As we have all read for nearly one week, there are some people who have taken their "freedom of speech" to speak out against our National Anthem, a song which has united our country for decades.
Four years ago, I created the National Anthem Sing-Along with a dream that all students would understand the feeling of being "united" as a country, as we were in the days, weeks, and months after September 11, 2001. With more recent attacks in San Bernadino and Orlando, it's important to hold onto the "United" in the United States of America.
I grew up in Lower Manhattan and lost nine people who were very dear to me on 9/11. As a former TV reporter and teacher, I watched educators struggle with what to do and what to say about 9/11 for years. Teaching the history of September 11 has been problematic for a number of reasons: It is the beginning of the school year, and there is still great sensitivity, especially in the New York metropolitan area, for those who survived the attacks or lost loved ones. As the years go by and we now mark the 15th anniversary this year, time has faded some memories as well. But we can't forget, because our world changed that day. We can't forget those who were lost. And - we can't forget, because the lessons of "uniting" as a country are timeless and powerful.
So I had this idea to create a simple yet powerful activity for teachers that would unite students and honor September 11. What started with ten schools (sponsored by the New York Giants in New York and New Jersey) has grown into a movement with a goal of hundreds of thousands of students participating this year in all 50 states. The idea came to me while looking at the iconic photo of Tom Franklin's from the Bergen Record of three firefighters holding up a flag after September 11. "That the flag was still there" is such a powerful line in the National Anthem, yet many students don't really understand that it symbolizes the resilience of the American people in 1814, when Francis Scott Key wrote the song after watching British ships bombard Baltimore Harbor. Just as "the flag was still there" in 1814, it rose again amidst the ashes in 2001. There is real significance in the National Anthem's lines even though the poem, turned song, is now more than 200 years old.
However, in the past week, one NFL player had the privilege of speaking out against the National Anthem. Yes, the song was written long ago, in a far different time. Some musicians say the song is too difficult. However, we can't change the fact that, in 1931, the Star-Spangled Banner became our National Anthem. It's part of our nation's history and it brings tears to many veteran's eyes.
The National Anthem has united our country for decades at concerts, sports events, and schools. The ultimate goal of the National Anthem movement is to "unite" our country in an event like no other.
The movement to teach the words, meaning, music, and history of our National Anthem is held on the second week of September each year for a number of reasons: To provide teachers with free educational resources and a simple event that won't disrupt classroom time; to celebrate our Anthem's birthday on September 14; and to unite. Every child who is born in the United States or emigrates here should understand the true meaning of Francis Scott Key's poem, which became our National Anthem in 1931. The words are not easy to understand - after all, where are there "ramparts" in today's world? The song is also not easy to sing, but it's worth knowing each and every word. This isn't about politics. It's about history. Apparently, the movement is resonating with educators and students, because it continues to grow tremendously.
While we have had endorsements from lawmakers, newsmakers, celebrities, and sports figures, it is the letters of thanks that continue to mean the most. One 12-year-old boy from Indiana wrote to me saying, "I now sing louder and prouder now that I understand the true meaning of the National Anthem."
Now, a brief explanation of how the National Anthem movement works: In 2016, the event will be held on September 9 at 10:00am PST/1pm EST, which is when schoolchildren will unite and sing the National Anthem at precisely the same time. While some schools will hold assemblies, other schools will hold a moment of silence to honor 911, and then sing in unison. There are free resources, including a robust curriculum and educational video, available at www.theapef.org. Teachers are encouraged to sign up so that students can be empowered by the numbers.
For me, it has been inspiring and humbling to see the growth of the National Anthem Movement. It is now part of the American Public Education Foundation, where the founder and president David Pickler supplied the resources necessary to help the movement grow. Without the resources and support from Mr. Pickler, who has devoted his life to education, we would not have been able to move this movement onto a national stage.
While the American Public Education Foundation and the "team" of Cameron Spann and Lisa Bushey work to provide educational resources throughout the year, the movement takes months of preparation. Retired Principal Marie Basiliko Davis, of Duncan Elementary School in Texas (a National School of Character), worked to create a curriculum. Teen Kids News supplied an educational video. There was a cheerleader named Ed Massey. Help also poured in from some of our nation's top educators including Eric Contreras, Deborah Carter, and Kirsten Baesler.
People have been so inspired by the movement that Annin Flagmakers donated 1,000 flags this year for various events. The New York Giants and Dollar General provided sponsorship dollars, and FOX News Anchor Harris Faulkner will sing at an event in New York City. Support came from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Fort McHenry in Baltimore; the U.S.S Arizona in Hawaii; Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, New Jersey; John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum in Massachusetts; 911 Day of Remembrance; and 911 Tribute Center in New York City - all of which helped grow the movement in some way. Lots of friends stepped up, and there are too many educators to count and thank. However, I hope each teacher knows that this event was created specifically for them in appreciation of their dedication to our nation's children.
While some will continue to speak out, I hope people will remember the words of Francis Scott Key. "That the flag was still there" symbolizes the resilience of the American people and the freedoms we have in this country, including the freedom to "sit" during the National Anthem. Additionally, it took an act of Congress in 1931 to officially name the Star-Spangled Banner our National Anthem. While a few continue to "take a knew" during the song, we can't change the Anthem without a national debate. The song has united our country for decades. If Congress wishes to debate changing the National Anthem, then so be it. However, until that day comes, lets remember the strength in the word "united."
My hope is that this event will continue to take place each year on the second week of September. If you have taken the time to read this, please stop and sing the National Anthem in your respective time zone on September 9 and be a part of the movement. Most of all, never forget. Never forget the families, heroes, and victims of September 11 and never forget the "United" in United States of America. September 11 changed us, but September 12 was a day the nation came together in unity. That can never be forgotten and remains a wonderful lesson for students to learn.
For educational materials or to learn more about the movement and sign up, please join us by visiting the National Sing-A-Long online at www.theapef.org.
Mia Toschi is an Emmy-winning TV reporter and former teacher. She currently serves as the National Director for the American Public Education Foundation.