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Flags Raise a Flap

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Getting hauled out of the classroom on day two wasn't exactly how Eric Hamlin had expected to kick off a new year at a new school. But Hamlin, a geography teacher at Carmody Middle School in Lakewood, Colorado, was suspended for allegedly flouting state law. His offense: displaying flags from other countries. Yes, that's right. Colorado law says that foreign flags may hang in classrooms only when they are relevant to the curriculum. After a little detective work, Principal John Schalk determined that Hamlin had no lessons planned for the immediate future that would relate directly to the flags in question—those of the United Nations, Mexico, and China. Officials, Hamlin said, seemed to think the Mexican flag in particular would "send these seventh graders into a spin and they would start protesting." When Hamlin refused to remove the flags, the Jefferson County School District had him escorted from his classroom and placed on administrative leave. "We have to uphold state law," said district spokeswoman Lynn Setzer. The district quickly backpedaled, though—offering to reinstate Hamlin and allow the flags to fly for up to six weeks, at which time he would have to rotate them with the proud banners of other nations. "Our district believes in win-win situations," said Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. Rather than returning to Carmody, Hamlin has asked to be reassigned to another school. Though he was new at Carmody, this is his fourth year in the Jefferson County district, where he has previously displayed flags from Iraq, Palestine, and other places. "It's much along the lines of a science teacher who puts up a map of the solar system," he said. "They may not spend every day and every lesson talking about Mars, but they want the students to see that."

11 Comments

It is understandable that the school wishes to be careful about certain political issues as well as certain nations, but flags are a wonderful means of capturing students' interest in the world around them. It is so pitiful that many students where I used to teach do not know the difference between their city and another country--Mexico. Some of them actually think this city we live in IS Mexico. Some do not know what a state is, let alone a county or a continent. I'm speaking of fifth graders in a border town of approximately 200,000. I would purposely have students look at a map once each week and choose a proper noun outside of the U.S., just so they could be exposed to other worlds! I WISH I would have had flags to hang in the room. The flags could serve as a great starting point!

So Jefferson County does not believe in freedom of expression. What would Thomas have said about this?
Let's go and bomb some more countries that do not allow freedom of speech in the name of democracy!
Where is the "free world" leadership going with its support for such fascist school principals, school districts and state legislators?
Shame on you.

This is "unreal!" As a foreign language teacher, I have posted/displayed flags of all of the nations that speak Spanish even though I haven't always taught a "lesson" about all of them. We have to expose our children to more than what they see just around them.

This is definitely a case of lack of freedom of expression in education caused by short-thinking politicians!

As a History, Government, and Geography teacher the flags that we hang around the classroom is a tool. This tool maybe only for exposure, but it is usually a conversation starter. They are also wonderful manipulatives in the realm of teaching about other countries and showing the differences in our world. We need to applaud and discuss our differences, if not we will continue to "repeat history" with our ignorances.
TG-Texas

You have GOT to be kidding me! Talk about tolerance and knowledge of the world! Sounds like little man in control who has nothing better to do than nitpick on his teachers. I'm glad that I do not have kids in that district and I'm glad that I do not have that administrator in my building. Leaves me speechless. When will we start to get away from micromanaging? It sounds like the state legislature, too, needs some lessons in what geography is.

One of the reasons I have decided to teach adults is because I really don't want to get involved in the partisan politics of K-12 teaching. In their effort to protect this nation's future by shielding young minds from controversey, independent investigation, and critical thinking, while prefering to distort reality by perpetuating myths, and, by some, pushing forward personal, pet religious beliefs like "Intelligent Design," these misguided ideologues are actually undermining this nation's future.

As a resident of and prospective teacher in the Denver metro area (including Jefferson County), I am appalled that Jefferson County Schools would do such a thing as to assault this teacher's teaching methods to such an extent. I am appalled that Principal Schalk would take this action. I will certainly remember that name! I am also appalled, but less surprised, that the state would have such a law on the books. That should be changed.

Just think of what JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY old school extreme right wing nut put those rules on the Colorado state book. "Oh my Gawd a UN flag!" that ought to scare Americans, and the flag of the former "owners" of Colorado the Republic of Mexico, also evokes bad feelings. Then to top it off, the red and yellow stars of Communist(?) China, no wonder the poor teacher got in hot water, what would have happened if he had the world soccor champion Italian flag, or our old buddy England's...NOTHING is my guess. Those laws have to change.

Makes me want to go out and buy a bunch of flags and put them up in my classroom, right next to my Corporate States of American flag.

We need to focus on the learning of students rather than ridiculous, ignorant rules/laws. As a teacher at an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme school, we are encouraged to discuss other countries...to show items from other counries...we MUST think globally to be able to get along in this world. This could begin with the student questioning where the flag comes from.

I have had posters of Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi and JFK hanging in each of my classrooms. While I did not teach from these everyday, they certainly stood as symbols and role models for each of us to follow. The things we have in our classroom often guide and reinforce instruction and learning in ways we never could have imagined when first bringing these things in to our various classrooms and learning environments. A fossilized dinosaur egg used to identify my classroom assistant for the day is one such object that comes to mind. Interested students learned about dinosaurs in my classroom although it was not tied to objectives or standards. While perceived differently by one district in Colorado, this has been called learning in the teachable moment where I have taught school. Hopefully this incident causes that policy to be reviewed and/or amended.

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