Middle School students from western North Carolina weren’t allowed to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the National September 11 Memorial in Manhattan last week. Security guards told them that they weren’t allowed to but were not able to explain the reasoning. The memorial’s policy is that any public performers must possess a permit to do so and abide by set rules. The school’s principal said that the “lesson learned here is always to respect authority,” but is that a good lesson to teach?
Setting aside the passions surrounding this particular incident, I don’t think that we should be teaching our children to “always respect authority.” That’s too simple, and the world isn’t that black and white, and historically just respecting authority often leads to catastrophic consequences.
There are so many examples from just the last 75 years alone. Adolf Eichmann was following orders as he organized the extermination of the Jews. The overzealous children of the Chinese Cultural Revolution were just respecting authority as they brutalized their parents. The White Knights were just enforcing the law as they terrorized blacks in the South. A Southwest Airlines employee was just doing his job two weeks ago when he ejected a college student from a plane simply for speaking to his uncle in Arabic.
It’s important to respect the rules and regulations of society, otherwise there would be disorder and even chaos. However, we should not teach our children to blindly respect authority. Instead, we must teach them to think for themselves, to give them the education to make informed, well thought-out decisions. Given the middle school student’s success on social media in generating support in this case, maybe the lesson learned is actually, “Respect authority in the moment, but act on your conscience later when safe and reasonable to do so.”
The opinion expressed in this article is solely that of the author and not that of Thesis Magazine or its publisher General Academic.