I pledge allegiance…

A fun thing to do is to purge…files, of course, as well as the myriad of things that find their way into the corners of garages, basements and attics. A few years back, my wife and I were an appraisal away from selling our house, and in anticipation of having to move, we purged a few thousand pounds of those things then deposited for no apparent reason in the aforementioned locations. The good new is, we’ve stayed lean because we like it lean. Or should I say “lean-er?”

One category of purging—my hard copy files—has not been addressed, and in anticipation of a minor renovation of my basement office, I have been going through those files and have come across two pages that awakened a memory about a time over forty years ago when some “True Americans” were bemoaning the fact that students might be allowed to opt out of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning of every school day.

As a 7th grade homeroom teacher in 1975, I witnessed this regular exercise every day and was of the opinion that for most students, it was a mindless mumble of meaningless words, and I had the temerity to say so in the teacher’s lounge during a discussion among my colleagues over lunch. Attacked as the second coming of King George III, a Russian instigator, and someone who was advocating the end of American Democracy as it was then known, I decided to gather some evidence.

(As an incredibly ironic aside, I find it interesting that the character they claimed I was—the second coming of George III, a Russian instigator, and an advocate for the end of American Democracy—is a perfect description of our current President.)

The next morning, I asked my homeroom to do two things: 1) write the Pledge out in longhand, and 2) define “allegiance.”

What I collected from my 28 suburban/middle class, white 7th graders—who, if they had perfect attendance during their school career of 6+ years would have recited the Pledge over 1100 times—was more than enlightening. Only one student had recorded the Pledge accurately regarding content, and only six other students were close, having omitted a “to” or “the” or the like. There were many spelling errors in every response—only one student had spelled allegiance correctly—and not one student was even close to a correct definition of allegiance; in fact, the vast majority of the students did not even attempt a definition.

Lest you think I’m offering perverse hyperbole, I offer the following two examples from that morning, which I rediscovered during my purge of a manila folder deep in a file drawer:

Pledge One

Pledge Two

If you have forgotten the Pledge, the last official iteration follows, which was issued in 1954, per 4 U.S.C. §4:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

(Another aside: the above version from 1954 was the first version to include a reference to God. The previous four iterations going back to 1892—the original version—made no such reference.)

My point at lunch that day in 1975? The continuation of the American experiment in Democracy was unlikely to benefit from continuing the expectation that school children recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day. While I knew I would have to continue having my students recite the Pledge, I determined to assure that they at least knew what they were saying: the proverbial “teachable moment.” The following morning during homeroom period, we began a discussion about the Pledge and what it meant.

Today, our schools do not require students to complete Civics courses.

Thomas Jefferson is rolling around in his grave.


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