Friday, September 16, 2011

Taking a quiet stand

I was recently told that Washington state law requires public school teachers to "recognize the flag" once a day.  And while this gives me amusing mental images of a teacher walking into the room, looking at the flag, a flash of confusion followed by that once daily recognition, in most classroom this recognition takes the form of the pledge of allegiance. This has become an issue for Little Dog.

I personally think this is kind of a silly practice for a number of reasons.  First, this is just a little pledge that was in a children's magazine at one point that took hold and now is a piece of our national tradition.  Something about that origin makes it difficult for me to take it seriously.  Second, the addition of "under God" bothers me to no end.  For a country that claims to adore our separation of church and state, this line seems out of step.  Sure it doesn't specify any one god, but we know who it assumes to mean and as an agnostic American who is also highly sensitive to issues of other cultures, I find this offensive.  Third, and probably most importantly, they are asking 5 year old children to pledge allegiance to a flag.  They don't know what a pledge is or what allegiance is, and even if they did, how useful is the allegiance of a group of 5-year olds?  I can hardly count on mine to put his own shoes on and he's pretty committed to me. But this post isn't about me.  It's about Little Dog.

Last night as I lay crashed out in our bed, listening to Mr. Dog put the boys to bed in the next room, I caught snippets of a serious conversation.  It turns out Little Dog does not like that he is asked to say the pledge of allegiance each day.  He does not want to do it. I had a sudden swelling of pride in my little man.  I loved his not wanting to blindly pledge allegiance to things he doesn't understand and having his own visceral reaction to group oaths of any sort.  Mr. Dog tried to explain that while it is ok not to like saying it, the pledge itself is not bad.  It doesn't hurt anyone and it just basically uses the flag as a symbol of our country. It isn't asking you to do anything bad or harmful.  It is more or less benign.

That didn't change Little Dog's mind at all.  He doesn't like saying it.  He doesn't want to say it but he has to.  Mr. Dog told him he could tell his teacher he didn't want to say it, and that it probably wouldn't be a big deal.  Not good enough.  He said that Mr. Z told them they had to say it.  The whole class does.  So Mr. Dog suggested Little Dog ask Mr. Z why they said the pledge.  Mr. Z is a really great guy and I think he would have had a good discussion with the kids about this, but Little Dog again declined.

Another interesting point in the conversation revolved around the "under God" part that bothers me so. Big Dog asked "Is God real?" to which Mr. Dog apparently answered "I don't know."  This is completely in keeping with our own beliefs, though I think Mr. Dog really is more atheist than agnostic. I think we're giving the kids some space to come up with their own beliefs and enough ambiguity to help them give others room to believe what they choose to believe.

But back to the pledge.  Today I tried to coach Little Dog into having a little conversation with his teacher about not wanting to say the pledge.  Not so much because I thought he needed to talk it out, but mostly because I played his teacher's reaction back in my mind and it made me giggle.  My plan was to teach him to say, "I am uncomfortable with the pledge.  I am too young to pledge allegiance to anything.  I need more life experience before I make this kind of commitment," but true to form, he refused to learn my little line of chatter and demanded that I talk to his teacher.

You may wonder why such a small child has such an oppositional reaction to the pledge.  It's simple.  They say the pledge to the flag.  Flags are not people.  Talking to flags is weird.  Only crazy people do that.  At least you can't fault his logic.

Note: Today as the kids lined up for class I told Mr. Z that Little Dog was uncomfortable talking to the flag, he didn't think it was rational behavior and so he would rather not say the pledge.  Mr. Z chuckled and told me that while he was required to recognize the flag each day, he also tells the kids they don't have to say it if they don't want to.  If they opt out, they just need to stand quietly as the others say the pledge.  I guess Little Dog just chose to ignore that part of the lesson and instead stir up a little controversy.  I guess he really is my kid.

Just to be clear, he DOES NOT have to say the pledge.  He can stand quietly while the children who wish say the pledge do so.

3 comments:

Sybil said...

Wha?! I have never heard of this law! Are all schools suppsed to be doing a pledge, I wonder? I don't think E's school does. She tells me all the songs and rhymes they learn and the pledge hasn't come up. Weird. I am totally going to make a FB post to see who else is doing this in the classroom.
Oh, and I LOVE what you told Little Dog to say to his teacher. Awesome stuff.

bbb said...

"Better the pride that resides in a citizen of the world, than the pride that divides, when a colorful rag is unfurled." - Rush

geekymummy said...

There is an editorial in today's NYT by Ken greenfield about this very issue. Little dog has a constitutional right not to pledge. Maybe he can bring the article to school. At our school the whole school does it at morning circle after the bell. It is quite funny to see me and my fellow parents (English, Italian ad Croatian) mumbling or remaining silent because we don't know the words.
Apparently at Harvey Milk elementary they pledge allegiance to the world, instead. I like that.

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