When we ponder the ways to teach our youth about American values, some policy makers seem to think we should make laws ordering teachers to pound the Constitution into their little charges' heads.
There is another, more personal way to learn what it means to be patriotic -- and it was on display in a classroom at Soldotna Elementary School, as we showed earlier this week.
There we saw fourth- and fifth-graders in Jan Bobek's class performing a simple task -- folding miniature American flags and preparing them for shipment to military personnel in war zones overseas.
The idea for the modest project came from Herb Stettler, chaplain for the local VFW chapter, who got the idea from a Utah school principal. The flags -- folded to military precision and packaged with message cards -- are sent to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as little reminders.
"A flag for your pocket so you can always carry a piece of your home," Stettler described it.
No doubt such small gestures grow intensely meaningful once these little packages reach soldiers. Stettler said he heard from one soldier who recently got his flag and taped it to the inside of his helmet as a constant reminder of his mission. "Then he knew what he was doing over there, so it was a help," Stettler said.
Too often, we hear members of older generations lamenting the state of our younger generation -- kids today don't care, don't share or respect our values. But here's an example of a member of our community getting involved and sharing those values. And in hearing to what the kids have to say about the project, it's clear that they're listening, that this project has made an impression.
Think of all the lessons these youngsters can take away from a little project like this.
In this class, the kids don't just learn to fold the flag. They also learn the respectful way to handle the country's flag. And there's a particular way the flag should be displayed. And when one has done its duty and is worn and tired, there's a proper way to lay it to final rest.
And in learning all those particulars, kids begin to get a sense of what it means to be American. Along with those details comes a lesson about the ideals individuals feel the flag stands for.
We don't want to get overly sappy here, or wrap ourselves into a mindless "love it or leave it" jingoism. Patriotism is worthy of more understanding and respect than to be reduced to slogans.
But we do think this classroom flag exercise is a significant little piece of learning what love of country is, and what sacrifice is, who makes the sacrifices and why.
Showing some respect for those folks who make those sacrifices is good start to learning the meaning of America.
And it's heartening to find classrooms where those ideas are still being taught to a new batch of youngsters every year.
In short: A simple classroom flag folding project actually means so much more.
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