“It's an ideal I think everyone should have, and I think more people need to understand, because I think patriotism is often mistaken, or misconstrued, as believing your country is better than someone else's, or that it doesn't have flaws. But, obviously, you know, no country is perfect, with the perfect government or perfect citizens.” ~ Kristin Batsel
(Transcript available below)
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Heidi Higgins: Hi there. I'm Heidi Higgins and you are listening to K12 On Learning. We just celebrated the country's birthday, and I hope you had a lovely time with friends and family watching fireworks, having barbecues and enjoying your family traditions. It's also a good time to pause and remember. Things everywhere these days are kind of messy, but remembering why we can have opinions, why we can have choices, where our freedoms came from and who sacrificed to give them to us is worthy of a pause.
We want good citizens to come from our homes. By educating ourselves and our children about the history behind the celebrations, we instill a reverence in the next generation for freedoms that are easily taken for granted. When we show and teach by example, these freedoms will continue long after we are gone. Kristin Batsel is one of only 50 leaders in the United States that serve as a director of an American Legion Auxiliary Girls State Program. I invited Kristen to jump on with us today and share some of her passion and love for country. Welcome to the K12 On Learning podcast, Kristin. Will you please tell us a little more about yourself?
Kristin Batsel: My name is Kristin Batsel and I'm a military spouse and member of the American Legion Auxiliary.
Heidi Higgins: Kristin, why is it important to talk to children and youth about patriotism and love of country?
Kristin Batsel: I think it's important because, of course, one day, they're going to be the ones making the change and defending our country and her ideals. An ideal I think everyone should have and I think more people need to understand, because I think patriotism's often mistaken or misconstrued as believing your country is better than someone else's or that it doesn't have flaws, but obviously, no country's perfect with the perfect government or perfect citizens, it's not a utopia, but despite the faults that they have, we love and defend it and work hard to make it better.
Heidi Higgins: I like that. Thank you. Where should we start when it comes to educating children, and ourselves for that matter, about patriotism and love for country?
Kristin Batsel: I think it starts in the simple actions that you take and being a role model, especially to the younger generation, learning how to properly salute and display the flag. So many people don't know how. Tell stories about the struggle for independence, teaching respect for national symbols, visit monuments and military cemeteries, thank a Servicemember or veteran, volunteer at the veterans' home, help put up flags on Memorial Day and celebrate the holidays that make our country what it is today. A lot of people think Memorial Day is a day for summer fun and barbecues and a day off work, but not a lot of people know it's an event to honor the men and women who died while serving the country, so understanding that and respecting it and treating it properly, I think, is the first step.
Heidi Higgins: The hesitation for some in our day is that things are political. How do we make this love of country develop into something that is non-political?
Kristin Batsel: Love of country and patriotism doesn't have to be a political virtue. Patriotism is to a country, it's not to any single political outcome. It transcends political power and leaders and lives long past those powers and leaders are gone and it's our job to move history in a constructive direction, not because of political leadership, but despite political leadership.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you, Kristen. That was a beautiful statement. Kristin, you've mentioned some wonderful things that we can do to help our children. What are some ways we can role model for the family?
Kristin Batsel: I think just being as involved as possible and remembering that it's more than what you think on the surface level. You know, "It's not just about fireworks. What do the fireworks represent?" And teaching that as well. Why do we shoot off fireworks on the 4th of July? And it's to symbolize what's written in our own anthem. So I think just being aware of where the symbolism comes from can be a very good start, especially for those who might be younger and not fully understand everything that went into gaining independence, but also talking the story of Independence Day and why it's such a big deal and the sacrifice our Servicemembers make and everything that they contributed to making sure that we live in an independent place, that we are able to celebrate democracy and move forward.
Heidi Higgins: Kristin, leaders like yourself in each state volunteer months and months each year with no pay or financial support of any kind, yet you gather volunteers from your respective American Legion Auxiliary units and provide, for a select group of young citizens, usually several hundred per state, who have completed their junior year in high school, a deep dive into understanding how our government works, how laws come to be and distinctions in the three branches of government. You offered a week-long immersions experience where students lived and learned about the love and sacrifice that gave freedoms to us. The goal is to build strong citizens for the future, encourage involvement and support young people by offering scholarships and encourage further education. Why do you do this?
Kristin Batsel: I won't pretend I was always understanding of patriotism in school. I would put my hand over my heart during the Pledge just like all of my classmates, but I didn't really understand what that all meant until I was older. My grandfather was a veteran, but he passed when I was still super young so we didn't really talk about his service. My dad was drafted for Vietnam, but also, again, something he doesn't talk about very much and I remember September 11th and being on the bus as the first tower was struck and my fourth grade teacher crying and watching the news, but didn't know what any of it all meant until Girls State.
Girls State was the catalyst, I think, where I started to understand what patriotism is and love for your country and I feel it's my duty in a way to educate these young women about the importance of civic responsibility, being involved in your government to make changes, understanding the sacrifice of Servicemembers and their families as well, because it's a very thankless thing that they go through and especially with my husband being a Staff Sergeant in the military of infantry, and he's also a military recruiter, just understanding that sacrifice that goes in and... Ooh, gets me all emotional.
Heidi Higgins: As it should.
Kristin Batsel: I get all lovey-dovey because he's so great and I think everything that the military does of serving their country, they do it without thanks, a lot of times they do it facing overwhelming odds and people who don't necessarily agree with the path that they've taken, but he dedicates his time and his effort and his life to defend our country and what she stands for and ultimately, that's freedom, the freedom to make those choices, the freedom to salute the flag properly, the freedom that we have to vote, and those are all the things that he stands for and chooses to defend every single day when he puts on his uniform and goes out the door. He just got home in February from deployment, he was in Poland at the Poland-Russia border and he got home two weeks before the invasion of Ukraine so it's still all fresh in my little heart.
Heidi Higgins: I'm sure it is. What does he think about the work that he does? What makes him get up in the morning and put on that uniform and serve?
Kristin Batsel: He loves it. It's the only thing he's ever wanted to do. He just loves what he does and believes in, the ideals of our country. He doesn't think that our government's perfect or that we're in a utopia, but he believes in everything else, of democracy, freedom, and he loves putting on his uniform every day and going out and protecting our right to have those freedoms. It's his favorite thing. I've asked him for years if he would do anything else, he's like, "Absolutely not."
Heidi Higgins: Please thank him for his service and thank you, Kristin, for the sacrifice you make as he's away for months and months at a time. Is there anything else you would advise a family to do?
Kristin Batsel: Just ultimately being that example and remembering and teaching them. It's just so imperative. Even if you don't think that they're watching, they're always watching you as the example and making sure to live those ideals for yourself, I think it's so easy to forget the freedoms that we have and everything that we've been given in this country and we take it for granted sometimes and I think it's not until moments of intense crisis or you see other things happening in the world that you remember.
And I think it's just living as if those just happened to remember every single day how lucky we are to live where we live, to have the freedoms that we have and treat every day as if it's the day after one of those horrible crisises, because that's ultimately when we all come together, we have the unity and we are proud of where we live and proud to be Americans and live the example of the song, of remembering the sacrifice and everything that we've had to go through and instilling that into them and making them understand, because it can be so overwhelming of a thing, especially at a young age and just teaching them, "It's okay if you don't understand fully, but this is why we celebrate."
Heidi Higgins: The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary are established groups and organizations that do much in our country to promote these kinds of things. Can you describe a little bit about what these organizations do?
Kristin Batsel: Yes. I love the American Legion Auxiliary. So we are all about teaching for God and country and serving our communities and helping our veterans. The Auxiliary is the largest women support group for veterans and we take our role very seriously protecting them in life and after, and making sure that we take care of them in every way possible and so we have a lot of programs that we do through the American Legion Auxiliary to help with that.
We do poppies, so we will have veterans make poppies and then you can donate, you don't sell poppies, but you can donate in order to help veterans. We do a lot of work with the veterans' homes, making sure that they have everything that they need and also the support of people, so going in and chatting with a veteran is always really great and helpful. Of course, volunteering your time to help put flags on tombstones and grave sites when you have those bigger holidays is something that we do. American Legion has baseball, we have Girls State and Boys State. So there's tons of different opportunities to get involved and help and support and give back to our communities through those programs.
Heidi Higgins: We'll put a link to the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary in our podcast notes today so that you can see the great work that they do and the programs they offer in your community. Tell me what the experience is like at Grove State.
Kristin Batsel: It is so great. I've never found anything like it ever in my life despite trying. It's a sense of empowerment, it's a sense of just being around these motivated young ladies who want to make big change and they're leaders in their schools and their communities and just seeing what they're passionate about and watching them actively make change while they're there, it gives me goosebumps every time I think about it, but it's just so incredible to watch and beyond teaching about politics and military service and patriotism, just the personal growth that happens in that short period of time is so incredible because they leave as completely different people as when they get there.
And doing it for so long, I've had so many of them on the first day, I'm like, "You're going to love it, I promise. You're going to have a great time. You're going to be so different when you leave." And you can tell that they don't believe me. And then at the end of the week is when they finally realize, "Oh, she knew what she was talking about. She saw this in me before I saw it." And just... Ah, it's my favorite thing. I wish I could bottle it and just live in it because it's just so incredible to watch, even in just that short amount of time.
Heidi Higgins: Girls State and Boys State programs are available to online students as well. Forms to apply can be picked up in January of your student's junior year in high school at your local American Legion or American Legion Auxiliary office, or from your school counselor. These programs have been all around a long time. Some famous alumni include Neil Armstrong, Tom Brokaw, Bill Clinton, Jane Pauley, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan, Lou Dobbs, Tim Cook and American author Nancy Redd.
Kristin, thank you for sharing some of that passion that you carry with you as you teach young people to love their country, understand what government does and how they can affect change. In closing, what would you say to the hundreds and hundreds that you have directly taught in Girls State programs over the last many years?
Kristin Batsel: I think the best thing to say is I'm so proud of you and I know that you are doing incredible things, whatever you're doing. Whether it's being a mom or being a career-oriented woman or a leader, I know that you are going to change the world and you have been changing the world and I'm so incredibly proud of you and blessed to know you at that point in your life and just can't wait to see where you go from here, because it's only going to be incredible to watch.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. To learn more about online public schools powered by Stride K12, Stride Career Prep programs that foster lifelong learning or any of the private school or individual course offerings, please go to stridelearning.com or k12.com. Special thanks to [inaudible 00:15:06] Studios for providing the music for us. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 On Learning.
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