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Lady Liberty at Flagler Palm Coast High School: When Veterans Get Patriotism All Wrong

| February 11, 2012

One of the images of Lady Liberty veterans found objectionable, posted outside the teacher's classroom at FPC: it appeared next to a banned-book poster, an irony the veterans missed, among many. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Students are said to be dumber than they used to be, ruder, more engaged with their navels and smart phones than with the world around them. I have my doubts on every count. And political disengagement isn’t a problem only with the young. It’s a national disease, the only kind that tapers off with age. If we have a problem of political engagement in this country, it’s that cranky old geezers who have too much time on their hands are disproportionately more engaged than the rest of society. When the young do make a difference, geezers get all over them for having a mind of their own.

Pierre Tristam FlaglerLive editor

Pierre Tristam

The Live Column

Witness what happened at the end of the last Flagler County School Board meeting Tuesday. Ted St. Pierre, a local veteran and flagophile, told board members that while ambling about the recent home show at Flagler Palm Coast High School, he was shocked to see a set of drawings outside a teacher’s wall that showed the Statue of Liberty dressed, as he described it, as a hooker, or leashed, or with a ball and chain painted with the words “national debt.” One other veteran at the meeting, and apparently others at the home show, reacted just as derisively of the students’ work.

St. Pierre used words like “desecration” and seriously asked the board: “What are these teachers teaching?” He suggested that those who don’t like America could go elsewhere (although none of the drawings remotely suggested “dislike” so much as disheartened irony). He wanted “clarification” from the board about the kind of teaching that would produce such things, as if an egregious wrong had been done because students were now capable of looking at the wreckage of their country a little critically—students who live in a county with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rate, who attend a school where 59 percent of the population is on free or reduced lunch, students who either are living as the new poor or have friends who are, and whose high school years have been a graffiti of America pitifully less joyful than the George Lucas version. And more familiar to Emma Lazarus.

We can only wish that teachers are teaching economic realities in what class time they have left to teach. But students hear enough trash talk from tea party and Fox-trotting zealots about America, its national debt, its Socialist, Muslim, terrorist, gay-loving, Christian-bashing, welfare-worshipping, abortion-enabling, flag-burning black food-stamp president that it’s a wonder the students didn’t show him assassinating the Statue of Liberty in those images. Somehow I don’t think St. Pierre and his platoon buddies would have minded that interpretation.

The drawings at FPC were nowhere near that daring. They were the sort of clever spoofs about Lady Liberty that you might see from a beginning cartoonist. But at least they had something to say. And the teacher, whose focus was a written exercise in literary personification (not that the veteran critics were interested in context) should be commended for encouraging her students to test the boundaries of their assumptions.

What was disturbing Tuesday evening was that neither the superintendent nor any of the school board members bothered to defend their teacher or the students. Great way to show your faculty and student body whose back you’ve not got. Even more disturbing: that veterans of all people would suggest that students’ art and thought should somehow be suppressed or disallowed. St. Pierre’s starry-and-stripy shirt notwithstanding, the school board meeting at that point felt awfully like the personification of a mullahs’ meeting in Tehran or something worse out of Damascus.

Veterans have an annoying habit of speaking as if their status gives them a greater claim on the flag, or the “correct” portrayal of American symbols, than students or teachers (or anyone else). It doesn’t. Being a veteran is honorable. But this society’s unhealthy fetish for all things military aside (Rome in its degenerate days had a similar fetish), being a veteran is not an inherent virtue anymore than being a “Christian” or an American or a Floridian is an inherent virtue. Being a veteran is no more honorable and no less of a service than being a teacher, a firefighter, a physician, an artist, a CEO, a bus driver, a student, or whatever else keeps communities strong. It’s meaningless to speak of defending one’s country if that becomes an en end in itself, rather than a means—and a usually unfortunate, dehumanizing means—of protecting the sort of freedoms students exercise even when they’re not painting daisies and writing greeting cards to veterans.

Here’s a thought, Mr. St. Pierre and friends: perhaps you should be the ones to go back to school and relearn a thing or two about those American values you supposedly defended and those constitutions you distribute. These days, you’re not defending them anymore. You’re the ones desecrating them. Take lessons from the young students and their teacher. Or at least listen to what they have to say. They should be your heroes.

Pierre Tristam is the editor of FlaglerLive. Reach him here.

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43 Responses for “Lady Liberty at Flagler Palm Coast High School: When Veterans Get Patriotism All Wrong”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Omg thank finally a voice of reason!!!

  2. notasenior says:

    Don’t you know that the Constitution only applies to thought they agree with!?! Heaven forbid if we allow free expression!

  3. "My Daily Rant" says:

    Number one Mr.Tristam in this country you should NEVER speak badly about our vets.Maybe you were not born in this country which is usally the case in stories like this, but our vets mean something special to Americans.2 maybe if schools were not run so liberally drop out rate would not be so high,and our kids would be doing better in math and science.The teacher should be telling the students the meaning or what the statue of liberty represents not how to dress it like a hooker.I dont think it comes down to what the vets/old geezers are saying as much as what you want your childs teacher to teach them.I dont think I fall into your old geezer sterio type but I think with the time a teacher has to spend with these kids it should be used for actual teaching.

    • Begonia says:

      My sentiments exactly. Free expression aside, would much prefer to see students learning skills they will need for life, not learning to disrespect our citizens or our history.

      • FirstaYearTeacher says:

        It is actual teaching. If you actually had any education at all, you would realize that there are two parts to this lesson and it is not just blant disregard or satire. This is actual teaching. The lesson: Being taught to think for yourself. I am sorry that these people cannot think for themselves, are close minded and can’t realize ‘Hey, America has problems. Being patriotic doesn’t solve everything.’ This assignment was not attacking anyone. It was showing different views of America and hate to tell you this, but these vets are part of the reason America is part of such satire and why we are a laughing stock to the rest of the world, you close-minded fools.

  4. WaxTrax! says:

    Very well-written piece. I very much agree with this. I think that at this point in time, many veterans of Vietnam and previous foreign wars have forgotten what it feels like to be young and having the desire to express yourself in attempt to find individuality. So many veterans have lived with the idea of conformity all their lives that they forget that “America” is supposed to stand for freedom. After all, why did they fight in the foreign wars if not to protect freedom?

    At least, that’s the textbook version. The reality, of course, is that they fought to protect our unrealistic financial interests.

  5. notasenior says:

    Free Expression is just that FREE EXPRESSION. you don’t need to agree with it but to say it shouldn’t be allowed in schools is preposterous. Then again you probably want everyone to be as close minded as yourself.

    • Layla says:

      First let me explain that not all the pictures on that wall were shown in this article. And they were posted on a very prominent wall during the Home Show. Mr. St. Pierre was not the only person upset at what he was seeing.

      The type of art on that wall was more agenda driven than it was free expression. While I am all for free expression, in a public school I think it is not unreasonable to expect it to be tempered with respect. You had to see the wall in it’s entirety to understand why so many were not amused.

      Mr. St. Pierre was not alone in his concern.

  6. Rocky Mac says:

    I am having a real hard time seeing this depiction of Lady Liberty dressed as a “hooker.” Is it her shoes? Or is there another picture of her not on this page?

    Finally a breath of fresh air coming from the younger generation. At least he/she recognizes what is truly going on in this country.

    • Emm-Jay says:

      Here is a link to the other article where all of the pictures were posted. This article doesn’t have all the pictures because the teacher took them down, but one student went and put theirs back up.

      The picture that he says depicts a hooker, is actually a drawing of Lady Gaga because the boy who drew it thought she represented freedom of self expression.

    • Begonia says:

      Yes, there are more pictures. And before we crucify Mr. St. Pierre, let me explain that these posters showing an AGENDA more indicative of a POLITICAL agenda than educational, were along the wall of the teacher’s office for all to see at the Home Show.

      Mr. St. Pierre was hardly the only person asking questions or offended by what they were seeing on that wall. MANY were offended.

      I know of one person who called the school and was told by the receptionist that nobody else had complained. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, was it?

  7. Bill McGuire says:

    What’s a “flagophile?”

  8. palmcoaster says:

    @YourDailyRant. You openly suggest that our teachers exercise censorship of our students work!. Maybe you and your group have served such a long time ago and your memory is failing so bad, that you forgot our Bill of Rights; I) Grants freedom of worship, speech & press, the right to petition the government & to assemble peacefully.
    Individuals like you only remember and demand compliance of the II; Secures the right to bear arms.
    To the contrary is not Pierre or any of us “on this side of your fence” that were not born in this country or disrespect our real Veterans, but to the contrary looks like you is one of those, given your words.
    You and St. Pierre openly disrespect our veterants, being my son one of those will be seriously offended by your negative critique of our students drawings, expressing their sad daily reality, with your extreme conservative ill suggested censorship of their freedom of speech. Our real good veterans fight and even give their lives for “the preservation of our freedoms” something that Ted S.Pierre publicly and with total impunity violated with his demands. Ted St.Pierre apology to our students in the next School Board meeting is owed. And yes here is me again.

    • jespo says:

      If by some misfortune I found myself on the Titanic as she were sinking, I’d be working at making a raft. If i ever gazed over and saw a fellow passenger polishing the brass handrails, I’d know he was a conservative tea partier. Great article.

    • Begonia says:

      Were you at that home show and did you see the wall? As always, you are entitled to your opinion under that Bill of Rights.

      But in this case, I’m not sure you understand exacly “why” people were offended by that wall. These students should be learning, not being fed the political agenda that was so clearly displayed on that wall.

    • jespo says:

      I commend anyone willing to stand in front of the mob and voice their opinion in an unafraid voice, and I commend this child for creating what he believed represented his thoughts on the subject of national debt. As far as what kids are taught these days my answer is a simple one. Everything. They need to be taught everything, because they need to know everything and we don’t have the right to keep anything from them. These veterans might not like what the kid says but they should fight for his right to say it….

  9. Emile says:

    Thank you, Pierre. I love the “flagophile” comment.

    • jc says:

      Bravo Pierre! From a Viet Nam Vet. Bravo also to the teacher for being creative and allowing the children to express themselves.

  10. JR says:

    The courts, and politicians on school boards, have long since ruled that free expression is not a right afforded students on school property. But, then, to hide themselves behind the students “free expression” — yes the very self-same right they took away (wrongly or rightly, it doesn’t matter) — is the height of hypocrisy.

  11. Bill McGuire says:

    Whew! For a moment there, I was afraid that a flagophile was someone who had illicit sex with underage flags and pennants.

  12. maryjoe says:

    Seems to me that Ted is an individual and in no way speaks for all veterans regardless of what war or service they were in. He is, as are other non-veterans who were offended, entitled to their opinion… seems you’ve missed that part. They are entitled to voice that opinion, just as you and the student are entitled to do. You are welcome to agree or disagree with either/or as we all are. I find it amusing you found it appropriate to be insulting to veterans who had nothing to do with the situation at all, as well as to those that support the veterans and their families for their sacrifices.

    • Srhs1987 says:

      Maryjoe, You are correct that the St Pierre’s are entitled to their opinion, but for Gail St Pierre to demand the teacher be fired is obsurd.
      Ms Cheney does an outstanding job and is an asset to this community.

  13. Jack Howell says:

    “Out of the mouth of babes” says it all!

  14. dtc says:

    “But students hear enough trash talk from tea party and Fox-trotting zealots about America, its national debt, its Socialist, Muslim, terrorist, gay-loving, Christian-bashing, welfare-worshipping, abortion-enabling, flag-burning black food-stamp president that it’s a wonder the students didn’t show him assassinating the Statue of Liberty in those images. Somehow I don’t think St. Pierre and his platoon buddies would have minded that interpretation.”

    Yes, indeed, and this is what is wrong with our country! No amount of wrapping oneself in the flag can hide the cancer of bigotry that has crawled out from under slimy rocks and spread across America since the election of our first black President. Cancer kills.

    • Nancy N says:

      To me the roots of the current wave of bigoted hate that seems to be sweeping this nation go back even further than the 2008 election. The match of that fire seems to me to have been struck on 9/11. After that day a lot of otherwise reasonable and open minded people decided that it was ok to hate and/or be suspicious of someone just because of their nationality or religion. Then the declining economy helped stoke that fire, fueling anti-immigrant sentiment and the whole “other countries are taking our jobs” argument pushing people to buy American. Electing a black president was just throwing gasoline on top of the fire that had been gradually building for most of the decade already.

    • Layla says:

      Wow, that’s harsh. I saw many at the Home Show concerned with the art, but none fitting that description.

  15. Out of curiosity says:

    While I agree that all involved are entitled to their opinions, my concern is when individuals feel a teacher should be removed when students express themselves (see News Journal article).

    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      Let’s take a look at the grades of these kids. They have time for politics. Are they learning anything besides politics?

  16. No whining zone says:

    While there are many problems with the statements by the “closed minded” veterans at the school board meeting, the most horrifying report is that no member of the school board defended the teacher or the students engaged in explorations of an idea. You expect narrow focus from myopic fools, but the members of the school board are once again guilty of refusing to stand up for academic inquiry. Shouldn’t this be their main function? Great schools are lead by courageous and intelligent individuals dedicated to the exploration of all forms of knowledge.

  17. tamapanative says:

    As a History Teacher I cannot imagine teaching a class that did not include satire and political cartoons. Do Mr. and Mrs. St. Pierre never read the opinion/editorial section of the newspaper? They were there passing out pamphlets about the Constitution for the Tea Party, yet they must not read it themselves. Granted there have been Supreme Court cases like Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) that allowed schools to invoke prior restraint on school newspapers. The majority opinion citing that student rights are not automatically equal with adult rights and schools are allowed to control content of school-sponsored speech. However, since this was in no way published for public consumption what is the harm. In Texas v. Johnson (1989) the Supreme Court majority opinion said “a government cannot mandate by fiat a feeling of unity in its citizens. Therefore that very same government cannot carve out a symbol of unity and prescribe a set of approved messages to be associated with that symbol . . .”. I actually hope the teacher and students have made this an even greater learning experience.

    • Layla says:

      tampanative: good comments. And no, this was not publicized. But it was on a very prominent wall during a large and very public Home Show.

      I’d say this has been a learning experience for us all.

      @No whining zone: Let’s not be so hasty about throwing our school board under the bus. A man went to the school board meeting to express an opinion. No need to start World War III over it. It is his right, under our system of government. Despite that, I like to think we still have schools led by good people.

      Mr. St. Pierre made the statement that he is a veteran and here you are lamblasting all veterans. Was there a mob with him?

      Nanci N. Ever been in a situation where somebody was trying to kill you? Guess it was totally unreasonable to be upset that over 3,000 of our citizens were blown to bits by terrorists. How thoughtless of us.

      Most of this country were proud that this country could elect a black President. But if we disagree with any of his policies we are now racists.

      Palmcoaster: I don’t think anyone was suggesting censorship, Palmcoaster. From what I saw, they were just curious about what was being taught.

      Yes, there were people there who were upset, including at least one elected official. Much more is being made out of this than is necessary.

      Mr. St. Pierre went to that school board meeting to exercise his rights as a citizen to be heard. I don’t think he needs to apologize for that, do you? Or do you think he must apoligize because you do not agree with him. It is ok to disagree. At least it used to be.

  18. Devrie says:

    The fact that a student drew a picture of a skeletal Lady Liberty wearing worn clothing while being tethered to national debt is not a product of “liberal” nor “conservative” education. It’s a student who thinks the national debt is weighing on the ideology of America. I’m sad that liberals and conservatives cannot find a way to come together on at least some points.

    I’m not in agreement with the generalization of all veterans. There are quite a few people who can be considered veterans who are not stuck to any sort of notion that citizens of the United States should relinquish their constitutional liberties for the sake of blind patriotism.

    We’ve criticized our leadership since the 1700’s. It’s the American thing to do, right? Some of us do it artistically. We could at least talk constructively about it. Thank you FPCHS student who opened this door.

  19. John I says:

    The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France, and is not a symbol of America, but a symbol of LIBERTY, which is defined as “1.The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life.” If the men, who objected to the pictorial and who happen to be veterans, had their way, they would rewrite history and the dictionary and fill it with their own ignorance. I am sure their point was to protect American values, but perhaps they are the ones from whom our young need protection. Maybe those men should be in school taking a civics or history class. One should never be too old to learn. Thanks for bringing an important local story to our attention Pierre.

    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      I think the very simple point here was that they felt this was disrespectful. Know the definition of that one?

      The ones from whom our young need protection? These people bled and died so these kids and you could remain free.

      I believe they have the right to speak out.

  20. Anonymous says:

    (The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France, and is not a symbol of America) WOW just WOW.Not a symbol of America???? As I see it no problem with the things the kids did it is their point of view. it is my point of yiew that we do not teach American history any longer in a good light. So what do we expect our young to put out but things that show what they have been taught in school and the media that the U.S.A. is a bad bad place.

    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      My point, exactly. These kids are being taught a political agenda when they should be learning the basics, as well as the history of this country.

      The St. Pierre’s were perfectly within their rights, and very brave, to take this issue to the school board.

      You are free to disagree with them, but these vets fought for those rights. Never forget that. It is what sets us apart from all other nations.

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