The Anthem Controversy

“ I don’t have a right to tell them ‘you can’t express your conscience.’ ” Dr. John Davies in a Spartacus exclusive.


Photograph by Karen Rosenbloom

Respecting the flag?

October 10th Assembly

On Tuesday October 10th, Head of School Dr. John Davies gave a speech to the entire upper school in which  he requested the community to stand during the pledge and the national anthem. Following the firestorm of recent controversies with NBA and NFL players and team owners over kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner in protest of social injustice in this country, the talk was timely; yet, the speech may have been misinterpreted as a mandate rather than a request. After the assembly, students erupted in concern — in person, via texts and online — regarding the controversy.

Dr. Davies’ exact words during the assembly were: “We have four core values: honor, respect, wisdom and compassion…My request is — and it’s one rooted in respect — it’s a request that I make respectfully, that at Miami Country Day School, that when the national anthem is played, that we all stand and face the flag.

Again, it’s a request. It’s an expectation.”

Last week in an exclusive interview with Spartacus editors,  he reiterated that it was a “request, not a prohibition.” Dr. Davies wanted to assure students and faculty that he does not “have a right to tell them ‘You can’t express your conscience’,” going further to say “I’ll take responsibility for not communicating clearly enough… I respect people’s right to protest and express their opinions. I understand the intention there and I can make the distinction between the act itself and what the intention is …I make the distinction between where I may express my opinions and feelings in one place [and] I might not be so inclined to do so in another… I have very strong political opinions but I’m very careful about where and how I share them and generally speaking for the most part, school is not a place where I would do that.”

Senior Danielle Geathers said in recent letter to the editor, which will appear in our Spartan Speak section tomorrow, that she feels that while Dr. Davies was trying to encourage students to use their First Amendment rights, he also “wants to ensure that we [the school] retain our core values. While this ideal is honorable,” Geathers wrote, “it is unrealistic.” She reasoned “there is never an ‘appropriate’ time for protest. Protests are designed to make people feel uncomfortable and any alteration to make a protest acceptable for society’s norms dilutes the potency and effectiveness of true protest.”

Junior Juan Valdes disagrees. He feels that by sitting or kneeling “you’re disrespecting the country that gives you the first amendment right to do so in the first place.”

Dr. Davies believes the school has done a lot to make all students feel included, but he concedes that “the reality is that we still have a significant number of students that don’t feel as at home at Country Day.” Thus, for Dr. Davies, it is crucial that the conversations on the issue continue among students and faculty, noting that the Spartacus might be an ideal forum. Dr. Davies was keen to note that group discussions like the one facilitated by the Global Equity and Social Justice Team are successful in spreading knowledge as well as allowing for people to offer opinions in a safe space and ought to continue.

Dr. Davies also stated on the 10th that although he “encourages expression of opinion,” he requests that at school people “show respect for the flag and the national anthem and the pledge by everyone standing and observing silently.” He has remained fervent in his belief in freedom of expression especially “if it’s something that you feel very strongly about …At the end of the day, the final arbiter for our decisions is our own conscience.”  

When questioned about the alleged threats to Spartan athletes who might not stand during the anthem, Davies made it clear that there are no punishments to the request, “there are no consequences” and he was unaware of any alleged threats made to athletes to stand or face consequences.

Whether this controversy and the ensuing conversations will be  “something positive” for the school, Dr. Davies believes “it’s great that students are passionate about this issue. I think it’s great that we have some disagreement and discourse around this issue and I’d probably be disappointed if we didn’t have people feeling strongly about it. At the end of the day it’s okay to have people having very strong opinions one way or the other…I think that this whole issue is a great opportunity for the school community to grow and I’m appreciative of  those that agree and those who disagree.”