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Education Opinion

The Controversial Pledge of Allegiance

By Walt Gardner — October 13, 2017 1 min read

When a 17-year-old senior in Windfern High School in Houston refused to stand for the daily Pledge of Allegiance, she was immediately expelled by the principal (“Houston student booted for sitting during Pledge of Allegiance,New York Daily News,” Oct. 7). Although she was soon allowed to return to school, her parents have sued the district in federal court.

I don’t think the district has a leg to stand on. In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Board of Education v. Barnette that school or other public officials cannot “force citizens to confess by word or act” to recite the pledge. Then in 1972, the U.S. Court of Appeals held that “the act of standing is itself part of the pledge” and “can no more be required than the pledge itself.” Based on these two decisions, the matter seemed settled. But emotions surrounding the issue continue to run high.

When I began teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1964, teachers were required to lead their students in reciting the Pledge. Notice I said that they were required to lead their students. Students could remain seated and/or silent without facing any disciplinary action. But as opposition to the Vietnam War intensified, the pledge slowly disappeared. I think most teachers realized that forcing students to participate was counterproductive.

If patriotism is the goal, there are other ways of inculcating it in students other than the Pledge. Let’s not forget that the Pledge itself only began in 1892 when Francis Bellamy conceived it as a way of promoting sales of The Youth’s Companion, a magazine aimed at schoolchildren, where he worked. The original contained only 23 words, which I and students of my generation recited without hesitation as a form of pride for being in this country. Over the years, additional words were added and the form of salute was altered. By not forcing students to participate, teachers may ironically be achieving the ultimate goal because they show by deed that the U.S. is free enough to permit disagreement.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check 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.