I do understand the likely intended message of the act, which is "the map is not the territory," and "symbols REPRESENT the things they symbolize, but only because people choose and agree that they do," but this was a very thoughtless and disrespectful way to try to teach it.
In the high school class I took, the teacher ripped up a map of our area live in class (noting that no fissures appeared in the ground outside as he did so), but showed us pictures or newspaper accounts of people committing more extreme acts like flag burning and desecration (the US flag was shown being destroyed somehow, but he was careful to include the flags of at least 10 countries) and book burning.
My teacher's take was that American flags do start out as just cloth, but we Americans put our hopes, dreams, and ideals into them like putting on a shirt, so it becomes the difference between taking a t-shirt out of your closet and setting it on fire, vs putting gasoline and a match to the one you're wearing.
While it's true that symbols are not literally the things they symbolize, that doesn't mean that they're worth no more than the sum of their parts, either. If you think about it, the cloth is probably the least valuable thing about our American flag. It's a shame this guy forgot that half of the lesson.
Posted Thursday, January 10, 2013, 12:17 PM
Teacher suspended for stomping on American flag during lesson about symbolism - EAGnews.org :: Education Research, Reporting, Analysis and Commentary
Language in Thought and Action - Symbols
Language in Thought and Action: Fifth Edition: S.I. Hayakawa, Alan R. Hayakawa, Robert MacNeil: 9780156482400: Amazon.com: Books
Added: After posting, I pulled out and started rereading Hayakawa's chapter on symbols. This passage seems relevant:
"In all civilized societies (and probably in many primitive ones as well) the symbols of piety, of civic virtue or of patriotism are often prized above actual piety, civic virtue or patriotism. In one way or another, we are all like the student who cheats on his exams in order to make Phi Beta Kappa: it is so much more important to have the symbol than the things it stands for."I'm still reading the chapter, so maybe I'll be back with another quote or two...
(This was the textbook for the high school class I talked about in the comment, and I credit this book and that class and teacher with much of the intellectual content and philosophical bent of my blogging today...)