Scott Compton meant to teach his students that symbols don’t mean anything.
He did just the opposite.
The English teacher at Chapin High School northwest of Columbia, S.C., reportedly stomped on an American flag in front of three classes recently in an apparent attempt to show that it was just a piece of cloth not worthy of reverence.
The lesson, as it turns out, was for him: An angry backlash from parents and veterans, which included national media attention, led the school district to yank him from the classroom.
And it proved him completely wrong: Symbols do mean something.
In the case of the American flag, it represents a country most of us love with all our hearts. For veterans, it represents something they’ve spent and often risked their lives defending.
To stomp on it or burn it or otherwise deface it is a slap in the face to anyone who loves this country.
But forget the disrespect the teacher’s actions showed toward the country and those of us who love it dearly. For him not to understand that symbols do, indeed, have deep and abiding meaning indicates a severe lack of judgment. That alone gives you pause as to whether he should be educating our young.
It’s not just a matter of patriotism or nationalism, either. Symbolism is an important part of almost every aspect of our lives, from religion to sports to nearly everything that brings human beings to common cause.
Colors can be deeply symbolic. We don’t need to remind you how important school colors are. And in recent decades, massive political revolutions in Eastern Europe came to be known by their symbols – the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, for example. Flowers are powerfully symbolic, as you’ll be reminded of again Feb. 14. Different colors of roses even mean different things. Roses also were used in the incredibly nonviolent Rose Revolution in the Republic of Georgia.
Consider, too, how integral the colored ribbon has become to the American consciousness: Pink ones, for instance, symbolize those who are banded together in the fight against breast cancer.
Some things have inherent meaning. But symbols have meaning because we imbue them with it. To stomp on that symbol is, in effect, to stomp on the thing it represents – particularly when you’re talking about someone’s country or deeply held belief system.
That’s the real lesson here, one we hope is not lost on the students, even if it is on the teacher.
To disrespect someone else’s symbol is to disrespect them.
In short, when you’re spoiling for a fight, don’t be surprised when you get one.