I lived in Japan years ago, and friends used to say that one of the first things they noticed about the United States was the ease with which they could spot Old Glory - waving over a school, say, or sprucing up a used-car lot. Were we arrogant? Just fond of our country? Were the stars and stripes at the mall supposed to make us better consumers?
They're questions that have echoed in my ears since Sept. 11, when it's been hard to travel a city block or stretch of highway without seeing some red, white, and blue. Those splashes, for many, have been a welcome sign of solidarity, a quick way to share common ground as Americans. They've also become a focal point in schools: In Providence, R.I., for example, children made a large heart-shaped flag out of wood to place in front of their school's main entrance, while in Harrisburg, Pa., teachers and students in red, white, and blue T-shirts choreographed a human flag.
But such gestures have also created flashpoints. In Madison, Wisc., school board members came under fire for appearing to waver in their commitment to saying the pledge daily. A school district in suburban Minneapolis instituted daily pledges after an American Legion post threatened to discontinue substantial financial contributions.
Patriotism comes in a lot of different forms, ones that often clash despite a common foundation. Which is why many people are having conversations that haven't been heard in years. Today's lead story shares the thoughts of a student and three educators who talked last week about how patriotism has played out in their communities. This week, as many people think about what it means to be an American, it's worth taking a moment to listen in.