation.  And our students are emerging into a country in which this reckoning is taking place, where serious questions are, and should be, asked about how a woman should be treated.  Examples that might normally serve as role models for our young men are no longer role models.  Our students cannot look at their leaders and find inspiration.  Our students will have trouble finding that in our celebrities and athletes.  Let them find it in us.  We are not in the business of sculpting their beliefs on things like politics.  But we have to understand that there a few universal truths out there.  Racism is wrong.  Sexism is wrong.  Women deserve to be treated with respect.  Our female colleagues must feel safe and protected in their work environment.  Our female students must feel safe and protected in their school.  Our male students must see examples of good men in their school leaders, and this must extend both to what we project publically and how we behave privately.  We cannot demand respect in front of our classrooms and school, and then not extend it when we think we are talking with friends.  The truth is that an entire generation of men must relearn the definition of what it means to be a "man", and that has to start with us.  Why should we be appalled with a man engaging in what he called "locker-room talk" when we are not going to re-evaluate our actions as well?

It is the responsibility of every school leader to evaluate the culture and environment of their school.  Does a woman have to fear working in a school in which they know that comments or jokes are being made that sexually objectify them?  Do the women in the building feel safe and protected, and not just in public but also behind closed doors?  School leaders must be willing to live what the expect in students.

It is the responsibility of every classroom teacher to do the same.  Will our female students enter your classroom knowing that you are there to support them, and will take the actions of other students seriously?  Do our students understand that comments and jokes in poor taste will be dealt with strongly and seriously?  Will our students know that you are not simply acting these values, but living them as well?  Will our students be able to look at you as a positive example?

"It's just locker room talk" cannot cut it anymore.  "Boys will be boys" cannot cut it anymore.  Women deserve to be treated with respect.  They deserve better than being the punch line of a sex joke.  There cannot be excuses for objectified behavior.  There cannot be justification.  There must be consequences for this behavior.  I won't say "our country is better than this", because we are not.  But we "can be better than this", but this will only come with the kind of critical reflection that is the hardest to make, but always promotes the deepest growth.  This requires a reckoning.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

#MSSRA- "Make Social Studies Relevant Again"

Over the past few weeks, I've been given cause to really think about the state of social studies education, and it's overall place in nationwide curriculum.  I've taught now for 13 years, and I remember starting out and struggling to find a teaching job.  My resume was strong, but I just couldn't find a job.  I also remember being told that this struggle might be the best thing to happen to me in the long run, that it might convince me to move on from this field and find something where my work might be valued.  But I stuck it out, and secured a job in the same school I find myself now.  And I am glad I did.  I wouldn't trade the experiences I've had teaching my students for anything.  But as the years have gone on, I've come to see that there might be a little truth in the advice I received all those years ago.  Although I know that teaching history is vitally important, and I have been blessed by amazing kids who have always made me feel appreciated, the overall view of the importance of history education has diminished to an alarming level.  At a time when history education has never been needed more, it has never mattered less.  And this reality should scare everyone.

I recently had the chance to hear Eric Foner, the noted historian, speak about teaching.  He explained that he had taught for over 50 years, and in that time had seen many changes in the field, most notably in the foci of history, from emphasis on political history to social history to a new age of history in which more focus is given to minorities.  But, Foner argued, what had always stayed true, through 50 years, was the centrality of history in education.  All of that has changed.  In a recent #sunchat discussion on Twitter, teachers shared our current frustrations and blessings.  I expressed my frustration over the lack of value shown to social studies, and heard back from several teachers who had the same frustration.  One teacher explained how her corporation listed social studies as a "special"; others shared how the requirements for students varied, some as few as two years of classes.  How has this happened?  How has social studies become the convenient thing to cut?  How has history education become so devalued?  As it turns out, it is a complex question with a fairly simple answer.

The harsh reality of education is that, not only has social studies education become devalued, our students have as well.  There- I said it.  Education has become a numbers game.  Our schools are testing centers and our students are simply statistics, bubbles on a scantron.  The moment we allowed standardized tests to become the epicenter of education is the moment we devalued our students.  And before I'm written off as just another teacher complaining about tests, think about it, step into a school and find out just how much instructional time is taken away by testing.  These are days teachers don't get back, and sacrifices have to be made.  One of those sacrifices- social studies education.  Social Studies is not a widely tested subject, therefore, in the current paradigm of education, it is of less value, and therefore open to cuts.  The focus is on language arts, math, and science.  Now don't get me wrong- we need people skilled in all three areas, and ready to fill those jobs.  But what are we losing by devaluing history education?

Social studies classrooms are the places where students not only learn about the events of the past, but analyze them, examine them with a critical eye, and discuss them.  These classrooms are where we study the successes and failures of the past, and learn from both.  This is where students have the chance to grow in their ability to engage in a civil discourse, and learn to reason with an informed mind.  I can't guarantee that every student in a social studies classroom is going to leave our walls and pursue a career in history.  But I can guarantee that they will leave a well-taught and organized social studies classroom with skills crucial to being a citizen and a person.  And as the great educator, Lester Laminack said, "We're not here to raise a score.  We're here to raise a human."

So, what do we do?  First, encourage professional organizations within our states to increase their advocacy.  Legislators may not fully understand the effects of testing on subjects like social studies, but they need to know.  Second, let your own voice be heard.  Tune into the work of groups like NCSS and Gilder-Lehrman, and seize upon their passion and resources to "Make Social Studies Relevant Again." But more than anything, continue to be a passionate advocate for social studies.  Continue to put the kids first, and allow your passion for them and the content shine!  Be a positive voice, and continue to fight the good fight.  Our students and our country need you!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Encouraging Growth by Encouraging Conversations

Recently we culminated that yearly tradition that is parent/teacher conferences.  I've always loved these conferences, as our conversations with parents are a great time to share the praise that can be found in every student, and the opportunities we each have to grow.  This year, however, I heard, more than ever before, from multiple parents about the conversations that they were having at home, conversations that originated in our croom and were now making their way to dinner tables, car rides, and evening chill time.  To me this is one of the truest signs of learning and is part of the solution to a national problem- our increasing inability to engage in productive conversations about our history and the issues facing the nation right now.  And it has me thinking about how to increase the frequency of these conversations.

The conversational divide in our country is one that even the blindest among us can see.  Of the many problems plaguing our country, this one stands out as both a root cause and a solution.  It's ironic to a degree, with so many talking about "what this country was founded on", that one of the truest, most base founding principles is the one perhaps most lacking right now.  This country was, in so many ways, founded on the conversation.  Few of our Founders and Framers agreed on everything, if anything, and yet this country came to be.  Imperfect for sure, but one capable of growth, an "experiment" that most would argue has gone demonstrably well.  Why- because our Founders talked, certainly with those who agreed with them, but more importantly, with those who didn't.  That is how compromise is made.  That is how understanding is reached.  That is how growth happens.  Today we have evolved into a country in which the popular maxim is "Don't talk about politics at Thanksgiving" or something of the like.  That maxim has to go; we need, so desperately, to talk more, listen more, grow more.  So it warms my heart to hear parents talk about how the discussions we have in class are coming home and continuing.

This brings up, of course, the need for us to model effective discourse.  While I do have a few "absolute truths" which are not debatable in our croom (I will not tolerate comments when it comes to things like racism, sexism, etc.), most topics are worthy of a good back and forth.  But if all we allow is free-for-all debate, we miss the chance to stress the importance of listening.  Debate is not a taboo word, and can be effective when listening is stressed.  I often tell my students that at least half of a great conversation is listening.  I also stress to my students the need to engage in informed discourse.  Imagine a country in which the citizens were willing and able to sit down with anyone, and speak on the issues of a day, a discussion rooted in actual knowledge, and one in which all involved left the conversation with a little more understanding.  Imagine if our crooms were a place where these kinds of discussion were not only allowed, but encouraged, and these conversations carried their way home.  Imagine if we were a nation of citizens content in the conversation, and not focused on being right.  If that is an ideal, call me an idealist.

Even though I know that not every student will leave their time with me and be this kind of citizen, it doesn't stop me from trying.  To that end, a few of our efforts...

  • Don't shy away from the tough topics, but change the way they are discussed.  I teach government, and when we discuss the Constitution, the conversation inevitably steers towards the Courts, and how civil liberties and rights have been interpreted over time.  This leads us to discussions of discrimination, same-sex marriage, abortion, etc., all issues which would easily lead to blow-ups.  But if we want our students to emerge as functional citizens, we can't skip over the topic just because we are afraid of the conversation.  Our crooms have to be the laboratories where the American experiment grows, where informed dialogue is encouraged.
  • Set rules- establish the "lines" for class discussion across which students are not allowed to cross.  A few of our rules- your voice has value, be prepared to support your point with serious evidence (and no, Grandpa doesn't count), speak with respect and listen with more, do not speak until called on (don't try to speak over others).
  • As teachers and discussion facilitators, we have to be prepared to speak from the other side, even if you disagree with it personally.  I know many teachers who share their personal views constantly; there can be some value to that.  But, in general, I keep my thoughts on most issues to myself so that I can argue another side without the students believing me to be biased.  Plus it's fun to see the students try to guess where I stand.
  • Challenge students to speak from a point of view contrary to their own.  I also teach US History, and often put students in groups which will likely push them to see another side, eg. Federalist v. Anti-Federalist, or in government I might have the student present on a Constitutional point different than their own.  Having to argue from the other side of the argument can be a great way to encourage students to look at multiple perspectives.

In the end we have to remember that we are not just teaching a body in a desk; we are teaching the next generation of leaders and citizens.  If we don't encourage them to be better than us, to be willing and able to listen, to work with someone who thinks differently, to realize that our world is far from homogenous, then we fail them.  If we don't foster opportunities for these young people to grow, we fail them.  It's time that we become part of the solution.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Admitting Weakness in Education

In a recent Twitter string based in the weekly #sunchat discussion, one of the many great educators, @thnorfar, mentioned that "something about this profession [teaching] makes people fear weakness." This initiated a long string of discussion, and truly got me thinking- do educators fear expressing weakness? If so, why? How important is this to the larger goal of personal and professional growth? If we can admit weakness, then what? In the post below I will try to tackle each question, and flesh out my thoughts.

Do educators fear expressing weakness? If so, why?

The answer to the first question is, I think, a resounding YES! For so long, educators have been the classroom "expert", the "sage on stage",...and the first person to be blamed for something wrong in education. There is a great deal of pressure on teachers to be experts in all matters education. Some of that pressure is good; we should have a deep knowledge of our content, and we should take the time (and have been challenged) to think deeply about classroom practice. But how many teachers are afraid to say, "I don't know", when asked a question.

The truth is that education has become, in many ways, a game in which all things are measured by "winners" and "losers". When it comes to the classroom, it comes down to grades- does your class average match out, do you have enough points possible, do you have enough students getting A's? When it comes to the school, it comes down to test scores- are they high enough, how do they measure against every student in the state and country? In short, education has become more focused on statistics than people, more focused on numbers than growth, more focused on students as commodities rather than as the individuals they truly are. When educators function in this kind of environment and feel the pressure of being blamed if points possible don't meet quality, or if test scores aren't high enough, it sends a clear message- You had better get it all right, or else. It's no surprise that a teacher might be afraid to admit weakness with that reality bearing down upon them.

How important is admitting weakness to the larger goal of personal and professional growth?

Fact- Teachers are human beings. (insert gasp from students) We are human, we are flawed, we have weaknesses. Being able to admit that is absolutely crucial to maintaining oneself in education. I was once scared to say "I don't know" in a classroom, afraid that I might lose the respect of the students in my charge if I couldn't answer that question they asked, afraid of how I might "look" to other professionals in the building and beyond. But the moment I embraced my weaknesses was the moment that I began to experience real growth. Knowing one's weaknesses shows a teacher how much they still have left to learn, and motivates growth.

If we can admit weakness, then what?
It is unfortunate that most teachers work in an environment driven by test scores. It is an environment which is ultimately successful in creating little more than fear, and hinders the important elements of growth in the classroom. While difficult, admitting weakness is crucial for us to grow. Even more importantly, teachers must work to not only admit weakness, but seek out ways to improve. It is one thing to admit weakness; it is quite another to take the steps necessary to better oneself.

The field of education has not only accepted a culture of test scores, but it has also grown comfortable in dated or just flat-out flawed teaching practices. Growth as a professional is as important as anything we do as educators. The on-going challenge before educators, and administrators, is to admit weakness, but never accept it. Only when teachers make the decision to stop growing have they truly failed. Growth is success, and one of the few legitimate constants in this field! But growth means failures along the way. Every journey has detours. But, here is the real question- how far will you drive the wrong way?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The True Test of Our Fidelity

Yesterday I was asked by a number of students how I felt about the kneeling controversy, largely because I had made the decision over the weekend prior to change up our schedule for US History to allow us greater time to spend with the Constitution, and I had shared with them that if there was one thing that the debate on social media had shown me over the weekend, it was that more Americans needed to spend time with the document before they claimed themselves to be experts.  When students asked their question, I gave a wishy-washy answer with which I wasn't comfortable.  And so, I've decided to compose my thoughts in my blog.

I would like to preface this post with a few notes.  First- as always, the views expressed in this post (and all posts) are mine alone, and do not necessarily represent my employer.  Second- I have long maintained a personal mission to not interject my personal reactions to political issues because of my desire to help students see multiple perspectives on issues.  Third- I have always stood for the flag and national anthem, and am proud to do so.

When this post began to form in my head, I thought back to something which President Obama said during a town hall.  He was asked by the moderator, Jake Tapper, about his reaction to the initial kneeling of Colin Kaepernick, and he responded by talking about what the flag means to him, and how he feels that the flag and anthem can be a unifying force for all Americans.  But then he also said this,

"I also always try to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people's rights to have a different opinion...The test of our fidelity to our Constitution, to freedom of speech, to our Bill of Rights, is not when it's easy, but when it's hard.  We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with ... As long as they're doing it within the law, then we can voice our opinion objecting to it but it's also their right."

It was the second line that really came back to me- "The test of our fidelity to our Constitution, to freedom of speech, to our Bill of Rights, is not when it's easy, but when it's hard."  Listen- I don't believe in many universal truths, but those that I do, and which will always be a part of any classroom I work in, are that 1. Sexism, racism, and hatred will have no place in our classroom.2. Our students have rights, and when given the environment, can and should express those rights.  Our students should know and feel that they have a voice, and that their voice has value.3. If students (or any American) wants to express their right to a voice, it should be informed.  Ignorant speech is just as dangerous, and often times more so, than keeping quiet when your voice should be heard.If one thing has become very clear over the past few years, it is just how reactionary a people we can be.  Too often we instantly react when we see something that makes us uncomfortable, when the reality is that there is almost always a moment to stop and think, almost always a need to have a conversation, almost always another perspective just as valuable as your own, and almost always a need to empathize.

Regarding this particular controversy, here are my thoughts:

I stand for the flag, but at the end of the day what I am really standing for is the ideal the flag represents.  If we look at the flag in a literal sense, it is really just fabric.  But, as a symbol, it stands for freedom, our Constitution, all that we have fought for over the course of 240 years.  I stand for that because that is how I express my feelings about this history, I stand for that because I believe in what it represents- the rights we all possess as Americans.  A hallmark of those rights is the right we have to express ourselves freely, provided we remain within the law.  The First Amendment speaks of freedom of speech, and does not qualify that with provisions for anyone's comfort.  Protest is central to our nation's history, so much so that it could be argued that protest is a fundamental American principle.  And so, for those who want to express frustration about kneeling protests, you have the right to do so, and I would be the first to defend that right.  If seeing this kind of protest makes you uncomfortable, I can understand that as well.  But you do not have any greater right to express yourself than those who choose to kneel.  We all have equal right to protest, and at a time when we have "protestors" marching through streets, waving Nazi flags, spewing hate speech, and driving their vehicles into groups of other protestors, a peaceful protest, even one that might cause us some discomfort, is far from our biggest problem.  

This may seem like an "easy" issue for many to give voice, and if you have or wish to, that is your prerogative.  But there are rarely issues that are easy; with the exception of a few absolute truths listed above, there is almost always a conversation to be had, almost always multiple perspectives.  In this case, if we examine the root of the initial protests (taking issue with the treatment of blacks and other minorities in the United States), my reality is that I, like most, have no idea what it is to be a black person.  I certainly have no idea what it is to be a black pro athlete.  I would love to have their money, but I would never trade for their history.  Most of us cannot fathom studying our people's history, and seeing so much of it dominated by slavery.  Most of us cannot fathom watching the news and being concerned with the realities of race relations.  How can we take issue with someone expressing their thoughts, exercising rights possessed by them, just because they are highly paid athletes?  Their money doesn't take away their rights as a citizen, and for many of the black men and women, they carry the responsibility of being highly visible and looked up to, and as such it should come as no surprise that they might use their platform to initiate change, or at the least, a conversation.

So, my thoughts- I stand for the flag and will continue to do so.  I hope that these players will think about their protests, and consider why some might take issue with it.  I hope that those who are so quick to condemn them would remember that they are simply exercising a right, knowing full well that there could be consequences for that right.  I would hope that we all might remember that freedom of expression and speech either means something, or it means nothing at all.  I will continue to hope that, one day, we will realize that we are a nation constructed out of compromise, and a desire to live free.  That we are stronger because of our diversity, that the great glue that holds our nation and people together is the great conversation we've lost, and must get back.

And I would hope that the same verocity with which some have approached this issue would be applied to helping others in need, like Americans affected by natural disaster, including the thousands of Puerto Rican Americans without power.