Thursday, June 23, 2005

Just what value does a pledge have?

On Peter David's site there's a post about an eight year old US school kid being suspended for mocking the Pledge of Allegiance.

I'm not aware if we have anything similar anywhere in our schools in the UK, but the Pledge of Allegiance is often recited in US schools everyday (as well as in many other places) and is worded:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
There's even a set of rules (though not legally binding) from congress about how one should recite it:

by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.
One honestly has to wonder just what impact being made to recite this everyday actually has on schoolkids. For a pledge to have any real meaning it should be given willingly, not just churned out all the time regardless. Do the kids who recite this even have a clue what pledging alleigance to a flag means? Maybe it's a US thing - they seem to treat the flag as a religious symbol. That and the reference to one singular God makes me wonder if whoever devised all this read that bit about the US having no state religion. There's also nothing about equality in there - maybe the US might want to look again at the wording.

If I'd had to recite something like this every single day of my time at school, I would probably have come to see it as a mere chore, one that inevitably gets mocked. I certainly wouldn't have suddenly felt all inspired and enhanced and a model citizen just because I'd rattled this off. I doubt that at that age I'd have had a clue just what a "Republic" really means (and it's a darnsight more than a state which does not have a monarchy). The whole thing is just an invitation to be mocked as a way of proving one's rebellious credentials. And given the way that schools are by their very nature run in an authoritarian style, is it really such a good idea to spread notions of liberty for all? Kids have a very poor understanding of highly charged political terms and are likely to latch onto the simplest understanding of it - that they are free to do whatever they like.

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