Flags and Futures

-Citizenship: Still a vital competency-

If we fail to instill the core values that reinforce love of freedom and democracy, we risk losing the behaviors originating with those core values—the actions and leadership vital to protecting freedom and democracy. If we fail to develop the competencies needed by citizens of a democratic republic, we will also have failed to provide them with the means to succeed as citizens of a free country. If we fail to protect freedom and democracy, and if we fail to produce dedicated, conscientious, and knowledgeable citizens of a free country, we will no longer remain a free country.

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With the 48-star “Kirby-Smith classroom flag” over his arm, Dr. Connors addresses the Duval County School Board during ceremonies to return the flag to the school after 63 years.

Remarks by Dr. Tracy D. Connors, CAPT USN (Retired) before the Duval County School Board, June 13, 2016

Note: Video coverage of the Flags and Futures presentation is available .  From 15:00-24:08.

The novelist, Thomas Wolfe, famously warned us “…you can’t go back home again.”  Your welcome this evening convinces me that there are exceptions to that rule.

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you this evening.

Give me a break, I thought to myself almost out loud, I am barely 13, cleaning erasers for my teacher in a Kirby-Smith Junior High School classroom on an afternoon in 1953, and here I am, face to face with a life-changing ethical decision.

The American flag that had hung in that classroom for who knows how many years—had been taken down and thrown in the trash can.  The flag that we had pledged Allegiance to for so many years, had been consigned to the dumpster.

As I saw it lying there crumpled up in the classroom trashcan, I was faced with choosing between retrieving the flag, or leaving it to a sad and ignoble fate.  Two competing core values were fighting it out:  Thou shalt not steal; and, thou shalt honor America’s flag as a symbol of our precious liberty and hard-won freedoms.TDC_Flag_13Jun2016_03_600pxs

But in saving the flag, was I stealing?  After all, the flag was not my own, but belonged to the citizens of Duval County. But, was it stealing to retrieve the precious symbol from a trashcan? Clearly, I was in new and uncharted ethical waters. But if I didn’t act promptly, to “step up” as the current phrase goes, the trash – and the flag – would soon be in route to the smelly and disgusting dumpster behind the school.

I wasn’t sure that what I was doing was wrong, but while the teacher was out of the room, I fished the flag out of the wastebasket, folded it carefully in the triangular flag method, and carried it home. At least, I thought, I can make sure my Boy Scout troop disposes of it properly in the specified manner.  Hardly recognizable as a national symbol, at the time, it was a flag with no future.

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After I had washed it carefully, I discovered that the red was still brave, the white was still pure, and the blue was still true.  It has occupied a place of honor in our home for many decades. And now, it is time to return this classroom flag to its rightful owners, the citizens of Duval County.

Tonight, we can view this flag as simply an irrelevant old piece of cloth, albeit with an unusual provenance, that can now go into a box, be put on the shelf in a dusty corner, and forgotten while we “move on.” After all, when it hung in that classroom, the world was a far different place.  Or, we can reflect on how this flag relates to us – to you – today?

In those days, we focused on the 3Rs – today these have evolved and we have added the 2 C’s – core values and competencies that better prepare our graduates for success in the workplace.

As a graduate faculty member and course developer at Norwich University, I devote many hours every day designing new distance education, online, adult-learner oriented learning environments. These graduate seminars are heavily focused on inculcating and fostering management and leadership competencies we know from research are most closely associated with organizational performance improvement and sustained excellence.

Knowing about a subject is increasingly not enough. Professional success is much more typically measured by the ability to achieve results – to do the right things – to take action that advances the organization in the direction of mission and goal fulfillment, and do so while conserving resources and building a transformational organization culture and environment. Our overarching and unifying goal is to help our students acquire the competencies – the knowledge, skills, and abilities – that we know they will need to be successful in today’s ever more changing and challenging environments.

The flag we honor this evening is not only a symbol of national pride.  For the educators and students of the period during it served in the classroom, it symbolized their commitment to other vital student competencies – as citizens of our democratic representative republic. The teachers, educators, and school board members of that era could feel confident that they had given us the core values and competencies we needed to be successful citizens of the United States of America – within the national environment of that time.TDC_FlagPres_13June2016_02

But that was another era. As they always do, environments change whether for organizations – or for nations.   Important changes were needed and would be made in our government and our culture.  Many improvements were made by my generation. Sadly, much yet remains to be done as we work together to create a more perfect union.

Today, we allocate a significant amount of precious national resources to ensuring our graduates have acquired the numerous competencies they need for success in their lives and careers. That is important – and is as it should be. But can we say the same about the “citizenship” competency, and its role in the survival of our own freedoms and liberties?

The challenge facing us this evening, as educators and policymakers, is to ask ourselves whether or not we are competency focused – not only for educational and professional development — but also on the citizenship knowledge, skills and abilities needed by our graduates, if our freedoms, liberties, and democratic way life are to survive?

If we fail to instill the core values that reinforce love of freedom and democracy, we risk losing the behaviors originating with those core values—the actions and leadership vital to protecting freedom and democracy. If we fail to develop the competencies needed by citizens of a democratic republic, we will also have failed to provide them with the means to succeed as citizens of a free country. If we fail to protect freedom and democracy, and if we fail to produce dedicated, conscientious, and knowledgeable citizens of a free country, we will no longer remain a free country.

So, I submit to you this evening that this is not just a faded relic of times past.  It represents a school board’s continuing commitment to producing competent, success-primed citizens for a vibrant democracy, and, as that symbol it represents both the past and the future for us here this evening.

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If it can once again renew pride in what our nation stands for, if it can remind us that the word citizenship is an active verb, and if it reaffirms that preserving Freedom comes with responsibilities for both citizen and soldier alike, then it has once again become the Grand Old Flag that it once was for generations of Duval County young people.

So, it is to this Grand Old Flag, that we pledge both our allegiance and a new future.

Thank you.

[Checking cell phone…You will have to excuse me.  I just received an ominous tweet.  “You are wanted in the Principal’s Office…Again.  # Hashtag…PaddlinBob…

Looks like some things never change.]

© Copyright 2016 BelleAire Press, LLC

About Tracy Connors

Tracy D. Connors graduated from Jacksonville University (AA), University of Florida (BA), the University of Rhode Island (MA), and Capella University (Ph.D. with Distinction, human services management, 2013). Ph.D. (Honorary), Leadership Excellence, Jacksonville University, December, 2013. Designated a “Distinguished Dolphin” by Jacksonville University, Feb. 2, 2010.