Opinion
Education Opinion

I Pledge Allegiance

By Nancy Flanagan — September 20, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Back in the 1980s, when my public school district was still considered rural, a conservative, anti-tax school board was elected and set about re-fashioning the core work of the system, stripping away “frills” and returning to their own nostalgic, just-the-basics vision of education. First order of business: a mandate that an American flag be displayed in every room, and all buildings collectively recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of every day. Effective immediately.

Since you can’t say the Pledge of Allegiance to the wall, principals scrambled to buy flags and the whine of drills punching holes in concrete block drowned out lessons over the next few days. Teachers did what teachers do: figured out how to incorporate a daily PA-led pledge into their own start-up routine while quietly dissecting the new policy in the teachers’ lounge, predicting the philosophical and practical consequences:

Won’t the Pledge become rote and sterile? What about the Jehovah’s Witness kids (a significant subset of our population)--and what about kids who claim the Pledge is against their religious beliefs just for kicks or attention? What happens when 8th grade boys start leaping up and grabbing the flag--as they most certainly will? Can we turn the words--pledge, indivisible, allegiance--into tomorrow’s vocabulary lesson, try to inject some meaning into this exercise? Do our students even understand what the Pledge is--how it came about, its uses and misuses?

Last week, the MI Legislature has passed legislation requiring display of the flag in every classroom in every public school in Michigan--and a companion law compelling daily recitation of the Pledge is in the pipeline. Republican state Senator Roger Kahn, who introduced the bill says: Starting the school day with the pledge is an important expression of love for our country.

Let me say upfront that I, personally, have no problem saying the Pledge of Allegiance (even the God part) at publicly funded gatherings. I sing the war-mongering words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Tiger games, too, loudly and lustily, embarrassing my family. I know all the verses of “America the Beautiful.” I fly Old Glory. I do love my country, warts and all.

It’s the compulsion part that bothers me, in a nation proudly founded on civil and religious liberties. That--and the fact that this legislation is being passed during a hot and heavy election season, right after the MI House introduced a bill specifying that the state’s

...model core academic curriculum content standards shall not include attitudes, beliefs, or value systems that are not essential in the legal, economic, and social structure of our society and to the personal and social responsibility of citizens of our society.

So--expression of “non-essential” beliefs and values may soon be verboten in Michigan classrooms, except for the legal demand that every person publicly vow loyalty to the American political system, every day? Praising our nation as unified, committed to freedom, equity and integrity?

The irony, the irony. Also: a little wobbly, on the first amendment front.

As a teacher, here’s what I want to ask:

• Doesn’t the MI legislature have much bigger problems to solve, at this moment?

• Isn’t this the very definition of a local issue? Most schools deal with expressions of national pride (and similar issues, like celebration of holidays) based on decisions made by School Boards with input from the community, creating local policies that are periodically reviewed and updated, rather than part of the monolithic MI School Code.

• Does Senator Kahn really believe that compelling teenagers to stand and mumble an oath every day will lead to genuine patriotism? Has the fact that rote compliance could well be counter-productive in the long run to occurred to policy-makers?

• Are the MI legislators sponsoring the bill concerned with equally important things, like civic engagement, respect for national service, teaching kids to investigate all sides of an issue? What about maximizing voter turnout? Or do those qualify as “value systems that are not essential?”

Much of the discussion has been around who’s going to pay for all the new flags-- the legislature has declined-- but I really wish it were possible to assign every legislator who votes for this new requirement to a five-paragraph essay, delineating its purpose and meaning.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP