I was leading a school tour for a mom and dad soon to join our local school system, and the usual questions came up about recess and playtime in Kindergarten and curriculum and school community. And then the dad asked if our school says the Pledge of Allegiance. I think I let a second hang in the air as I gauged the motivation behind the question, and then answered, “Yep, every morning.”
Hmm. Are the parents okay with that? Don’t they complain? Don’t they see it as indoctrination? “Maybe,” I answered, “but no one has complained to me.”
What followed was a conversation about how their Manhattan elementary school doesn’t say the pledge and that no NYC schools do. “I guess that’s changed. When I taught in a Brooklyn high school, we had the pledge every day.” Oh, well, not our school. Not anymore. And we kept chatting about how I wish “under God” would be removed from the Pledge and how he believed that asking students to stand respectfully was still asking for approval of the act. I disagreed. We moved on. It was an exchange of ideas, albeit half-hearted on both sides.
But later it got me thinking about why I don’t have much of a problem with my kids reciting the pledge of allegiance. Or Pledge of Allegiance. For my kids’ part, to them it’s a ritual they enjoy. They love their country. They admire their (current) President. They think apple pie and the 4th of July are both excellent. So, for them, reciting the pledge is obvious. It’s wholly positive.
My memories of saying the Pledge of Allegiance are intertwined with struggling to remember the words, being terrified my shy self would be called on to start the Pledge for the class, and wondering what “for witches stand” had to do with the American flag. It didn’t indoctrinate me; it confused me. It was just a part of the day.
As a grown-up, my snarky self revels in the hypocrisy of eventually adding “under God” in a country supposedly touting a separation of church and state. Not to mention the interesting change of hand over heart instead of right hand salute to the flag. Ahh optics!
Perhaps because I’m not religious at all, I don’t take the words too seriously. And perhaps because I’m not nationalistic at all, I don’t take the weirdness of pledging to a piece of cloth too seriously. Maybe I should. I don’t know. I just feel like some ritual is healthy, and this seems pretty tame. Perhaps I don’t get upset because as a child of immigrants who appreciated the opportunities and life they’d built in the USA, I’m willing to flex and bend. Maybe it’s getting older and seeing other fights that need attention. Just like anyone else, my own subjective experiences as well as my children’s current experiences inform my reactions. And were I in a school where the ritual felt more nationalistic, I would probably react more ardently, more fiercely. For my own part, depending on my mood and the context, I usually choose to stand quietly and silently remember how I’ve benefited from opportunities. Some days the list is shorter, some days longer. But it’s always there.
I’m curious to hear how others respond, or don’t, to the idea of the Pledge of Allegiance for themselves or their children. Do tell.