How High Schools Can Talk About the Confederate Flag
It seems like you can’t go a week without reading a story about a student who has decided to bring a Confederate flag to school or wear clothing with the symbol prominently displayed. Over the past few years the number of reported stories has increased in frequency. More interesting, these incidents have spread well beyond the South to every region of the country. While these stories make for great press what is usually ignored is how individual schools end up dealing with the fallout. While the courts have ruled consistently that school administrators have the right to limit the display of the flag that can do little to assuage the uneasiness and mistrust that is present in the hallways.
In February I will deliver my first talk on the history and evolving meaning of the Confederate flag in front of an entire high school community.
This talk is not designed to tell students, teachers and administrators what to think about this potentially explosive issue, but to provide a framework for those who are interested in reflecting on this subject in a more constructive manner. I provide a history of how the flag has been interpreted and used in the past by different groups and engage students by asking them to share their own perceptions about the meaning of the flag and why this symbol continues to divide communities. Regardless of what students believe about the Confederate flag their thinking should be informed by some understanding of the relevant history.
While the temptation for administrators and teachers may be to move forward following these incidents as quickly as possible, it is safe to say that the underlying questions and tension will continue to fester.
There are a number of approaches that I can take in discussing this subject with your school community.
School-wide address including Q&A
School-wide address followed by workshop with small student groups around close analysis of historical documents
Workshop for History/Social Studies departments that are in need of suitable resources for their classrooms
Workshop with teachers and/or administrators who are simply looking for more information with which to handle a current or recent controversy
Regardless of the approach, a presentation on the history and current controversy surrounding the place of the Confederate flags in schools offers a school community an ideal case study with which to explore conflict resolution. For that reason alone, this talk is also appropriate for schools that are not currently dealing directly with these controversial questions.
Beyond the schools, this talk also can assist communities that are struggling with the display of the Confederate flag in public places. I approach this subject and presentation with the basic assumption that regardless of what you believe, know your history.