a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Turning a cold shoulder to the Pledge of Allegiance?

Students in Washington, D.C., recite the Pledge of Allegiance circa 1899. (Frances Benjamin Johnston photo)

By Scott Beveridge

After the morning bell rang on my first day of teaching in a rural southwestern Pennsylvania high school in 1983, I instructed my homeroom to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The students to my surprise remained seated with bewildered expressions on their faces as if I had arrived to the Bethlehem-Center School District from another planet.

One of them didn't hesitate to say, "Why are you making us do that? None of our other teachers do."

I was shocked to learned that something we had never overlooked when I  attended grades K-12 had become passé in Fredericktown, Pa., just eight years after receiving my high school diploma.

"Well, I am not like the rest of your schoolteachers, and, we will say the pledge every morning in this classroom," I responded that January morning as I began to fill in until June for an art teacher on leave.

I remember that day, though, every time a Christian patriot pops a nerve when a lawsuit is filed by an atheist in an attempt to remove the phrase 'under God" from the pledge.

And, then I think the shouters should have more important things to worry about than whether or not public school students take the time each day to express their loyalty to the U.S. flag. It makes me wonder, too, if they should be more concerned about the quality of the curriculum and whether or not the kids from poor homes are getting proper nutrition at school. Now, today in Pennsylvania, school districts are making bare-bones cuts to their budgets and facing dwindling funds to afford to pay teacher salaries, books and supplies.

Back in 1983 it struck me that the pledge wasn't making these students better citizens or boosting their patriotism, as the didn't speak its words with any degree of sincerity. And, even today at the municipal meetings I attend, no one seems to recite the pledge enthusiastically. It just seems like something everyone does quickly and quietly to get it over with before moving on to the agenda.

By 2002, just half of the states in the country were requiring public school students to recite the pledge at the start of school, The New York Times reported that year in a story about a federal judge banning the pledge from schools, citing the "under God" phrase. That ruling later was overturned, yet a similar appeal would be argued again in 2010.

All this makes me curious about how many public schoolteachers still require their students to take part in a ritual dating to 1892 and adopted by Congress in 1942 as America was heading into the Cold War.

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