‘The Star-Spangled Banner” — don’t they teach it in schools anymore?
Apparently not. Sunday, at my beloved Super Bowl again, there was singer Christina Aguilera, butchering our country’s national anthem. The line that was supposed to be “O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming” became, in Aguilera’s alternate universe, “What so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last gleaming.”
I blame the nation’s school system for this. Back when I was a little feller, growing up in Baltimore, we actually had to sing our national anthem. From kindergarten through the fifth grade, I could sing it from memory. That is how often we were required to sing it. The song was all but embedded in our memories.
Then in the second semester of the fifth grade, my mom moved with her brood of six kids to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in northwest Baltimore. New environment, new school and a new twist on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At Mordecai Gist Elementary School, the students knew by heart the second stanza of our national anthem.
I did not even know there was a second stanza, but I listened, I learned and soon I was singing it along with the class. Over the years, my memory has lost some of the words of that second stanza, but I still know all the words of the first stanza.
Now some skeptics will say that, growing up in Baltimore, of course I would know all the words. The reason the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” were drilled into us, skeptics will protest, is because Baltimore is the place where Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem.
To which my answer would be: Your point is what exactly?
Yes, Baltimoreans are proud of that history. During the War of 1812, British troops invaded and burned Washington, D.C. In Baltimore, our ancestors stopped the limeys dead in their tracks. British ships bombed Fort McHenry for 25 hours, but American forces refused to surrender. It was after that bombardment that Key wrote the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
That is not just Baltimore or Maryland history, that is American history. Every school kid should know it, and the words to our national anthem. Do our schools teach that history and the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner”? I am kind of skeptical.
I learned the words to national anthem in the days before patriotism became a dirty word, and before the country went multicultural. Before my daughter moved to Berkeley with her husband and my three grandchildren, the two younger ones — who double as my best pals ever — went to school in Baltimore County. I was miffed, but not surprised, to learn Baltimore County public schools had taught them more about Cinco de Mayo than about the ourth of July.
With patriotism waning, it is no wonder Aguilera muffed the words to the national anthem. So I cannot really blame her for the fiasco. The fault lies with our schools, and other parties.
Now just whose bright idea was it to have Aguilera sing the national anthem anyway — officials at the Fox network or National Football League honchos? What would have been wrong with a band from one of the branches of our military playing the national anthem, or a having a military choir sing it?
Oh, yeah, that would have smacked of patriotism, and we cannot have any of that stuff, now, can we?
Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to Sudan.