06 July 2011

High School Patriotism

It is the policy of all public schools in the state of Texas to dedicate a portion of every day to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the Texas pledge (yes there is such a thing) and a moment of silence in which "students may reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that does not interfere with or distract others." It is the policy of many teenagers in the state of Texas to refuse to stand during this ritual. I spent the majority of my short teaching career asking defiant students to sit down. But without fail, when it came time for the Pledge of Allegiance, no one wanted to stand.

I can appreciate religious exception. It wouldn't bother me if a Jehovah's Witness didn't want to stand for the Pledge. I don't have the same belief, but I can respect it. I could even understand an atheist refusing to stand because they were uncomfortable with the acknowledgement of deity.

I am aware that the United States is a country based on protest. If my students were refusing to stand as a form of political demonstration I wouldn’t object. In fact, I would be rather excited that they actually had an opinion that was strong enough to compel action (albeit a very passive action). I would be behind them completely. But when a student refuses to stand just because they are too lazy to get out of the chair, I get irritated.

One day a particularly insubordinate student insisted, “Miss, you can’t make me say the Pledge of Allegiance.” I’m relatively certain that she was referring to my actual physical capcity to influence her speech, and not to the legal restrictions imposed upon public educators in a 1943 Supreme Court ruling (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette). I thought about pointing out that I wasn’t asking her to say the Pledge; I merely wanted her to stand while someone else said it. I briefly considered acknowledging that if she could articulate a reason for declining to stand I would concede the point and allow her to remain seated. I decided that neither approach would do anything for my classroom management. It was time to end the argument. I asserted my redheadedness and declared “I can’t make you say the Pledge of Allegiance, but as your History teacher I can require you to memorize it. The quiz will be on Friday.”

On Friday I asked each student to take out a blank sheet of paper and write down the Pledge. It was a more difficult task for them than I had anticipated. Their responses were both depressing and entertaining. My personal favorite came from a relatively well-behaved student:

“I pledge a legion to the flag of the United State of America
And to the public four witches’ stand
One nation under God
With invisible liberty and justice for all”

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