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.

Another Post!

Well, it looks like I might be posting more frequently this semester.  I have this awkward 1/2 hour break between two classes, but they’re in the same room, so there’s really no point in leaving.  I guess that means I’ll blog.

If I’m going to be blogging a lot, I suppose I should try to come up with something more interesting to write about.  I mean, I know the details of my life are fascinating…but really.

Let’s see…what to write about…oh, I know.

Here’s an article that one of my education professors asked our class to read today.  Basically, the issue at hand, though it’s a bit clouded in this article, is student privacy.  Specifically, a teacher posted a class picture on her personal Facebook account.  Now, she might be fired, but the school board is unclear as of this moment.

So the question is, should she be fired and did she do something wrong…well, that’s complicated.  I don’t know of any laws that specifically state that teachers can’t put pictures of kids online like that (but there certainly could be).  However, in my experience, a lot (most?) organizations, schools, etc. that work with kids have policies against that sort of thing.  For instance, at camp, we are not allowed to post photos of campers.  The camp can, on official sites, but only with written permission from guardians.  From reading this article (which, let’s be honest, isn’t an example of very rigorous journalistic investigation), it seems that this school/district did not have such a policy in place.  If they did, and she violated it, of course she should be fired.  But if they didn’t…remove the picture, of course…but, more importantly, make a rule about it to prevent future problems.

I think she should have used some common sense and not done that, but if they don’t have a policy, there’s really no grounds to fire her.  Move on.

The larger issue this brings up, I think, is that times, they are a’changin’.  Schools, and everything, basically, need to keep up with technology, media, and society as a whole to prevent things like this from happening.  Posting pictures of kids who aren’t yours on the internet without permission is, frankly, stupid, and people need to realize that.  Maybe it’s the individual’s responsibility to learn that for themselves, or maybe the organizations need to take initiative and do some leading.  Either way, things like this, I think, will continue happening as long as people try to ignore or avoid change.

Well, time for class now.  Type to you later.

Words from a teacher and Person-first language

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am currently taking a class on special education.  It’s an introductory course, and I already have background in a lot of the topics because of my psychology and art therapy courses.  This makes the class rather easy but still informative (in the specifics of educational laws and functioning).  The professor has years of experience in the field of special education, teaching children in public schools and education students in universities.  She seems fairly knowledgeable on the subjects we discuss and doesn’t generally make mistakes.  Until today.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that people aren’t allowed to make mistakes or misspeak.  However, basic understanding of the proper use of terms one is using to teach is, I think, a fairly reasonable expectation.

Today, our lecture was about emotional and behavioral disorders (also known by many other terms, but that’s the gist of it).  When we got to the definition part, which was quite early in the short class, the professor began talking about the federal definition and other definitions of various organizations and such.  Well, the federal definition, apparently, includes an exclusion for social maladjustment, such as “conduct disorder–aggressive, disorderly, antisocial behavior.”  Besides that wording and punctuation being a bit odd, the professor’s explanation did not properly address it.  Maybe I’m misinterpreting the statement, but it seems to me that, especially with that combination of words (conduct disorder, aggressive, etc.), the antisocial behavior mentioned is just that–antisocial behavior.  My professor, however, seems to think that antisocial behavior means social awkwardness and avoidance.  Although this is a popular interpretation of the word antisocial, it is an actual disorder, with a specific set of antisocial characteristics and behaviors.  It is my understanding that, when discussing diagnostic things, one should use the correct diagnostic definitions.  In this case, antisocial behavior is obviously behavior that is against society, not simply unsocial.  My professor did not address any of the other words in the exception of the category.  It bothers me that people don’t understand things like this and perpetuate such misunderstandings in their teaching.

This wasn’t a major incident, but it did remind me of another post I’m working on, so I thought I’d talk about that topic now, too.  That topic, which this particular professor seems to enjoy emphasizing, is person-first language.  Basically, person-first language means that, when describing someone, you should put the person or humanizing adjective before a disability or disorder.  For instance, instead of saying something like “The autistic boy went to McDonald’s,” you would say “The boy who is autistic went to McDonald’s.”  The purpose of this is to emphasize the human aspect and deemphasize the label, reducing negative connotations and focusing on commonalities.  This seems fine and dandy, but I’m not convinced.  First of all, from a purely linguistic point of view, the wording is, well, off, and seems to emphasize that there is a difference.  In our language and culture, we generally say things like “the blonde girl,” “the good lawyer,” “the fat man,” “the distracted child,” while person-first language makes us think about this and, only for specific cases, makes us change the wording.  It is less common and more cumbersome to say “the girl who has blonde hair,” “the lawyer who is good,” “the man who is fat,” “the child who is distracted,” and people just don’t do it.  Moreover, it’s not suggested by person-first language.  At what point do we draw a line in rewording our descriptions?  Is “The German boy who has autism” better than “The German boy is autistic” (is versus has is another issue altogether) or “The boy who is German has autism” or “The boy with autism is German” or “The autistic boy is German” or any other combination of those words?  I think it depends on what one is trying to say, but I don’t believe any of those is inherently dehumanizing.  Should we say “The young male person of German heritage exhibits behaviors commonly associated with the set of symptoms known as autism”?  This rewording, to me, while well-intentioned, actually puts unneeded emphasis on the condition being discussed.

In addition, some communities, such as the Deaf community, do not approve of this type of language.  Deaf people, according to literature, would rather be called “Deaf people” than be called “people who are deaf” because they have a culture, a community, a language all their own, and it’s not dehumanizing to identify them as being a part of that.  In fact, it is empowering in many cases.

I’m not suggesting that every possible wording is okay in every circumstance, but I do think that the wordings we use should fit what we are trying to say.  There are also differences between saying “The depressed girl” and “The girl with depression” and “The girl who is depressed” and “The girl who has depression” but I don’t think one is inherently wrong or dehumanizing.  What can be dehumanizing is how people use the words.  “That guy is sooo bipolar,” for example, puts the person first but is still demeaning, while saying “The bipolar man shared his lunch” is not.

Finished Reading, now for Math

I mentioned here a while ago that I had started reading Suzanne Antonetta’s A Mind Apart:  Travels in a Neurodiverse World.  Well, I finished it just a few moments ago (depending on what a moment is), and now I kind of want to read it again and take notes and let my thoughts go and see where they take me from her words.  But it’s due back at the library tomorrow and I have school work to do and many other things and I’m a little afraid of being open to the ramblings of my mind while reading again, so I’m not going to do that.  However, there were some words near the end that I stuck my bookmark into to share with you because I had something to say about them.

Page 215:  “My mind ways give me an inability to see things simply, a common syndrome of the neurodiverse.”

This reminds me of trying to do homework in elementary school.  I would have math worksheets to fill out, and did them quickly, with no issues, until I got to the final problem or two (they were always at the end, these troublesome questions).  Then, I had trouble.  I don’t remember how severe my reactions were, but I do remember spending inordinate amounts of time on these last problems, needing my parents to talk me through them again and again, until finally I gave up and wrote the answer.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know the answer all along–I most certainly did.  The problem was that these worksheets always ended with prompts like “Explain your answer.”  I always thought that the answer was complicated, though I knew it wasn’t because it was the same every day and the lines provided weren’t long enough for such an answer, especially in first grade handwriting.  Why, I wondered, did I have to explain my answer…it was right, it was right because that’s just how it worked, because I did it right, and explaining it would be highly complex and philosophical (though I didn’t put it into those words at that time), and anyway, why did I need to explain it–the teacher already understood and knew I understood.  These were very, very simple questions, and I just…didn’t get it, in some part of me.  I did understand and knew what I needed to write and could have been done with it so much more quickly and easily, but I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t answer those questions without making sure someone knew I thought they were stupid.  Or maybe that wasn’t it; I don’t remember thinking that at the time, but it seems a reasonable enough explanation.  Having gone through much more school since then, I have come to realize that people, apparently, have low standards and don’t really expect me to do my best when answering such questions, no matter what they may claim philosophically.  They do not expect me to write an excellent essay to the best of my abilities; they expect average, to the best of a mediocre twelve year old’s abilities (at the college level; in first grade, of course, a lower level was expected).  They do not expect brilliantly explained theories of anything from me; they simply want me to answer the question, and do it simply.  My college textbooks, particularly one for teacher education, are written quite poorly…well, maybe not…maybe it’s average.  Even this blog…the proofreader suggests taking out “complex expressions” like “require” and replacing them with words like “need” to make it easier to read.  I’m sorry, but require is not a complex word.  And passive sentences…I’ll admit I use them a bit more than is necessary, especially online, where I don’t put forth my best effort (do I ever?), but really, I think most people reading this blog will be able to understand “The papers were given to me” or “The teacher gave me the papers” or “I received the papers” equally well.  They all say the same thing.  Or perhaps I am seeing this too simply or not thinking simply enough.  Going back to those math worksheets, what I needed, at least what helps in similar situations now, is rewording of the question to sort of unlock my answer that’s stuck in my head upon reading or hearing the original wording.  I understand that different wording works for different people, but a writer cannot possibly serve everyone in a single piece, no matter the word choice or complexity of phrase or anything, so why bother trying to have “easier” readings all the time?  These better wordings annoy me and make it harder for me to read, while I know they make it easier for some others.  Why must we try to limit the diversity of thought and understanding?  Another thing from school:  you can’t start a sentence with “because” because it will be incomplete.  THIS IS FALSE!  For instance, “Because of the recent decline in woodpecker sightings, it is believed that there will be a corresponding decrease of seemingly random holes in trees.”  That’s a perfectly complete sentence, and it’s structured so that some people understand it better than they would if it said, “It is believed that there will be a decrease of seemingly random holes in trees.  This decrease corresponds to the recent decline in woodpecker sightings.”  Why are we taught cause and effect and then told we can’t use it in our writing, in order?  Because the standards of the majority are low, we are not expected to fulfill our personal potentials.  Instead, we are expected to be mediocre; at the same time, those who excel are seen as special, people who achieve the unachievable, even though many more people could excel if given the proper nurturing.

Well, that’s not quite where I was expecting to go with this post.  I don’t really know where I was going, but this wasn’t it.  I know it’s a bit, well, rambly and mediocre, but I have been conditioned to not care, and that’s the path I’m choosing to take.  The path of least resistance is…easier…than caring, though, obviously, I do care, sometimes a bit too much, apparently.  But I digress, again.  Maybe.  I’m not really sure.  Perhaps I should reword it.