The flag, the schools, the immigrants, and us

Posted: Apr 07, 2006 12:05 AM

Concerned that the raging immigration debate would spark violence, officials in at least two schools in Colorado have banned students from bringing flags to school, the AP reports. Predictably, this news and associated rumors have lit up the phone lines at call-in shows around the nation.

Conservatives are right to bristle at the idea that the American flag is being treated as a "fighting word." But a few clarifications seem to be in order. 1) It wasn't just the American flag that was banned, but all flags. 2) Conservatives respect the principle that school officials ought to have wide latitude to govern student behavior in the interests of order and discipline. Until 1969, principals and teachers had unquestioned authority in such matters. But, as I noted in my book "Do-Gooders" (just out in paperback -- shameless plug), the Supreme Court undermined that authority. During the Vietnam War, students had been disciplined for wearing black armbands to school in protest against the war. Liberal judges tended to like war protesters and dislike authority. Judge Abe Fortas wrote for the majority, "It can hardly be argued that students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to free speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." Justice Hugo Black filed a blistering dissent: "Uncontrolled and uncontrollable liberty is an enemy to domestic peace. . . . School discipline, like parental discipline, is an integral and important part of training our children to be good citizens."

News spreads fast and rumors spread faster. The AP points out that contrary to rumor, the American flag was not lowered from the flagpole at a Denver public school. Nor have children who wore red, white and blue clothing been sent home to change.

On the other hand, some schools have banned the wearing of camouflage clothing, which children had donned to show support for American troops. And at Reagan High School in Houston, the principal ran up the Mexican flag (albeit below the Stars and Stripes and the Texas flag) to show solidarity with his immigrant pupils.

That man was well intentioned, but misguided. His gesture was evidence of an attitude that has aggravated, rather than alleviated the immigration problem. Too many Americans, particularly those who control the schools, have abandoned the goal of assimilation -- the idea that Americans had a right to demand that immigrants learn our language, abide by our laws, adopt our customs and abandon loyalty to any other power. Exalting multiculturalism and multilingualism, and encouraging separatism on the part of minorities, liberals are in effect asking Americans not just to open their doors but to tear down the house.

This is not to suggest that illegal immigration would not be a problem if we assimilated immigrants better. Resentment toward illegals is to some extent unavoidable. They depress wages, increase crime and burden localities with health, housing and education costs. Above all, they have flouted the law. It is grossly unfair that thousands of would-be immigrants wait patiently in their countries for an opportunity to come to the U.S. and yet those who cut in front of the line get away with it.

Most galling to many Americans (both native born and naturalized) is the attitude of entitlement displayed by the illegals who thronged the streets in recent weeks. To stage a demonstration demanding anything when you are not in the country legally is an act of supreme chutzpah. (Chutzpah is a Yiddish word: A man murders his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he is an orphan.) And why not? When immigrants arrive, they find school systems bending over backward to offer bilingual education, Mexican pride festivals and Spanish language options at the bank, supermarket and post office. Our intellectual climate tells them that separatism is the way to go.

This is not to suggest that Mexican immigrants abandon pride in their origins or forsake their cultural heritage, merely that they do what every other immigrant group has done -- integrate in public and save the mother tongue for the home. It would also be fitting for them to remember that gratitude is becoming; entitlement is not.

The fashion of multiculturalism has sparked exactly the opposite of what its propounders intended. Hostility to foreigners has increased because Americans have declining confidence that immigrants want to or can assimilate into the larger society.