Ever since Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, the controversy surrounding how one shows his or her patriotism has been pushed into the national spotlight. Patriotism, or lack thereof, is expressed in many different ways. Kaepernick has expressed his views by kneeling during the national anthem. Some students choose to say the pledge of allegiance while others don’t. A few claim that saying the pledge is a religious statement which may make others feel uncomfortable. Then there are the teens who look like they don’t care, and the ones that seem as if they do mumble their way through the pledge. Whatever students choose to do, it seems to make someone mad. Is this a real controversy or just forced outrage? From where I stand, the dispute that surrounds the importance of saying the pledge is forced, and those who force people to say it are wrong and unjustified..
The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that punishing someone for refusing to say the pledge was a violation of the First Amendment, yet schools chastise students to this day by threatening them with demerits, suspension, or, in some radical cases, expulsion. In fact, on October 8 last year, senior India Landry was expelled from Windfern High School in Houston, Texas for not standing for the pledge, The Washington Post reported. She was told, “This isn’t the NFL.” This not only violates the student’s rights, but also goes against the spirit of the First Amendment.
Perhaps what needs to be examined is the unspoken message. If students are saying, “Well, nobody else is saying the pledge, so I probably shouldn’t either,” it might be wise to examine why that is. If teens find no value in saying the pledge, much to the dismay of some school officials, maybe it’s because students just don’t understand what the pledge represents. Or, possibly, they disagree with what it represents.
For some the pledge represents loyalty, patriotism and sacrifice. However, it has a different connotation for others. Some see it as a religious vow — after all, the words “under God” were added to the pledge in 1954. For those who do not believe in the power of prayer or in a higher being, and even for some who do, requiring them to recite a prayer to a 3’x5’ rectangle of cloth is distasteful. Still others see it as a loyalty oath — something akin to the McCarthy era where people were asked to prove their patriotism under oath… not to a flag, but to a sub-committee of Congress — and some find that idea morally questionable.
But for those who equate the pledge with an innocent display of patriotism, perhaps students just aren’t being taught the so-called “importance” of the Pledge of Allegiance. Maybe it is the responsibility, therefore, of our administrators to teach kids the importance of the pledge instead of becoming frustrated when a student reacts differently. Schools actually used to teach a class called civics for that purpose. In an article posted on the National Education Association’s website entitled, “Forgotten Purpose: Civics Education in Public Schools,” author Amanda Litvak writes, “One of the primary reasons our nation’s founders envisioned a vast public education system was to prepare youth to be active participants in our system of self-government.” But it’s not enough just to provide stock answers. Perhaps school districts should listen to and try to understand students’ complaints about saying the pledge, rather than force them to participate in something they perceive as meaningless, or worse, as an oath to something that excludes or diminishes them.
While some kids don’t agree with what the pledge represents and symbolizes, and feel that being forced to say it every day puts the students in a position where they feel like hypothetical sheep, still others just don’t get the big deal.
“[The pledge] doesn’t change my beliefs … I just don’t think anybody really is that affected by the pledge,” said freshman Austin Kelly.
Kelly makes a reasonable point. Why is the pledge overwhelmingly controversial when it doesn’t directly affect anybody? Does saying the pledge make anyone truly more heroic, patriotic or worthy? Does not saying the pledge cause poverty, illness, or hunger? The pledge is, after all, just a bunch of words. But, for the words to have meaning, perhaps we need to be taught or shown what that meaning is. And perhaps we need to realize that not everything means the same thing to everyone.