Star Spangled Banner documentary sparks some kids to misbehave rather than watch it

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

When my mother was in the fourth grade, her school held "documentary Fridays." As the name implies, the students watched a documentary every Friday—but only if they behaved.

According to my mother, some schoolchildren loved watching documentaries on the big screen in the auditorium while others hated them. Fortunately for my mother, she fell into the first group.

"I thought of it as a reward for good behavior," my mother told me, "but some kids looked at it as a punishment. They hated documentary Fridays, and I loved them. If one person got in trouble, then we all missed out on watching the documentary of the week. So they would act rowdy and misbehave to force the teachers to make us sit quietly in the classroom instead of getting to watch film strips in the auditorium."

Since the school had limited access to film reels, they often watched the same documentary multiple times. One such documentary was about The Star Spangled Banner.

"The documentary about The Star Spangled Banner was my favorite, and I always looked forward to watching it again and again, but some of the other kids hated it," my mother said, shaking her head. "I don't know why. It was a beautiful film. A lot of the other kids misbehaved on Fridays just so they wouldn't have to watch that Star Spangled Banner documentary again," she continued.

"The Star Spangled Banner documentary wasn't just about the song but the American flag that inspired it. It told the story of Francis Scott Key, the American lawyer, and poet, who wrote our amazing National Anthem on a ship," my mother said. "I was so mesmerized by the entire story from beginning to end. I cannot remember enjoying another documentary as much as I enjoyed that one."

According to my mother, the documentary featured a reenactment of Francis Scott Key waking up to the "bombs bursting in air" that he memorialized in the song. He climbed the stairs of the warship, looked out, and there was our flag, waving proudly over the fort. He hurried to a desk, took out a piece of paper and a quill pen, and wrote the familiar lyrics while bombs continued exploding outside.

As noted by Authors Alliance, "The Star Spangled Banner lyrics and music are part of the public domain. The American national anthem too is a part of the public domain. The lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner originate from a poem, Defence of Fort M’Henry, written by Francis Scott Key in 1814."

O say, can you see
By the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hail'd
At the twilight's last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars
Through the perilous fight
O'er the ramparts we watch'd
Were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket's red glare
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free
And the home of the brave?

"If you listen intently to the lyrics, they hold so much meaning. The words always give me the chills, no matter how many times I hear them. They are as beautiful as our flag and our United States of America," my mother said.

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