Friday, May 13, 2016

Reverse Culture Shock: The Pledge of Allegiance

Today I am subbing at my old middle school. This is the last school I attended in Spokane before we moved to Portland. It's also where I met my beloved friend-to-this-day, Kate. It was so weird to walk in here this morning and see the familiar hallways and lockers as I checked in at the office. I actually have super good memories of being a student here, so it has been a fun day so far. The building is an awesome mid-century gem with slanted rooflines and exposed beams and really sleek and attractive cabinetry and woodwork. Sadly, most of it has been covered up or ruined by new lighting and technology, but a lot of the bones are still there and if you look closely, they look great. The view of the water tower above is what I saw every afternoon as I labored through my boring-as-could-be 6th period Math class. Ha! Talk about a trip down memory lane.

I got all settled into my classroom for the day and looked over the notes and lesson plans the teacher had left for me. The first 20 minutes of the day are homeroom, now called Home Base. Sidenote: I've noticed that lots of things have been renamed since I was in school. For example, a quiz is now called a "check-up". Goofy! But, I digress. So, after I took role, the students were to work on homework or play games quietly as it's Friday. So far so good. Pretty soon, the loudspeaker came on and a woman announced, "Good morning, students! Please rise for The Pledge of Allegiance".

Then, just like something out of a North Korean war documentary, all of the students stood up, turned toward the flag, placed their hands upon their hearts and recited The Pledge of Allegiance. Wow. Just wow.

I've never really considered the act of reciting The Pledge of Allegiance at school before. But after being abroad, it's like I am seeing it as an outsider or foreigner - and it is freaky! Stop and think about it for a second. Every day, across America, students stand, place their hand on their heart and pledge their allegiance to the flag. They essentially worship the flag. It's the essence of militarism and nationalism. Isn't it?

This is not my first subbing job, far from it. But every single time students rise for The Pledge of Allegiance, I am totally surprised and weirded out by it. Have you ever given this any thought? What do you think?


13 comments:

  1. I also think its weird, especially as an Atheist. Don't even get Swissy husband started on it. LOL.

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    1. Totally. Did you know that "Under God" wasn't added until 1954 during the Cold War?!

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  2. Most of the kids are probably not thinking much about the pledge... which is missing the point! You learn it so young, when you are too young to understand what it means (which IS creepy).

    In high school, a friend of mine got into trouble with our homeroom teacher over her decision to stay seated (quietly and respectfully) during the pledge. Mind you, this was in 2001-2002, in the aftermath of September 11, so it was a fraught issue. We were in Seattle, not close to the event, but remember how everything patriotic was ramped up then? Anyway, my friend (who did not come to this lightly, we were both in Junior State and later started a student anti-war group) was repeatedly chastised by our teacher for what she maintained was a free-speech issue. I chose to stand, but not say the pledge, in large part because of the "under God" clause (which is not original).

    Your middle schoolers are old enough to consider this issue seriously, though it might get you into some hot water as a sub!

    -Anna


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    1. I think the fact that they're not thinking about the meaning makes it all the more creepy! It's robotic. Your story is very interesting! Thanks for sharing. I am a very diplomatic sub, of course! As you pointed out, not worth getting into hot water. Just an observer. :)

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  3. Kids in Berkeley schools don't pledge allegiance at all. It seems like possibly the most "un-Berkeley" thing I could think of! Ha!
    I'm not sure if it's common in California at all but it's definitely not common in the Bay Area.

    I did wonder if my kids would have to pledge allegiance at school when we first moved here. Being Australian it would be kind of weird to make my kids pledge allegiance to another's country's flag - even though we live here. I wouldn't feel comfortable with the religious aspect either. That said, I have Australian friends who moved to Houston and they couldn't believe it when their kids first started school and had to pledge allegiance every day. They weren't pledging allegiance to the American flag though, they were pledging allegiance to the Texan flag!

    For us, there wasn't much culture shock moving to California from Australia, but for our friends who moved to Texas it was like moving to a different planet! Well, not quite, but there were definitely a lot of cultural differences for them that we don't experience in California. Their kids' school even had an armed sheriff patrolling the hallways during school hours. Eek! Is that something you've come across subbing? I'm not sure how I'd handle knowing that there someone with a deadly weapon walking around the hallways at my kids'school. We would often see people with rifles in Zurich leaving the Hauptbahnhof after their military training, but knowing that they were Swiss and that it was completely against their nature to break the law, I was never too concerned about it.

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    1. Oh, Berkeley. What a place! This is all very interesting. I don't think I could live in Texas, to be honest!! ;)

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    2. I live in Texas, and I wouldn't recommend it.

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  4. Things like The Pledge of Allegiance are the reason I'm happy that my little daughter is going to grow up in Switzerland. My American husband had to leave the US first to see how creepy that pledge thing is.

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    1. You really do see it with different eyes after you've been away. Although not everyone. I got called out for not loving America and Freedom when I shared this with an expat/repat group on Facebook. HA!!

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  5. Having been raised Jehovah's Witness, I was always encouraged to stand but remain silent during the Pledge as it was viewed as a form of idolatry. It would be interesting to see an infographic about where the practice remains vs. where is has fallen out of favor.

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    1. I definitely agree with the idolatry view. Thank you for chiming in!!! I would also like to see such a map. I'll poke around and let you know what I find... :)

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  6. I grew up in southern California (Orange County) in the 80's and I went to parochial (Catholic) school from kindergarten through high school. We not only said the Pledge of Allegiance but also had morning prayers! I relate to so much you write about (having lived abroad myself for a number of years), and while I 100% agree with your sentiments on PRINCIPLE - as someone who was "indoctrinated" from kindergarten I can tell you it had zero effect on shaping my world view. I'm not sure what this says about my attention to doctrine or dogma or what have you, but the main takeaway for me was just that it was part of the morning routine. The school announcements, the droning of the loudspeaker, the ringing of the school bell. I suppose you could argue that some of this nationalism must have rubbed off on my classmates and I, but me (and a lot of my friends) took similar paths (left the country, expanded our world view, etc.) and those experiences were much more formative in terms of what I came to believe about the dangers of nationalism. Anyway, just my two cents. Your posts always give me a lot to think about. I have two littles at home and we're trying to raise them as global citizens first and "Americans" second(if we must), but it'd be interesting to me based on my own experiences how much or little of this stuff they would internalize.

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  7. I have always disliked the pledge of allegiance as well as the ritual that goes along with it. In my opinion, separation of church and state should be just that - separate. As a child, without any discussion or instruction from my parents, I always chose to sit or stand and remain silent (depending on the teacher. I suspect I was being shot the evil eye from a few) while everyone else recited it. This is what felt right for ME in my bones and I still feel that way today. I hope when I have children in school this will no longer be required!

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