The U.S. Flag: Facts and Discussion Questions

Grade Levels: 3 - 12

Facts – Flag Burning
In 1984, at the Republican National Convention in Texas, Gregory Johnson burned a U.S. flag to protest various policies of the Reagan Administration. While his burning of the flag was not physically threatening to anyone, it vexed many bystanders. After a lengthy process, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that flag burning was protected by the First Amendment as freedom of expression. In response to this decision, federal lawmakers tried to pass a constitutional amendment banning flag burning. As of this date (May 2000) no anti-flag burning legislation has passed at the federal level. Johnson's lawyers stated, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the first Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."

Questions: Do you agree with the statement from Johnson's lawyers? Do you think it is right to burn the flag? How should we treat our national symbols? How do you define freedom of expression?

Facts - Betsy Ross
Betsy Ross (1752-1836) was a member of a Philadelphia flag-making family. She is reported to have designed and sewn the first American flag, but the story of Betsy Ross and the first flag is now somewhat discredited. Official records have not confirmed that she was responsible for the design and making of the first flag.

Questions: How is Betsy Ross represented in history texts? What is a folk hero? What part do folk heroes play in our national consciousness (think about Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed)? Can you think of any other female folk heroes? Can you think of any folk heroes of color?

Facts - The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag
Did you know that the phrase "under God" wasn't added to the pledge until June 14, 1954? The original Pledge of Allegiance was published in 1892 in The Youth's Companion in Boston. For years, the authorship was in dispute between James B. Upham and Francis Bellamy of the magazine's staff. In 1939, after a study of the controversy, the United States Flag Association decided that authorship be credited to Bellamy.

Questions: Do you have to say the pledge in school, at baseball games, or at any other times? How do you feel about the pledge? Do you think about what you are saying, or do you simply recite it? Why do you think "under God" was added in the Fifties? Do you think children should be required to say the pledge in school?

Facts- The U.S. Flag: Origin and Design
The first U.S. flag was raised by George Washington on January 2, 1776 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That flag had 13 red and white stripes, and a blue canton (the right corner) with the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew. This flag was known as the Grand Union flag. Before that time, each colony had its own flag. On June 14, 1777, Congress decreed that "the Flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars white in a blue field representing a new constellation." After Vermont and Kentucky were admitted to the Union, in 1794, a star and stripe was added to the flag for each state. That precedent was rescinded when in 1818 Congress reinstated the original 13 stripes, representing the first colonies, and decided to add a star for each new state.

Questions: What do you think the different colors of our flag represent? If Puerto Rico became a state, how do you think the country would react to the addition of a star to the canton? South Africa recently redesigned its flag. Why do you think they did that?

Return to Flag Day Lesson.

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