I saw a post on Facebook today that asked people to comment on whether or not they felt children should be made to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day at school. Out of curiosity, I took a look at the comments, and felt a little dismayed at what I saw. By a ratio of about 10:1, the respondents thought that children should be made to do this. I didn’t come across any comments that offered much of an explanation, other than that children need to be made to be patriotic, and this would be a good method to make sure that happens.
First of all, before I get too far into this, let me say right out that I am patriotic. I served in the U.S. Army. I pay taxes. I vote. I have worked all my life. I’ve had a traffic ticket or two, but otherwise I have been pretty much a law-abiding citizen. I only throw this out there so that those of you who equate criticism of our goverment with being unpatriotic don’t call me a communist and throw garbage on my lawn. I love our country. I really do. I’m pretty crazy about our planet as a whole. Some of the people on it, not so much, but for the most part I like people too.
Back to the topic at hand – making students say the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m against it. There. I said it. Let me explain why.
I have been teaching 26 years, and when you add my 12 years of grade school and high school into the mix, I have been in our school system for 38 years. I’ve seen the Pledge recited a few times. I’ve said it a few times myself. It’s not in and of itself such a bad thing to say, if you understand what you are saying, and you mean it. But I suspect that is not the case for most school children that would be made to do this.
One reason I am opposed to forcing kids to recite this is that most young children in the early years of school have no idea what the words “allegiance” or “republic” even mean. Go ahead and ask one. Even if they can recite some dictionary-style definition, they still have no idea what either one really means. My hunch is that a lot of adults would struggle with it too. Why would we want our children to learn to blindly parrot words that they do not understand simply to please an authority figure? Expecting kids to become patriotic by reciting a pledge they don’t understand makes about as much sense as expecting kids to become religious by repeating prayers they don’t understand. Oops. Did I say that? And just for the record, the original Pledge did not have the words “under God” in it. That was added in 1954 during the height of our government’s fear of the godless dreaded red menace, the Soviet Union.
A second reason I am opposed to it is the claim that reciting it will make our kids more patriotic. Really? And just what does “patriotic” mean? Silly question, right? Does being patriotic mean being pro-life? How about being anti-gay marriage? Does being patriotic mean you shop at Walmart and watch Fox News? Does it mean serving in the military, or paying taxes on all the money you don’t offshore to Switzerland or the Cayman Islands? Do you have to own a handgun or an assault rifle to be patriotic? Do you have to drive a Chevy, Ford or Chrysler to be patriotic?
I know, I know. Being patriotic just means that you love your country. But what does THAT mean? How can you say you love your country when most of the things you buy at Walmart are made in China? How can you say you love your country when you go to extraordinary means to avoid paying the taxes that keep our country running? Can you truly say you are patriotic if you avoid military service during a time of war by doing missionary work for your church or by having your well-connected dad pull strings to keep you out of harm’s way? Can you say you love your country when you pollute the air and water and ravage the land for profit?
Honestly, I think it would serve our children better if we dispensed completely with the mindless mouthing of the Pledge. It’s not doing what we want it to anyway. I think our children would be much better served if we adults showed them how to get along, how to cooperate with each other for the common good, and showed them what loving and appreciating each other looks like, in real life, in real time, every day.