Passions high over the Pledge
At a school board meeting in Marion County, Fla., last year, World War II veterans packed the audience to protest a move to drop a requirement in the Student Code of Conduct that kids must stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Get the hell out of Marion County,” 85-year-old James Phillips said to those who didn’t want to stand for the pledge, as quoted by ocala.com.
Schools Superintendent Jim Yancey agreed to keep the requirement -- even though the school is not legally allowed to discipline any student for not standing. So now, under a section called “Student Responsibilities,” the code now has a provision that reads:
“To act in a manner which preserves the dignity of patriotic observances, including standing for the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem by following the guidelines established by the United States Congress in 36 U.S.C. 172 and 4 U.S.C. 4.*”
I recount this episode -- and the most recent one in Montgomery County, where a 13-year-old girl was disciplined for not standing for the pledge -- as a reminder of the deep passions that have fueled this controversy for decades.
Much of the legal tangling has been over the words “under God,” which were added to the pledge in 1954 and which have been challenged ever since as promoting religion. When he signed the law to add the words, then president Dwight Eisenhower said, “In this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”
The girl at Roberto Clemente Middle School, who was escorted out of the room and sent to the counselor’s office for refusing to stand--asked her lawyers not to reveal her personal reason for doing so.
Ajmel Quereshi, her attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said he would normally be happy to discuss the reasons but is complying with her request.
That is her right under the First Amendment.
(A reader yesterday blasted me for not including what the rights of the amendment are, so: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”)
But putting the law aside, the question is whether the Pledge of Allegiance should be recited every day in schools.
What exactly do children take away from a daily recitation of the pledge? Are they taught about what pledging allegiance to their country actually means?
Most apparently don’t; during the No Child Left Behind era, social studies took a back seat to math and reading and test preparation. The 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress -- a standardized test often called the nation’s report card -- had gloomy results: Only 24 percent of fourth-grade students and 27 percent of 12th graders scored at the proficient level in civics.
I asked Quereshi whether he thinks public schools should ask students to go through the exercise of reciting the pledge and singing the National Anthem every day. His response:
“I don’t think that I or the ACLU has a specific position about whether the daily recitation of the pledge is necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly the ACLU appreciates and understands why some people would say to say the pledge. Especially in unsettling times, patriotism runs high and people would want the security of the communal feeling of being part of a country and the rich history of the United States.
“I think the ACLU’s point is that part of that rich history is the United States Constitution and the First Amendment, and among the protections the First Amendment provides is the right to dissent. And so in this case if the child wants to sit peacefully without disturbing anybody else during the pledge, we should respect the constitution ... and respect what the flag stands for.”
There's more that we should do. We need to bring civics education back to the schools so that kids understand what they are saying, why they are saying it, and why they don’t have to say it if they don’t want to.
Someone said to me this morning, “We all said the Pledge when we were kids and didn’t stop to think about it.”
Well, yes, we did. That’s not exactly something to be proud of. Besides these are different times -- and it is really time that we recognize that kids need to know more than how to take a test.
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| February 24, 2010; 11:21 AM ET
Categories: Civics Education | Tags: civics education
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