The Pledge

I’m going to assume that most people reading this are familiar with the fact that the U.S. has a pledge of allegiance and a national anthem.  If you’re not…well, they exist.  Now you’re all caught up.

One of my Facebook friends, who happens to live in the Midwest, is male, white, heterosexual (and strongly opposed to any other option), Roman Catholic (because he likes the Sacraments; otherwise, he might be Lutheran, ’cause, after all, women should maybe be able to be priests), an Eagle Scout, and Republican, recently posted an interesting question.  He’s been out of the primary and secondary school system for a while, seeing as he’s nearing 30, but is planning on working with kids (he wants to be a camp director).  Did I mention he’s also patriotic, in a push-his-beliefs-on-you kind of way?  Well, he is.  I think he honestly believes that the US is the best place ever in the history of anywhere.  And, of course, Obama and the gays are ruining it.  Whatever.  His Facebook question was directed at his “education friends”…of which I am one, I guess…and was wondering if the pledge of allegiance is still said in schools, and if so, until what grade.  Well, this was a stupid question that could easily have been answered with a 2 second Google search…which is, of course, what I used to find my copy-paste law about it.  I’m not sure what the law is in other states (haven’t bothered to look it up yet), but in his state, public schools must provide the pledge or national anthem every day, and private schools must unless it goes against their religious beliefs.  However, no one can be compelled to recite against their or their guardians’ objections.  This is required for every grade, 1-12 (and often applied to kindergarten, since they’re usually in the same schools and it’s done over the announcements or speaker system for everybody).

So where is this post going, you may ask…well, I’m a bit annoyed.  Just a bit, though.  Not enough to really care or express a strong opinion to him on Facebook, but enough to write about it here (though that may be out of boredom more than annoyance).

My question is, should this really be required in schools?  Do the kids even know what they’re saying?

I am a proud product of the public school system.  Beginning in kindergarten, I stood up with my class and recited the pledge each school morning.  Of course, at age five, I didn’t really get it, but that’s okay, whatever.  It was just one more thing school told me to memorize and recite.  And I did.  Then, in fourth or fifth grade, some schools merged and there were suddenly new kids in my class.  One of them identified as Jehovah’s Witness.  At age 10, we didn’t really talk about that much, but somebody in class did notice that she didn’t stand for the pledge (which, as everyone knows, is the most important part), or even say it sitting down.  Well, this apparently caused some drama, though I don’t really remember it, and the teacher had to address the class and explain that this was because of the girl’s religious beliefs.  That’s all fine and dandy, but it got me thinking, briefly, about why they would object.  After all, it did mention God (which, even at that point in my life, I realized was kind of contentious).  That thought didn’t last long, at least that I can remember.  I had important tests to get 100s on, and was far too busy making sure kids didn’t copy my spelling tests to think about philosophical ideas.

Somewhere between 12 and 14, I started thinking about it again.  One girl in my class chose not to stand, not for religious reasons (she was a professed atheist), but for some reason she never really articulated to me, though she was one of my good friends at that time.  As I remember it, it became a bit trendy for kids to sit (and converse) during the pledge and ensuing morning announcements.  This was in a world shortly after 9/11, when we were expected to give full support to every governmental action.  Most of them did it because they finally realized they could (not for any deeper political or spiritual reason).  The teachers couldn’t make them stand and recite.  Of course, there was a faction of kids who did not agree with this show of apathy and diligently stood each day for the recitation.  In fact, most of us stood, at least on some days.  Most days, I didn’t think about what I was saying or doing during that time, but on occasion, I did start to think it was a bit silly, and I wondered about why I was doing it and what I was saying.

In high school, at some point, I pretty much stopped standing for the pledge.  When the national anthem was played at school events (I didn’t attend sports), I would stand, and maybe put my hand on my heart out of respect, but the pledge wasn’t important, if it ever had been.  Politics was a pretty big thing in my high school, and there were certainly strong representatives of both major parties.  One girl, during a gubernatorial election time, told the class that “the only people who benefit from Democrats in office are teachers and welfare workers!”  After class, the teacher told her that, in saying that, she was being “closemindedly stupid.”  He was a pretty great teacher.  My immediate thoughts were “So…that’s supposed to be bad?” and “You do realize you’re saying that to a teacher, right?”  She was one who always said the pledge.  Sitting became a way to show dissent to President Bush’s policies (and showing laziness, depending on the student).

I sat because it simply didn’t hold meaning for me, and I didn’t want to be forced to do something that meant nothing to me.  I started wondering why other people bothered, why we did this every day, what it was supposed to mean.

The pledge reads:  I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The whole thing just seems off to me.  I mean, first we pledge allegiance to the flag.  Then, we say it’s one nation under God, totally ignoring anybody who believes differently (and maybe implying that other nations aren’t).  And we say it’s indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.  We were never really taught what it meant or the history of what we were saying.

There’s a lot more to this, but I think I’ll be done for now.

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