Mt. Abe mulls proposal to require the national anthem

What are actions/fundraisers/events that the school community could take part in to provide actual support to (military families)? The singing of the national anthem provides no visible means of support.
— Amelia Lutz

BRISTOL — If a Mount Abraham Union High School proposal is approved, “The Star-Spangled Banner” could become a regular feature of school life there.

“Each school day or week should begin with the national anthem of the United States of America … in order for students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds to celebrate their common identity as American citizens or residents,” reads the proposal, which was submitted to the school’s Community Council earlier this spring by Al Zaccor, who teaches U.S. Government at the the Bristol school, and 13 other faculty members.

“My colleagues and I are very concerned about the extreme political polarization in our country, which we have seen reflected in our local community, and even in our school,” Zaccor told the Independent in an email. “We believe that expressions of patriotism, such as standing for the National Anthem, as is common at sporting events, are powerful tools to build and reinforce solidarity and unity.”

Zaccor, a Bridport resident and retired U.S. Army colonel who’s in his fifth year teaching at Mount Abe, told the Independent the proposal “is in no way connected” to his Feb. 18 Letter to the Editor, which he wrote as a private citizen.

That letter, which was published six days after the Black Lives Matter flag became a permanent fixture at Mount Abe, criticized the use of flags as expressions of political tribalism — both on the right, in the form of Confederate, “Don’t Tread on Me” and Betsy Ross flags, and on the left, where it takes the form of “performative social justice.”

“Now a Black Lives Matter flag will fly ‘indefinitely’ over one of our county’s high schools, with a place of honor right below the Stars and Stripes,” Zaccor wrote. “What next? Shouldn’t we add a Rainbow flag? With climate change looming, shouldn’t every day be Earth Day? Is there a flag for that? If ‘Abortion Rights are Human Rights,’ why not a NARAL flag? We are going to need a taller flag pole.”

The national anthem proposal has received the stamp of approval from “several of the leaders of local religious, civic and political organizations,” Zaccor told the Independent, though he would not say which ones.

The proposal has also provoked intense opposition.

Bristol resident Amelia Lutz, who is the parent of a Mount Abe eighth-grader and a sixth-grader at Bristol Elementary, launched a petition urging Mount Abe’s Community Council to reject Zaccor’s proposal.

“The purpose of the proposal is outlined as patriotism and a way to ‘unify all of us as Americans,’” Lutz wrote. “The anthem is not a unifying song for many Americans who have felt left out, underserved, ignored, or mistreated.”

The lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” are taken from a poem Francis Scott Key wrote in 1814, during the Battle of Baltimore. The words were later set to the music of a popular British tune, and the song was adopted as the national anthem in 1931.

In her petition, Lutz cites lyrics such as “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave” as “problematic verses that reference white supremacy and black slavery, penned by a slave owner who spoke of Black Americans as a ‘distinct and inferior race.’”

Demonstrating support for the military is a worthy goal, Lutz wrote.

“Military families shoulder an incredible burden in supporting their families who sacrifice to support and defend our nation. What are actions/fundraisers/events that the school community could take part in to provide actual support to this community? The singing of the national anthem provides no visible means of support.”

Rather, requiring the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in school would promote disunity, Lutz wrote, further disenfranchising historically marginalized people.

“What will unify us is a commitment to doing the work to examine the systemic racism in our community and our education system.”

Lincoln resident Mike Fisher referred to the national anthem proposal as “indoctrination.”

“I am hopeful that the leadership of our district will join me in preserving the educational space and promote activities that are designed to help young people learn about patriotism in its various forms,” Fisher wrote. “This includes a patriotism that promotes an honest critical look at our country with a commitment to make it better.”

The Mount Abe Community Council has been discussing the proposal for weeks, said Principal Shannon Warden, and is planning to gather more input from students.

“I’ve been impressed by the Community Council’s ability to ask good questions and seek more information before making decisions,” she said.

The Independent asked Zaccor about his vision for how “The Star-Spangled Banner” would lead to unity, what remedies he would propose for people who feel excluded by the National Anthem, and whether there were other schools in the state that have launched similar programs, but his email statement did not contain answers to those questions.

“As educators, we know that a sense of solidarity is necessary to create an atmosphere of trust for students to feel safe in discussing controversial social and political topics,” he wrote in that statement. “My colleagues share my dedication to modeling for our students how to engage in civic discourse in a democracy: how to argue constructively, seek consensus, and disagree respectfully. I am proud of the democratic process our school has established for this purpose, as well as the students and colleagues engaged in it.”

 Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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