Thursday, January 7, 2016

Confederate Flags in School

The Confederate flag is something I never really gave much thought to... until I started my current teaching position. In almost every class I have this year, I've had to discuss why it's not school appropriate at least once.

Source: From Sovereign to Serf "Serfs Up" Author Roger Sayles and the Serfs Up Blog.
During the first month of school when a student wanted to paint a confederate flag, I said "I'm not saying 'no', I'm saying you have to have a REALLY good reason. Convince me." I wasn't convinced and it was clear the student hand't really thought much about it. The reason was "people like it".

I had to explain to middle school students why they could not draw it for their Youth Art Month flag designs, besides the face that they were supposed to design a new flag that was about ART and not a copy of an already existing flag.

Another time a student changed the plan I had approved and I happened to notice when I was briefly grabbing something out of my classroom (I had a sub to set up for a Student Council thing). When I realized she was getting upset with me, I asked her to just wait until we could talk about it in the next class period. After a parent came to school upset about it before I'd had a chance to talk to the student more, I did a LOT of research to make sure I understood all sides. I found that a lot of people were at one extreme or the other. It seemed like most were either thinking:
"the Confederate flag is totally racist and was that way from the beginning, it was even designed by a white supremacist" (Quentin Tarantino even called it the American swastika)
"the rebel flag is about southern pride and people who are offended by it just need to grow a pair and get over it."
These are obviously not direct quotes.

As a very empathetic person, I was looking for something in the middle. I didn't want my students to think I was calling them racist, but I also wanted them to understand how others feel about it since flags are symbols for a set of ideals. Standing up for what you believe in is great. Refusing to listen to other ideas that are different than your own is not.

I came across an article on History Net and here is my summary... the Confederate flag was used right after the war to memorialize the soldiers but unfortunately was used later by groups like the KKK and others protesting the Civil Rights movement/pro Jim Crow laws. Because of its history, it's ok to display at home but you should be aware of what it represents to others and it shouldn't be displayed on public property. Basically, regardless of intent, it can no longer be separated from racism.

This is my new go to when students don't understand why it's not ok to promote the Confederate flag at school. I also added a section to my syllabus explaining that while I give choices, it's important for those choices to be school appropriate and that will be at the teacher's discretion. So basically, unless the flag has a historical or other appropriate context, it's not allowed as imagery.

Have you dealt with this controversial topic in your classroom, too? How have you handled it?

Coski, John M. (2015). Embattled banner: The true history of the Confederate flag. Retrieved from

Another good article is from PBS: 8 things you didn't know about the Confederate flag. In the article, they cite a 2011 Pew Research Center poll that showed about 10% of Americans react positively to the Confederate flag while 30% react negatively. The rest don't have a positive or negative reaction to


  1. Really interesting post, Katie. I really like the way you hand,Ed this issue. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Phyl! It was a controversy I didn't expect in my new school but it keeps coming up. I've just started telling classes about my policy up front now to get it out of the way!

  2. I had never thought about having address this issue in the art room. Food for thought.

  3. I appreciate reading your post. I was one of those children who grew up in the south and viewed the flag as Southern Pride and not a sign of bigotry. I like the explanation your now share with your students.

    1. Thanks for your feedback!
      I should also point out that we're in north east Kansas- definitely not in the south- so when students who have lived here their whole lives say it's about "southern pride" I wonder what it really means to them.

  4. Last weekend I caught a 10 Things You Didn't know About... The US Flag episode (originally shown on H2 8/16/2014) that is germane to your post. The Flag in question first came about early in the Civil War when soldiers on both sides of the conflict were fighting in similarly colored uniforms.There were many deaths on both sides from friendly fire. Makes sense, but as you said that flag has been co-opted by hate filled groups that now are more associated with it and the original purpose has been largely forgotten. An ancestor of mine was a part of the Wisconsin 2nd fighting for the Union and that regiment was mentioned as one of the first involved with friendly fire because they wore light gray uniforms.