Thursday, September 11, 2008


So, of course, today is the seventh--I know, seven years! Amazing--anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. It's hard to escape the anniversary, unless, like my friend Shae, you live in Houston, where they have bigger things on their minds.

But here in the Central Valley, it's business as usual, and when you teach middle school, well, even more so. My 7th and 8th graders were in kindergarten and first grade when the attacks happened. Most admitted freely that it's not something they really remember, aside from bits and pieces.

So I told them my story, and tried to make it real for them. I told them how scared I was that day, even though my family was 3,000 miles away from the events unfolding. I told them how I rarely cry at movies, but that day, my tears flowed freely.

Next Wednesday is Constitution Day, and all students and teachers will be singing the National Anthem together at the beginning of the school day. It's also the only day this year the kids will be allowed to wear red and royal blue--colors usually banned in the school district because of their gang affiliations. In preparation for Constitution Day, I offered to make sure the 7th and 8th grade classes all know the Star-Spangled Banner.

Well, of course, my kids are reluctant to sing. I gave them three options:

1. Citation (a referral)

2. A solo try at the song in front of their peers.

3. Just sing it once, whole group, with the CD and be done with it. The song, with intro, takes a whole whopping one minute and ten seconds.

They may be preteens, but they're not stupid! They happily chose Option Number Three. So I started the CD--and saw the kids leaning, talking, laughing, passing notes. So I stopped.

"You know what?" I asked them. "There are American men and women--right now--sitting in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for your right to behave like idiots during the National Anthem. My dad? Yeah. He fought in the Vietnam war--I'm very lucky he didn't die there, because then I wouldn't have been born. But he could have died--and he would have done it so you could have the right to be completely disrespectful during the National Anthem. Now, if you will please get your bottoms off the table and stand respectfully, we'll try this again."

Suddenly, you could hear a pin drop. They realized that I was serious, and they sang the song--they were a little chagrined, but they sang. When it was done, I let them sit back down, and told them the story of how Francis Scott Key came to pen the famous poem that would become our National Anthem. I put the words of the Anthem into teen-speak. Suddenly, a class that has a hard time sitting still was quiet, listening, and buying in. It's a very good feeling.

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