Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mandatory patriotism

I’ve posted before (here, here, and here) about the irony of trying to teach democratic values using authoritarian methods, so this Op-Ed in today’s Times, on “Constitution Day,” caught my eye. It focuses on the federal law requiring schools that receive federal funds to provide educational programming to observe Constitution Day. (As I went to link to it, I realized it was written by an old friend with whom I’ve fallen out of touch.) An excerpt:
Since Constitution Day is not a particularly well-known holiday, its mandatory patriotism may not seem like a big deal. But mandatory patriotism is corrosive even if accomplished bit by bit.

Consider the Pledge of Allegiance, recited by tens of millions of students every school day. Most schools are obligated by state or local laws to start the day with the pledge, but the real target of the pledge laws are the kids. Children have a constitutional right to opt out, but a refusal is so fraught with social risk that it is not a real alternative for most. The reaction to the rare child who refuses proves the point: last year, for instance, a Maryland teacher yelled at a 13-year-old girl who refused to recite the pledge and called a school security officer to escort her from the classroom. . . .

We should recall Justice Robert H. Jackson’s words from almost 70 years ago, in his opinion protecting the right of students to refuse to recite the pledge: “To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.”
Read the whole piece. As I noted here, our school’s new principal has decided to personally lead the kids in saying the Pledge every day. Why?


FedUpMom said...

Grammar alert -- shouldn't that be "the real target of the pledge laws IS the kids"?

Otherwise, right on.

Chris said...

Nice catch, FedUpMom!

Also in today's Times: The Tea Party's attempts to foist its own view of the Constitution on schoolchildren (and on everyone else).

ICLocal said...

Luckily my child doesn't have to recite the pledge since he attends another school in the district. But, I am curious if you have approached the Hoover principal and asked her why this is a requirement at her school? Or have you checked with the school district? It seems like there should be a distric wide policy regarding the pledge. I find it strange some schools require it and some don't in the district. I am on the side of not reciting for the reasons you have listed above.

Doris said...

My understanding from my children is that prior to this year, teachers led the pledge on their own each morning. I wonder if they all did or if some opted out. Do you know, Chris? Like ICLocal, I'd also be curious about the principal's rationale for making the change. Maybe it has more to do with a proclivity for standardization / conformity (also evidenced in her strong advocacy of the PBIS program) than a passion for instilling patriotism?

Ironically enough, my 10-year old hasn't managed to escape the pledge even now that she has joined a home-schooling group. We dual-enrolled her for orchestra and scheduled her 15 minute private lesson with the teacher from 8:30-8:45 once a week. Lo and behold, part of that precious few minutes of one-on-one instruction is lost to the blaring of the pledge (and other announcements) over the loudspeaker. Apart from the ideological debates, standardization has its practical downside, that's for sure.

Chris said...

My kids report that their teachers seldom if ever led them in the pledge in past years.

I do intend to ask the principal why she made the change, but I have learned never to ask more than one question at a time, so it might be a while . . .

Doris said...

That's pretty funny given that my children were in the same class with your oldest at least a couple of different years . . . . Rashomon-effect, I guess!

Chris said...

Doris -- So I followed up a bit. One of my daughters had two previous teachers who did do the pledge every morning. But the other two say their teachers never did. Sounds like it was up to the individual teachers.

Chris said...

Earlier this year, an Iowa state representative introduced a bill requiring schools to "cause the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited each day" -- though I can't find any report of it having been enacted. And the state senate recently began starting every day with the Pledge and a prayer.

Interesting map here of Pledge laws in different states -- I don't know if it's accurate or up-to-date. Iowa is one of the few states listed as having "no law" on the subject.

TeacHer said...

I'm a public high school teacher and I can't wrap my head around why so much emphasis is placed on the pledge. The pledge in our school is read by the students who do the morning announcements, but the principal is very serious about everyone reciting it. Announcements happen at the end of first period, and in the past (I don't have a first period this year) I just let the kids who want to say it say it, and those who don't, don't. I personally don't say it.

I just can't understand why people don't see the irony in it - FORCING the kids in a very authoritarian manner to pledge themselves to our democratic principles. It's ludicrous!

A couple of years ago my first period was in the library when the pledge came on and the librarian made my kids stand up - she was clearly horrified that I didn't force the issue. I never said anything to her about it, but I reminded the kids when we got back to the room that it's their right to refuse to say the pledge if they don't want to.

Chris said...

TeacHer -- Thanks for commenting! Yeah, I don't understand it either. Even if it weren't unconstitutional, I don't know why anyone would want to put words into the kids' mouths every day in the name of "educating" them.

Here's the Supreme Court opinion holding that you can't require kids to take the pledge.

And take a look at this case from Alabama in 2004. A high school student refused to say the pledge, and the school browbeat him into doing it, and into apologizing for not doing it, by threatening to inform the Air Force Academy, which had given him a scholarship. The next day, a different student, who was upset about the incident, held his fist in the air during the pledge rather than recite it. He was given three days detention, but since there were less than three days left before graduation, the school offered him the option of being "paddled" instead. He took the paddling and sued.

Liberty and justice for all! At least the kid won the appeal. Notice that the court said that the teacher and the principal could themselves be held liable. Notice also that the Pledge was part of the school's "character education" program.

(Standard disclaimer: This post is not intended as legal advice.)