Monday, February 18, 2008

The Pledge of Allegiance--a Brief Recollection of Childhood

For some reason, I've recently been thinking much more about my elementary school years. I had gone quite a lot of years without having thought much at all about them. Interesting that I should have recently started remembering bits of childhood that I thought were forgotten. Strange that I've actually been pondering them.

I remember that we used to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every school day. I participated with as much vigor as did each of my classmates. It was a recitation that was learned by rote. Participation was expected, and there was no question as to whether to participate or not. (That came later.)

What strikes me as the most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that, as far as I can recall (and I firmly believe this to be true), we were never taught what it actually means. Big words involved there!

Why were we taught to use the word "allegiance" in kindergarten (or first grade at the latest), without being taught its definition? We could all use it in the context of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but I really don't think that I could have used it in any other context at age 6 or 7 or 8.

I must admit, the distinguishing characteristic of a "republic" has been an elusive concept for me to grasp. I think I have it now, but I can't guarantee that I won't have forgotten it a year from now and need to look it up again.

What kind of craziness is involved in pledging allegiance first to a symbol and then to its object (either as a school-age child or as a grown-up)? I have no problem with reasoned pledging of allegiance to the republic. . . . But to a flag?!? That's just bizarre.

"Indivisible"...pretty self-explanatory, I guess. Unable to be divided. And I think I grasped that pretty early. But is it reasonable to expect young children to comprehend that without having it explained?

"Liberty" equals "freedom". But I don't think anyone ever told me so when I was a child. "Freedom" would surely have had deep conceptual meaning to me a lot earlier than "liberty" did. It's more common parlance.

"Pledge" equals "promise". Simple enough.

"Justice" equals "fairness". I think this was the most accessible definition of the bunch, but I really think it should have been explained and discussed in class, before we were ever expected to recite it on a daily basis. In practice, the daily recitation was a mindless exercise, until (years later) I (and I hope my classmates) got around to really pondering what it meant. Maybe everyone in my class got it right away. But I doubt that very much. I hope by now, all of my classmates have really pondered it. (The cynic in me kind of doubts it.)

Anyway, if you are a teacher or a parent of elementary school students who recite the Pledge of Allegiance on a regular basis, I suggest that you poll those children to determine whether they can explain, in their own words, what the Pledge of Allegiance means. If they can, great! If they can't, I strongly suggest that you make a point of discussing it with them.

And, of course, I invite you to share your results with me. I'm interested! I would also be curious to know whether your own experience (whether you have/teach children or not) parallels mine or not. I would be greatly heartened (and surprised) to learn that I was the only child who was clueless in those early years.

1 comment:

  1. hey capt Lou, I just had to write as I was pleasantly surprised you remembered something from your elementary school days in Maryland. I have to admit you have a point, I could recite that pledge and it would be a few years before I could speak enough english to understand what was in that little speech. Keep on blogging Mr Natural.