Thursday, September 15, 2005

Meaning Less

When I taught school we began each morning in homeroom with the Pledge of Allegiance piped in through the school’s closed-circuit TV system. My homeroom, all seniors, rose and recited it by rote and sat back down without paying it any more attention than they did to the myriad of announcements that came through; club meetings, soccer scores, and yet another reminder not to park on the grass. Some of the students didn’t recite the pledge either because they were not U.S. citizens or because they had their own personal reasons. (I got some flack from the headmaster for not putting my hand over my heart and reciting it out loud until I explained to him that open displays of icon worship violated my Quaker beliefs. He shut up.)

The problem with the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t that it contains the words “under God,” something we all now know was a prepositional phrase that was inserted in the mid 1950’s when we were in one of our periodic phases of American butch-assurance against the Red menace and the yellow horde. It’s become meaningless and marginalized. It’s ingrained in children at the age of five or so as part of their daily duty at school and it means nothing more to them than a babble of words, which, at that age, can get mangled. I’ve heard kids say earnestly “I led the pigeons to the flag…and to the Republican Richard Stans…one nation, indescribable….” They might as well recite the Jabberwocky.

As Ricky points out, it’s forced patriotism.

…when you force students to say it every day it becomes a chore, I honestly (along with my other colleagues) felt little to no respect for it. It was no longer a proud moment to say, “I Love America” the teachers forced you to do it, and, believe me, if you had to say it everyday when you didn’t even understand what it represents, you would feel the same way.

It makes the debate over the inclusion of “under God” somewhat pointless when the entire Pledge itself has lost its impact. If the schools or institutions wish to make it meaningful, then we need to do a better job of educating the students in history and social studies and making them aware of exactly what they’re saying — and pledging allegiance to. Then we can have an honest debate about whether or not we need to include a reference to superstition in it as well.