By: Todd Wade
I wrote this column about 8 years ago. It makes me think about the flag and blind patriotism. Although I am overcoming my fear of people who fly the stars and stripes, it has been a slow process. Every hyper patriot is either a far righter, military, or a social studies teacher. They all can’t be wrong, right? In an interesting twist, I switched schools and for the first 3 years, they didn’t even say the pledge. I had never experienced a pledgeless school. It was, actually, a little bit of heaven. It is back, but hidden in the morning announcement video that, I think, some teachers skip. Love to hear your comments.
Early in the school year, a friend of mine from a nearby High Sschol was talking about his Department Chair coming into his room during the Pledge of Allegiance. A few kids were sitting, and he made them stand up, and they gave him the hairy eyeball. Then a couple months later, I was at a colleague’s house for a kid birthday party and a group of fellow teachers were discussing the pledge emphatically. They were adamant that students stand for the pledge. This, and several readings I had done, got me to really thinking about this event that occurs all across our land, every morning, and every school day. Check out a brief history below.
I first started thinking about my upbringing in Guam. We did the pledge, then it was followed by singing “God Bless America,” then we sang “Standing Guamanian” (a patriotic Guam song) and then sang “Standing Guamanian” in the local language (“Fonoge Chamorro” for those of you who care). All this took at least 10 minutes every day. I never remember thinking about any of it; I just did it like everyone else. Then I took 5 years off from the pledge when I went to college, and now I am in my 20th year of saying or hearing it again. Wow, that is approximately 5,900 times I have said or heard it. And, for the first 10 years, I said “invisible.”
So my experience with the pledge has taken some interesting twists and turns in the past few years. I have been, like most of you (I imagine), one of those teachers that always made the kids stand. I was annoyed when they didn’t, but they always stood when I asked. But this didn’t stop my annoyance. When they did stand, they slouched, leaned on chairs, fixed their hair, chit chatted, and generally did not pay attention to the pledge. But, I fought the good fight.
Then, I met my first homeroom class three years ago; a very bright, fun, and rebellious group. I loved them. I hated them. Great kids, but bright and opinionated and assertive. Exactly what I want in my children, but not necessarily what I want in a homeroom. Sigh. They informed me, that legally, I could not make them stand. We made it a little homeroom project, and we all investigated and then had a few very lively discussions. In short, they were right; they didn’t have to stand. Several made it clear they were not going to stand. None of this was acrimonious; it was a very intelligent debate that occurred. So, for the first time in my career, in my 17th year of teaching, kids sat down during the pledge. The amount that sat, changed everyday, it was amazing to watch who would and who wouldn’t on what day. The number sitting changed almost everyday. At least half stood everyday regardless. Almost half vacillated between the two, and two kids never stood. The confliction between the half that vacillated was fascinating.
So, this year I got a new HR, and they were juniors, the same grade as when I started with my last HR. I decided to do an experiment. I was going to say nothing and see what would happen. No lectures, no stink eye, just quietly stand during the pledge. The first two weeks, everyone stood. By week 3, one kid stayed seated, and I could see her out of the corner of my eye looking nervously at me. That was all it took. By week 4, we were exactly where we were with my previous, very assertive, homeroom. ** (please see endnote)
So where does this leave us? Do we lie to kids and tell them they have to stand? Should we have discussions about it as a class to see why/if we should stand? Or do we insist it is their patriotic duty to stand? Do we make them stand and put up with slouching and general disinterest? Do we need/want to fight this fight every morning?
Four years ago, I would have given you the basic stock answer of showing respect and pride in your country. After a very interesting dialogue with my homeroom 3 years ago, I don’t know if I am there anymore. I don’t think I see a need for the pledge in high school or middle school. Do we need the pledge to be more patriotic? From the ages of 18 to death no one says the pledge. I don’t see a loss of patriotism in the adults in our country. If the goal is to foster a pride and love of country via a pledge, then you only have to do it through Elementary school. It will stick. But really, patriotism is fostered in the home, right? I myself am thoroughly impressed with the foresight, intelligence, and daring of our founding fathers. They created one of the greatest experiments in the world, and so far, it has been a smashing success. My forays into researching the pledge led me to learn more about our founding fathers. And with this intellectual exercise, I have come away, quite unimpressed with the need for the pledge but more impressed with our countries ideals and foundations.
I know some of this article could “ruffle some feathers,” but that is not my goal. My goal is to start an intellectual discussion. I would love to hear some rational reasons for and against the above ideas.
More interesting stuff on the pledge: Check out how we used to salute the flag.
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Well, it turns out at that the pledge was written by a Christian socialist named Francis Bellamy as part of a Columbus Day celebration in 1892. The salute was called the Bellamy salute after—you guessed it—Mr. Bellamy. The salute was too similar to one later used by a certain goose-stepping gentleman of the Family Schicklgruber, so in 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the hand over heart gesture that we see today.
These facts—and much more— can be found in a fascinating new book, The Pledge: A History of the Pledge of Allegiance by Jeffrey Owen Jones and Peter Meyer, which the New York Times Book Review saluted on Sunday
** I wrote this article in very early March. On March 8th, I shared it with my homeroom and asked them why they stood or did not stand. I found very few of the reasons (either way) very convincing. But we did have a good discussion about it, and they led the discussion, and many admitted that their reasoning was very weak. The interesting part is that the next two days everyone stood, except for the one kid that was absent on the 8th. It will very interesting to see if they stay with it as the school year presses on.