Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

Former Governor Jesse Ventura reminded us that there is more to patriotism than saluting the flag and saying the pledge. I don’t mean to sound alarming, but the time has come to be alarmed. We are warned by many that our democracy is at a crossroads and unfortunately, that may not be too far from reality. The good news is that if we are at the crossroads, there is still time to do something about it. As has been the case so many times in our history, the field of education can play a leading role in fostering civility and dismantling racism in America.

Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, said, “Our best hope for the future is the generation coming up.” I couldn’t agree more. When talking to students, I offer this plea: “Would you young people please teach us old folks how to behave.” It is not rocket science to know that the abhorrent behavior of some of our leaders, especially our politicians, is an influence that poses a huge threat to our treasured democracy. Once again, schools have the opportunity to be on the leading edge of changing things for the better.

Perhaps we can link patriotism to more than military might. With all due respect for our national defense, it may be time to also pay attention to America living up to the last line of the pledge, “with liberty and justice for ALL.

It has been disappointing to hear the politicians who wish to block a study of racism and discrimination in our Social Studies curriculum because it may cause our young people to like America less. Just the opposite will prevail. It has been said so many times and in so many ways that if we don’t learn from history, we will repeat it.

If we find that our math or reading scores are less than they should be, taking measures to correct the situation doesn’t demean our educational system, it strengthens it. If a football coach finds that his or her defense is not up to speed, they address the problem and do things to make the defense stronger. Doing so doesn’t demean the players but corrects the problem, increases their skill and confidence, and makes the team better because of it.

A friend of mine with strong conservative leanings said the same when talking about racism and other problems facing America today. He said that addressing problems isn’t a sign of weakness but one of strength, and a tribute to this great country of ours. Our democracy is too precious to let it be destroyed by our lack of courage to address our shortcomings.

The major question is this: “Do we have the will.” If we decide to have courageous conversations in our schools, there will be a huge push back from a lot of people. It will not be the time to back away but to skillfully lead sometimes heated dialogue and guide the conversation towards calm and civil discourse so we can forge an America for our children that does indeed manifest liberty and justice for all.

As you prepare for the challenges you will endure, be empowered by the words of the late John Lewis, published on the day of his memorial service. “Now it’s your turn to let freedom ring.”

Denny Smith is a former teacher and coach, a speaker, and a writer dedicated to making our schools and communities safe and welcoming for all people. He is the author of Emotional Intelligence 101: How to Carve a Duck and is currently completing Coaches Make the Difference and Teachers Make the Difference, which will be available in the fall. Previews are available at

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