The question presented today is whether we ought to spend money to place flags in each classroom. I think it clear that it is a waste of money, as it confers no benefit and may be actively harmful.
We ought first to consider whether the flags confer any benefit. If a benefit is present, we might well spend money to achieve it. Benefits are of several types: financial, obviously; in a school we should consider educational benefit; as sybarites, we might consider mere pleasure; as patriots, we consider character improvement. The financial issue is effectively begged in the framing of the question. We are asked to spend money, rather than being paid to place the flags as an advertising banner.
The educational benefit is most important in a school. If the flag could be said to offer an educational benefit to the graduate students who occupy these classrooms, then the expenditure could be justified on that alone. If the flags will make us, or our professors, smarter, then the flags are of the highest possible value. This seems however unlikely.
If the flags were to teach us something, as number of states or original colonies, that would be a benefit. Most of us know these things; many are even aware that the Pledge of Allegiance has no historic basis other than the desire of an itinerant preacher and flag sales-critter to boost revenues. There is nothing properly taught by classroom flags, that can not be taught as well by reference to the larger flag in the driveway.
Remember also that we are here to study the law. With that in mind, and a lack of educational benefit seen, let us explore farther. If there is no benefit, can it yet be said to be harmless - a better recommendation than can be made for new math or other educational nostrums?
If the flag is ignored, then it surely does not detract from education. We would receive the same amount of instruction time: the profs will still come in, begin their lectures on the hour, and deliver the same lecture as in pre-flag classrooms. Where, then, is the harm?
The harm is in this only: that placement is but the camels nose. The next step is carving out the two or three minutes from each 50-minute class in order to recite the Pledge. That gives the same harm as arriving late to class: teaching time is lost.
And if it ended there, we might hold that a 3% loss of education time is not the worst of possibilities. Yet, as surely as taxes rise in the fall, there will be an atheist who objects to under god, or a student owing allegiance to a foreign crown, or a dissident who refuses to recite. Any of these, and especially the last, may use the occasion to create a useless controversy, a distraction from learning.
Pleasure also distracts, but many enjoy it none the less. Yet the presence of a classroom flag delivers little pleasure other than to a commissioned sale critter. As the flags are often made in Red China, and sold cheaply, there is little commission. The flags fill neither our bellies nor those of laborers in the slave factories of Red China. Flags will not give warmth in the face of the schools zealous air-conditioning, unless we burn them, and then neither much nor durable warmth. In sum, no pleasure worth the cost.
But, the patriot says, character improvement is worth more than mere pleasure. How will classroom flags improve our character? Will it make us stronger in our defense of the constitution? Will it improve our zeal on behalf of our clients? I have yet to hear an argument as to how this might be accomplished.
The result will be nourishment of the cheap patriotism so popular today, exemplified by draft-dodging politicians who send others kids to die and denounce those who object. The proposal before us, to place flags in classrooms, is of just that nature: it improves no one, it furthers no national interest. It encourages a bland uniformity of opinion - who would dare come out against the flag? - and mindless obedience exemplified in daily compulsory recitations of the pledge by school children across the land.
This is the opposite of patriotism. Encouraging people not to think, nor speak out, but to stand and daily mumble the words of a long-dead salesman, produces a nation of sheep.
We now see not merely a lack of benefit in the proposal, but detriment. I turn now to the question presented.
Should we expend precious money, which could wisely be invested in alcoholic refreshment or lowering textbook prices in the bookstore, to instead buy that which will harm us? The question answers itself.