Look, I know this is not a new topic. But did you know it is still required by law for public schools in most states to recite the pledge of allegiance? The fucking pledge of allegiance!! Granted, it’s a little more complicated than that. Check this for each state’s status on this issue:
Side note: Did you also know that there are still public schools that practice corporal punishment?? Are you shitting me. So I guess that makes the pledge of allegiance seem pretty tame. Although it could be argued that the pledge is much more sinister.
I have many problems with the pledge being a required part of students’ school days, so I’m going to discuss a few of them.
1.) We are requiring students to recite something without EVEN REMOTELY educating them about what they are reciting. As children get a little older, good teachers (I am a teacher and I can tell you, there are a lot of good teachers and a lot of bad ones) will spend time educating the students about what the pledge means (as in, what the words themselves mean as well as the historical context) as a way of gifting them the knowledge required to make an informed decision about whether they want to participate in the pledge. Education!
How creepy is it that we teach kindergarteners to recite some words they don’t understand with their hands over their hearts while staring at a flag? I’ll tell you. Very creepy. I work in a kindergarten classroom this year. Not as the lead teacher, but as a tutor/assistant, which means I have to go with the classroom teacher, and this isn’t the battle I choose to pick. Instead I stand in the back quietly and you can bet my motherfucking hand is nowhere near my heart. I know the kids notice that I don’t say it, so hopefully I’m planting a small seed of revolt. These kids don’t know what the word allegiance means! Nor republic, nor indivisible… It’s almost like subliminal brain washing. Wait, it’s exactly like that. Wait, it is that.
I asked my 1st grade son the other day if he takes part in saying the pledge of allegiance, and he replied with an emphatic “YES!” When I asked why, he told me he is showing respect for our country. Which is fine, I guess, sort of… except that I know that’s just what his teachers have told him as a way of basically telling him, “You do this or you’re disrespecting your country.” It’s an argument presented to 6-year-olds without additional context, a way of all but forcing them to stand and face the flag with their hands over their hearts (yup, teachers force kids to do that even if the kids choose not to recite the pledge, which they canNOT force them to do. The more you know.).
I didn’t argue with my son on this point, I just told him that he does not ever have to say the pledge if he chooses not to, and I told him that I choose not to say it because I don’t believe in pledging allegiance to a nation (among other things). This will be an extended conversation at some point in time, and I will continue educating my children as they age so that they can make an informed choice.
2.) Separation of church and state.
You’re telling me that we are legally mandated to show respect to a fucking piece of cloth (yeah, but it’s what it represents, Jen…oh, fuck off) by ritualistically chanting “under god” as a part of that? In our public schools? YEAH, I KNOW I DIDN’T CAPITALIZE GOD. THAT WAS INTENTIONAL.
Look, if you’re into god, that’s cool. I respect your belief system (unless your belief system requires you to restrict the rights of people who don’t share your beliefs, in which case I have no respect for your belief system), and I won’t try to force my atheism on you. But it is NOT cool to force children into Christian indoctrination. Remember how this country was supposedly founded on the principle of freedom of religion? Here’s the thing about that. Freedom of religion means ALL religions! And even the absence of religion! Not just Christianity! We are not one nation “under god.” We are one nation founded by a bunch of white dudes who wanted to escape persecution by starting a whole new system of persecution, but here’s the twist: This time they get to be the persecutors! Fun, right? God had nothing to do with it. I ONLY CAPITALIZED GOD THERE BECAUSE IT WAS THE BEGINNING OF A SENTENCE AND I CARE ABOUT THE LAWS OF GRAMMAR. (Also, as you will see below, “under god” was not even originally part of the pledge of allegiance!)
I know that the word “God” does not exclusively refer to a Christian god, and there may be non-Christian people saying the pledge who do not interpret the word god that way. But I’m here to tell you that the word god, which was not even part of the pledge until it was added in 1954 (!) by President Eisenhower, was added to specifically refer to a Christian god. So people can interpret the word however they wish, but let’s not overlook the intention of this. The intention being Christian indoctrination and identifying ourselves as a “Christian nation.”
A related note: If you are a person who argues for Christian prayer in public schools, please stop it. Pray at home. Pray in your church. There are endless opportunities for you and your family to pray. You are not being oppressed. Don’t try to force prayer on the MANY children and families who do not worship a Christian god. Thank you.
3.) Hi. Nationalism.
This, to me, is the scariest and most insidious factor to consider here. I know people think the pledge is a show of respect for our country. I don’t actually have a problem with people holding that belief. I don’t share it, but it is fine with me for people to feel that way. In fact, it would even be fine with me if we had an optional pledge of allegiance system in schools that required those who wish to say the pledge to actively opt in, and then get to participate in saying it, outside of the regular classroom. Also, opting in would mean kids are actively making decisions, hopefully based on some level of knowledge. And the kids who do not opt in are not made to feel like unAmerican pariahs or terrorists or some other bullshit.
I digress. Nationalism. Do you guys remember the Nazis? They were bad guys. They are in fact the quintessential bad guys. They killed millions of people, mostly Jewish people, but also murdered people based on race, sexual orientation, and really just anyone who did not share their beliefs or dared disagree with them. Or worse, tried to stand up for or shelter those being targeted.
Naziism (are there 2 i’s in that word? Fucking public schools were too busy indoctrinating me to teach me how to spell stuff)*, one example of a fascist regime, grew out of nationalism. And in our current political climate, in the Trump/Bannon/Sessions era, nationalism is even more terrifying than usual. These people are a few congressional votes from full scale nazis. And they are openly supported by people who currently identify as nazis. Nazis!! If you think I’m exaggerating about our current political climate and its connection to fascism, just click on the following link to read a list of the characteristics of fascist regimes. It is bone-chilling. And note that number ONE on the list is nationalism, often in the form of flag worshipping. THIS IS OUR COUNTRY RIGHT NOW. We cannot afford to teach children to mindlessly follow our national “leaders.” (I put that word in quotes because they are not real leaders. They are dickheads who happen to hold a shit ton of power right now. But dickheads they remain, and nothing more.)
Why do we want to teach kids to pledge allegiance to a country anyway? A system of arbitrary borders protected by military might? Why do we need to reinforce the bullshit concept of American exceptionalism? Why not teach children that there are hundreds of countries in the world and they are each beautiful and interesting and flawed in their own ways? Why not teach children that they are not better than people from other parts of the world? Imagine how that could affect the future of human relations. Fuck this nationalistic bullshit.
4.) As a continuation of #3, how do you think it feels to be a child from another country being forced to pledge allegiance to the American flag? How does it feel to essentially be asked to let go of any loyalty you have to your country of origin? Perhaps for some of those children and families, it feels good. For some of them I know it feels like a way of “proving” their devotion to the United States, of fitting in, of developing a new American identity. I can understand the desire to do this, since we seem to require people from other places to prove their loyalty to our country in a myriad of ways, especially people who happen to have brown skin.
But try to put yourself in the shoes of immigrant Muslim families right now. Put yourself in the shoes of undocumented Mexican or other Latin American immigrants. How does it feel to be told, directly, that you are not welcome here, and then be asked to stand and claim loyalty to the country that rejects you? How fearful would you be to choose not to participate in the pledge at a time like this? I have to tell you, it breaks my heart when I look at my Muslim kindergarteners pledging allegiance to a flag that represents (to me at least) a rejection of who they are.
There are more points to be made here. Like, the things the flag actually represents, which include but are not limited to: slavery, violence, and imperialism. Again, I know there will be those who think I’m overreacting or that the pledge of allegiance is harmless. Those people might be right. But I refuse to say it, and as my children age I will continue to gently encourage them not to say it either, because so many of the things we call “harmless” in this country are the very things that contribute to our system of oppression and violence. Against immigrants, religious minorities, black people and other people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, and all others who do not hold power. This oppression and violence has always been and continues to be carried out in the names of patriotism and security, and I will not take part in celebrating that violence and oppression.
I pledge no allegiance to the flag.
Thanks for reading. I truly appreciate it, and I welcome your feedback.
*I did look this up. It appears that both “nazism” and “naziism” are correct spellings.
(Featured image of Japanese school children in California saying the pledge in 1942, photo by Dorothea Lange, public domain.)