15-year old understands patriotism?

matthew's picture

NOTE: I am not the same Matthew who wrote this letter. I just blogged about it. Apparently, a number of readers have been confused due to our identical first name.

Recently, high-school juniors Joana and Irene Bastos wrote an editorial in The Observer, which took issue with students who refused to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.

I found the response of one of the protesters more enlightening than the editorial; it has yet to be published. He fails to support his logic places, relying on assumptions which may not be shared by his audience, but his candor and courage despite popular opposition are admirable.

(Credit: Bob Zannelli, who brought this to my attention)

When Joana and Irene Bastos (Observer, April 13, 2005) see someone not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, they see an act of disrespect. If they would open their eyes, hearts and minds, they would see an act of patriotic courage in the best tradition of the principles "for which it stands." They would also see how dangerous their own attitude is to the preservation of our freedoms.

When I sit out the McCarthy-era version of the Pledge, it is not because I do not care about, respect or love my country. Just the opposite, it is because I do.

Our country has taken many dangerous turns lately. We have given away many of our freedoms through the so-called Patriot Act. Radical elements threaten to turn our democracy into a theocracy. Groups the majority does not understand, like homosexuals, intellectuals and liberals, are regularly treated with scorn, contempt and disrespect.

America has become the world's only superpower, but instead of acting like a strong, confident nation, we are acting like children. I am sickened and appalled, and therefore it is not just my right, but my duty as a citizen to speak out. I do not do this for myself. I have nothing personally to gain and much to lose. I do it for my country because it is right.

Many of you may not agree with me. However, when you declare my protest out of bounds, you feed the process by which societies have destroyed their own freedoms and created tyrannies. You may think we Americans are different, but we are not. There is nothing new about this. We are no different than any society that has ever gone through its own tragic undoing. American "unity" is looking more and more like the "unity" that has led to every tyranny the world has ever known. It is reactive, unthinking, and contemptuous of dissent. It shouts slogans and reviles those who decline to participate in its rituals. It employs pretty symbols like yellow ribbons to make people feel good about an ugly war. It demands unquestioning conformity.

Whether a group is standing for the Pledge or raising an arm and shouting "Sieg Heil!," the process is exactly the same. You may not like that comparison. I do not like having to make it. You cannot reasonably acknowledge the evil of torturing people for dissent, and then on the other hand complain that dissent is out of bounds. A freedom is meaningless if no one ever uses it. If the current attitude continues to prevail, our freedoms will continue to be eroded, and we will become the very thing we have so long opposed.

I do not sit because standing is too hard, or because reciting the Pledge takes too long. It would be much easier to stand and not have people
telling me I am "unpatriotic," a Communist, or spitting on America. Most of these comments have not been made by students, but teachers and staff members, the adults who are supposed to be teaching us citizenship! Standing would indeed be a small act. Sitting is the big one.

My protest is to save my freedom and yours. The minute my protest is no longer respected is the minute all our freedoms begin to disappear.
That is why I do it. If you wish to criticize me for it, the least you can do is not misrepresent my reasons. If you cannot do that, you might ask yourself whether your own thinking might be the source of the disrespect, and a major part of our country's current problem.

Our freedoms are in serious trouble under the current administration. I ask every concerned citizen to help preserve our freedoms before they are lost.

Matthew LaClair

EDIT by matthew: Fixed link to article, as they change URIs when the current issue changes.

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Sammy G's picture

How does he fail?

How does he fail to support logic places? Just wondering what you mean by that.

matthew's picture

Conservative hat

Put on your conservative hat :) Read it with a critical eye for flat statements which, themselves, are either debatable, or presented as fact without supporting documentation.

I'll leave that as an exercise to the reader to figure out where they are :) I'll be posting a longer response to myself at some point... just not today.

(EDIT: No, I won't. It's been explored already. I'll leave it as, I agree with this kid, and wish I had had the gumption to write what he wrote as a teenager. But I was on the other side of the fence: gung-ho about patriotism, democracy, Grandma and apple pie. I'm a bit more cynical today.)

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

Sammy G's picture

Interesting

Interesting how you look at things. I wasn't challenging your position, I was just thinking that it's obviously an opinion written by a student, and not some inviolable pronouncement of fact. Thus, I wasn't looking for statistics, nor was I expecting them. And just because there's no littany of data doesn't mean that his opinion is discredited.

weed's picture

I agree

I agree with Sam, to a point. If you're reading this dude's statement as him making a factual statement about the state of America, then by all means it's full of holes and mistakes.

But taken from an emotional, "this is how I feel" point-of-view, he moves me and makes his point very well. I expect a big name journalist to double-check any facts he uses in public statements. A journalist has the time and resources to get it right. But not a teenager, or anyone who's not a professional writer.

Facts are silly anyway because I can produce any facts to counter the facts you present. I can produce facts to disprove 2+2=4 if I have to.
We just have a bunch of beliefs we can reproduce reliably (mostly).

That being said, there's a big difference between reading this boy's opinion and saying "Wow, he's right" versus "Wow, he makes a good point". Too many people do the former.

My $.02
Weed

My $.02
Weed

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

The problem

The problem with this kid's protest is not that he has logic problems or even his intent. His problem is that his intent is lost, and therefore meaningless, in the din of people calling him an unpatriotic idiot.
It's fun to be an angry young man, as Billy Joel refered to his youger self, but anything you say or do is observed negatively in that light. This young man's point would be better served, in my opinion, by standing for the pledge, getting a hair cut (oh, there I go jumping to conclusions), and THEN writing his well-written manifesto about the lousy state of the greatest country on earth, the one that gives him the right to sit for the pledge in the first-place.

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Sammy G's picture

Did That Already

Paul, the kid probably stood for the pledge and got a haircut all through elementary school.

Ben's picture

Well

Not to turn this into more than it is, but one could make the same arguments regarding Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus, or blacks sitting at white-only lunch counters in Alabama. The issues are different, but the act of protest is the same.

--
Ben

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Ben

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

don't get me wrong

My intent was not to place a value, positive or negative, on his position. It was only to point out the underlying PR problem he is facing with his methods.

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weed's picture

PR, SchmeeeR

I seriously doubt he cares about PR, and he shouldn't. It would cheapen his piece if I were to find out he "cleaned up" to present it. Be who you are. Part of being 15 is being unruly, rebelling, acting like we did when we were that age. He'll clean up as he gets older, but for now, let him be an angry young man.

I would hazard a guess that he never thought anything would come of it when he did it, and is probably overwhlemed by the hub0bub it's created. You're correct that it's a sad state of our society the we judge by looks before substance, tho. I'm just sick of everyone suddenly being PR-saavy. It's refreshing to see someone "real" in the limelight.

My $.02
Weed

My $.02
Weed

So in other words, my protest

So in other words, my protest would be better served standing?

Ok, I get it now. I am not supposed to disagree with others.

The fact that the country gave me the right to sit down is why I use it.

What you are saying is I should stand because I have the right not to? Right now, I am in school and the pledge is about to come on. In my mind, I am looking around this classroom and saying to myself, "all these kids were told since kindergarden to stand for the pledge. They don't understand yet what the pledge really is."

Conformity.

To protect my rights, I will use them as long as possible. You know that saying, "Give me liberty or give me death?" Well, it's coming back. Right now in our country, the majority of people believe gays should not get married. O yeah, "liberty and justice for all."

Lets see how long that lasts.

EDIT by matthew (the guy who owns this blog): adjusted whitespace, tpyos, punctuation.

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

Whoah, Tiger

Look, You are sitting in class Googling your own name. Would it kill you to have the slightest inkling how GREAT an opportunity you've been given in this country?

Of course you should be able to sit for the pledge. And, yes you should be able to. But for now, you can't.

My point was a civics lesson on affecting change. You will not ever, ever, ever get the rules changed in today's America by breaking them. Never. Not a chance.

What will get the rules changed is an airtight case for your point of view repeated to as many people as you can get to listen to it. Get popular opinion on your side. You won't get that by acting like a punk. Sorry. No one wants to listen to a kid complaining about the repressive land he lives in as he pontificates from his air conditioned classroom with high-speed internet and a computer while he gets his free, constitutionaly guaranteed education. Maybe you should close the web browser, open your book, pay attention and demonstrate that your opinion is worthy of attention by paying the same respect to others.

Standing for the pledge requires conformity but that is not what it is "all about". Believe it or not, most adults don't give a crap what you become. Most are not trying to make you into someone you aren't.

Believe it or not, this country is better than it ever was. Yes, some groups still have their rights restricted and that should change. I have confidence that it will. Why? Because its far better than it ever was and its changing more every day.

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matthew's picture

Hey! Not Google!

Hey, give a kid a break :) Matthew LaClair didn't Google his way here. He MSN-searched his way here, from an internet connection at Kearny High School, at... (looking) 7:53 AM Mountain Daylight Time. Well, in Kearny, NJ, that does put him square in the middle of the school day, just shy of 10 AM ;) Maybe he was in computer class or something. I thought Matthew's high school was in California, which would have put him here mighty early in the morning.

Here's the search Matthew used. Interesting that my blog about him is first in the results list, though. Weird that my blog ends up with unusually high Google rankings on obscure subjects.

Regardless, Matthew, welcome! Glad you dropped in.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

A break?

You can't publish a letter declaring your intent to buck the system and then not expect to get bucked yourself.

This is part of the deal. At times, people disagree with you. Or in this case, disagree with your methods. Actually, let me clarify, I don't really care what the kid does. Seriously. My point was, and is, that he is unlikely to affect change by coming off like a punk with no repsect for anything at all.

His energy seems unfocused and angry. He'd do better with a note from his parents excusing him from participating. The problem likely is that since his room isn't clean and he didn't improve his algebra grade last semester like he promised his folks he would, his parents will have no part of his Tom-foolery until they see him get his act together.

Is it possible I'm wrong in my assessment of the boy? Of course.

Matthew, prove me wrong. Affect change. Stand up for your rights (irony intended). Good luck, kid. You don't need to take my advice and you probably won't. But its out there for the taking all the same.

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Wow!

It's kinda disturbing to know that people track me. But anyway, yes, I did use name to find what impact my letter has had on others. Apparently it started at least a discussion, which is what I wanted.

Matt again

I actually do pay attention in class. We just finished our exams yesterday and know I am done with school for the year. But of course, I have to go to school because we are supposed to be in school 180 days a year. Instead of judging what I am doing, try to actually use some FACTS against me.

matthew's picture

Tracking...

As far as "knowing that people track me"... it's important to remember that anonymity on the Internet, as in real life, is mostly illusory. It disturbs me, too, but what can you do?

There are efforts underway, such as the Freenet Project, to attempt to create a truly pseudonymous/anonymous Internet, but unfortunately rampant abuse by child-porn rings and copyright infringers have given free-anonymous-speech efforts a bad rap. At this point, I doubt that it's possible to create a bastion of free speech without simultaneously creating an open bazaar for the marketing of various illegal forms of communication.

I wish there was a way to create a truly-text-only pseudonymous/anonymous network, thus preserving the ability of dissidents to publish information on, for instance, human-rights abuses by their country without fear of retribution. But people are clever, and given a text-only medium, will inevitably figure out encoding methods to transfer things other than plain-text at arbitrarily large sizes. Just look at Usenet :)

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Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

About Matt

the thing is that i dont think its wrong to not stand for a pledge going on in class but the thing is that he is taking a risk or a try at what this nation is about all he is doing is being free he dosent have to do anything he dosent want too would you want some one to stalk you if you wore a patriotic shirt i don't think so

thank you

and i am not trying to defend Matt but voicing what i think he is doing

by the way it is definetly not at all wrong

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

Read again

I didn't judge you. In fact, I agreed with you on the point you are trying to make. But, seriously, you come off as a punk with a chip on his shoulder (as evidenced by your highly defensive reaction to me actually agreeing with your point but questioning your methods). That's not usually a highly effective means to the end. Especially when the system you are trying to buck (public education) is set up to effectively silence those whom they label as troublemakers.

Again, there is no need for me to use facts against you because I agree with your statement. It is my feeling however that you will be shockingly unsuccesful in bringing liberalism to conservatives by offending them. You would be better served by doing more well-written statements, letters to the editor, petitions to school boards, etc. all the while showing respect for the system you are trying to change.

A system, by the way, that despite its shortcomings also offers you a miriad of freedoms and opportunities. A system that provides a mechanism for change so long as you can bide your time. Be patient.

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That's the problem

The problem is that anybody who disagrees with the government is a "troublemaker" which is why dissent is patriotic. In Germany (during the Nazi's) anybody who went against the governments system was threatened and killed. America isn't like that, but it isn't too far away from getting there.

matthew's picture

Godwin's Law

By mentioning Hitler or the Nazi's, you have caused this conversation to fulfill "Godwin's Law":

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

As it is indeed quite an old blog entry, I guess eventually statistical probability caught up with us.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

I think that's not the case

You make two points. Let me address them both.

First, you make the point that "anybody who disagrees with the government is a "troublemaker"". History tells us otherwise. Our original Constitutional Congress (AKA, The Framers), Martin Luthur King Jr., Rosa Parks, and a host of other revered historical heroes were those who had the courage to disagree with the government. In fact, our government operates, in large part, on the notion that open debate of issues is required prior to many decisions. This debate ranges in form from government lobbyists, town hall meeting, city councils, campaigns, elections, and so on.

Your second point was that America "isn't too far away from getting there [Nazi Germany]". You couldn't be more wrong. Don't stress too much about it though, its common for everyone to believe that they have it the worst there is. The reality is that with each passing year this country, again while not perfect, does more and more to protect personal freedoms, not less and less. As I pointed out in an earlier post, women have the vote, races are no longer officially segregated, the disabled are allowed equal treatment under the law, business are less regulated, taxation happens with more public input, freedom of the press has been challenged time and again in the courts and continues to stand.
What you are lacking here is historical perspective. Time will fix that.

Something else comes to mind. I have noticed in both your published letter and in posts here. Your words seem to point out problems and fail to offer solutions. Anybody can complain. It takes a real hero to offer solutions and carry them out. While sitting for The Pledge clearly has gotten attention I wonder if it will solve what you see is a problem. My point is that I doubt that it will.

Here's my challenge to you. Propose a solution. Decide what must be done. Elicit the help of those who can and will help. You may learn that many share your enthusiasm for the cause but are afraid to act beyond complaining.

As always, don't forget to remember how great you really have it along the way. There's nothing wrong with trying to improve your world, just don't come off acting like you've got it so bad. That will trigger resentment in many people who you need to win the influence of.

Many adults, myself included, will tend to look at your actions and say "Doesn't he know how great its supposed to be to be 15? Doesn't he get how badly we wish our worst problem was reciting a 17 second Pledge each day?" That doesn't mean we're right, but perception in mass can quickly become reality.

Food for thought.

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Bryan's picture

Ummm....

Ok, earlier you told Matthew that
"You will not ever, ever, ever get the rules changed in today's America by breaking them. Never. Not a chance."
Yet later your responded to one of his post contradicting this statement "Our original Constitutional Congress (AKA, The Framers), Martin Luthur King Jr., Rosa Parks, and a host of other revered historical heroes were those who had the courage to disagree with the government."
Sorry, but the way that many of these showed that they disagreed with the government was to break the rules.

Also, while they were breaking the rules, they werent viewed as historical heroes... They were viewed as "troublemakers" by those that didnt agree with them.
When Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, that was breaking a (law) rule and she knew this. She was punished accordingly to the laws, gathered others that had the same beliefs as her to boycott the buses. Later the laws changed and she was viewed as a historical hero. I'm sure when that was going on the members of the Klan werent thinking "Wow, what a possitive woman... shes a real hero!!". "Troublemaker" was probably the nicest thing they called her.

Sorry... I'm not trying to attack your responses, but if you are going to blast the kid, at least stay consistent.

I do agree that by himself nothing will ever change. However if he can enlist others into his cause of civil disobedience you never know what can happen.
--
Bryan

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Bryan

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

Very astute...

Bryan... a very astute point. I had to double check to be sure I wrote that first one correctly... I did... I was sure to mention "in today's America".

This is not Colonial America, nor is this issue the race struggle of the deep south in the 1950's and 1960's.

This is a high school kid protesting a seemingly innocuous tradition. He is likely to find himself labeled a troublemaker having affected little or no change in the system by simply refusing to participate.

But, like I've said. I could be wrong and this is just my opinion.

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Fame comes at you fast....

Duck.

You're buried in e-mail*.

deservedly so....nice job.

*(I'll bet you have a wikipedia entry right now.)

matthew's picture

I'm not that Matthew...

I'm not the Matthew you are reading about. I'm thirty-three and have four kids.

I finally understand the cryptic emails and instant messages I've been getting congratulating me for talking about the "teacher". I'll have to put up a new blog entry talking about Matthew's latest exploit recording his teacher preaching Christianity in a public school history class and warning his students that they are "going to hell"...

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Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

rowan's picture

Wow...

So OK, this comment's about like a YEAR too late, but I just read this thread because it came up under recent posts.

And I just got to shout out a big ol' Whiskey Tango Foxtrot to Paul on this one.

Speaking as someone who remembers the average caliber of "high school tirade essays," having read and written several of them myself, I felt like this one was pretty damn good. It showed (again, compared to other high school essays on the subject), a fair amount of reasoned moderation and forethought.

First, it seems like this wasn't written as a rabble-rousing manifesto, but instead as a response to negative criticism that had been leveled against him by actual journalists.

Second, this was not some slap-dash piece of tripe written in a hurry to post on a blog somewhere (like I'm writing right now). This referenced a "McCarthy-era pledge;" it used antithesis ("You cannot reasonably acknowledge the evil of torturing people for dissent, and then on the other hand complain that dissent is out of bounds."). I honestly think these words reflect a very bright thinker who's putting both his intellect and his ideals to good use at the same time.

I guess I'm just genuinely confused as to how someone could read this essay, even if they disagree with it, and then jump to "stop acting like a punk," "cut your hair," and "because you're responding to my post you must be wasting your educational time Googling yourself." (All of which were things actually said in this conversation)

It just seems like a huge, vitriolic escalation in the negative direction, as well as a few big steps away from any kind of reasonable discussion as to whether or not his chosen method of protest was effective, which I think was the original point Paul was trying to drive at.

Again, I know, this is so out of left field considering the age of this thread. I was just surprised and perplexed by the force of the Murphy Mafia's reaction to this one.

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Arth

He's not angry

He's not angry. I'm his dad, so I should know. He's just a citizen trying to make a difference.

Try googling "Matthew LaClair" now and see what you come up with. If that doesn't work, google "Matthew LaClair" - hero. Then we'll talk about whether his methods are effective.

I'm not angry either, just extremely proud of him. I don't think he's necessarily a hero, by the way, and neither does he. Just a citizen doing what he thinks is right in an increasingly effective way.

Timpane's picture

And please understand... this post is 2 years old.

It does sort of seem, though, that he is protesting in order to make known his right to protest.

That is to say, he thinks conformity in itself is bad, so he sits to say "I don't have to conform", which is his right, which he exercises... but it's a slippery slope.

He should not be stopped by any governmental agency from choosing to sit. But if you make an unpopular and controversial choice, it may make you unpopular and controversial. Since there is no real reason to do it (kids can choose not to stand for religious and ideological reasons already), he may find that people think he's protesting just because he feels like protesting.

Either way... I hope he's doing well.

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Thanks. He understood the

Thanks. He understood the risks. We all did. However, that's no excuse for anyone to abuse him.

Sorry I'm replying to this so late.

About the insult I too

About the insult I too agree.

Since there is no real

Since there is no real reason to do it (kids can choose not to stand for religious and ideological reasons already), he may find that people think he's protesting just because he feels like protesting.

EDIT by matthew: I don't mind you posting, but I do mind the links to thesis cheat sites. They will continue to be deleted.

[...] award from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, should he choose to accept it. To judge by his own published writings on other topics, he is a courageous and principled young man and thoughtful well beyond his years, [...]