Monday, September 01, 2008

I Pledge To Keep This Blogpost Almost Sarah Palin-Free

I do not know whether Sarah Palin is pregnant, if her daughter is pregnant, if Trig Palin is actually the daughter of Sarah Palin or Bristol Palin, or even whether Trig Palin is younger than Bristol Palin or the other way around.

And I hope I speak for 99.9% of Americans when I say my level of concern about any of the above is absolutely nil compared to my concern about Sarah Palin's views on abortion, energy, foreign policy and future Supreme Court justices.

Yet once again the shiny object that is politics has diverted my attention (this time from grading papers and watching online video of the Industrial Canal in New Orleans during Hurricane Gustav). Still, embedded amid the innuendo, mudslinging and total lack of focus on actual issues, is a real issue having to do with public schools.

The Pledge of Allegiance.

For it has been totally blown out of proportion by the "liberal" blogs that Governor Palin once responded to one of those newspaper candidate Q&As thusly:
Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?

SP: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance

Of course we can all have a nice, jolly laugh at Governor Palin's expense over the fact that she demonstrates a poor grasp of when the "Pledge of Allegiance" was written, especially the "Under God" part. Ha, ha, ha. Chuckle, chuckle. Guffaw. Chortle.

Only I'm not laughing, and it's not because Sarah Palin scares me as quite possible the dullest tool in the Vice Presidential woodshed since Dan Quayle. I'm not laughing because your humble blogger, me, has to participate in this "Pledge of Allegiance" thing every school morning.

You see, every school day around 8:23 A.M., my 1st Period class and I perform a little dance of social dynamics. It starts when a student comes over the intercom and says, "Good morning, (insert school name and mascot here), please stand for the pledge." At this point the following occurs:
  • About two-thirds of the class, teachers included, stand up (btw, this percentage has varied in past years from almost 0% the mid 00s to almost 90% in other years);
  • The other third remain seated, fidgeting while also looking somewhat defiantly up at the standing folks;
  • Some standing students/teachers look up at the U.S. flag, and one or two put their hand over their left chest, the others just look around the room nervously while standing;
  • Noone looks comfortable;
  • Everyone looks either defiant, sleepy or nervously unsure of themselves;
  • Sometimes the Pledge is given in Spanish, and on these days the number of those reciting it audibly increases, not because my students are 1st language Spanish speakers, but because saying the pledge in Spanish is novel and gives them a chance to show off how smart they are;
  • The pledge ends, those standing sit down, those sitting stop looking quite so defiant and the whole class, teachers included, NEVER EVER mention having done the Pledge or that it even exists.
  • The whole experience goes into some sort of dysfunctional family vault, never to be addressed because public school is a BizarroLand when it comes to religion: we are supposed to never talk about religion, yet we do the "Pledge" including the "Under God" part.
  • So the "Under God" part becomes like some unspoken family secret, like Dad coming home drunk from bowling every Wednesday night, that we all know happens but can never talk about or admit occurs.
And that is both surreal and damn unfortunate. In fact, to show how surreal and damn unfortunate the whole public school Pledge/Under God fiasco is circa-2008, I'm strongly guessing that a high percentage of teachers reading this blog right now are saying to themselves "Scot, shut up about the Pledge....shhh...shhh...ixnay on the ledgepay. Stop talking about the Pledge! Let's just continue to silently put up with a minute or two of awkwardness every school morning, and just pretend it doesn't exist. Hush. This weirdness has gone on without too much trouble for years now...don't make trouble."

And I can almost understand this form of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", for I'm sure there are many Americans, Governor Palin probably included, whose heads would explode if they ever saw a typical U.S. public school classroom during a typical recitation of "The Pledge of Allegiance". Bringing this up does not make me proud, embarrassed, or defiant. It's just the way it is.

I thought of this fact during my school's "Open House" last Thursday. We start with a large group shindig in the gym. All the parents, teachers and administrators are there, and we, of course, start with "The Pledge". We all do a smashing job on "The Pledge".

And while meekly helping with this smashing job, I looked up into the stands and saw many parents who quite obviously weren't used to reciting "The Pledge of Allegiance", and treated the experience as some sort of arcane, nostalgic ritual. Which is exactly what it is. A ritual largely unperformed in any setting other than public schools.

As if these institutions have some sort of secret combination of code words and pithy phrases empowered to make our children "American" just long enough to reach maturity, thereafter enabling them to never having to recite the damn thing again, unless they get stuck at a city council meeting, or their kid's "Open House".

Yet for those of us in daily contact with public school, "The Pledge" is not something to be abstractly defended or nostalgically reminded of on rare occasion. It is our reality. And the reality is that schoolchildren are being used as pawns in some sort of loyalty struggle between the allegedly patriotic amongst us who demand public schools use "The Pledge ("Under God" included), and the allegedly unpatriotic amongst us who have serious concerns about "The Pledge" and even more serious objections to the "Under God" part.

But because debate on actual content and use of "the Pledge" has been de facto strangled in recent years, we are reduced to schadenfreude "gotchas" about whether friggin' Sarah Palin friggin' knows when the friggin' goshdarn "Pledge" was friggin' written.

Meanwhile, tomorrow morning a voice will come over the intercom at my school a t 8:23 A.M., and say "Please rise for "The Pledge". And some students/teachers will stand, and some won't, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, schoolday, after schoolday, after schoolday.

No, I'm not laughing.


Nora said...

There ends up being a debate breaking out in specific groups of AHS students every few years when one or more kids get scolded by a teacher (and this is almost always a regular ed teacher or a coach or something) about not standing up for the pledge. They end up getting in a debate with said teacher and end up either giving in and standing up, standing up and turning away from the flag, or getting in some ambiguous form of trouble that never seems to amount to anything.

It then proceeds to go back to normal and is pretty similar to what you describe, except most teachers seem to have given up on keeping their students from talking through announcements at the HS level. But at least it's not total silence.

(I've always been uncomfortable with the whole thing: when I was in Kindergarten, I stopped saying the "under God" part because I didn't believe in God, and it would make me be lying to say it. Lying, I was told, was wrong.)

Anonymous said...

As far as teenagers are concerned, they just like rebelling (ask Sarah Palin) and that's why they don't like saying or standing for the pledge (or wearing a condom). It implies that they are part of something other than themselves which they hate. I guess some teachers have a problem with it too.

Kelsey Atherton said...

Since middle school, I made the pledge an issue when saying it. I added in "under god slash s and or goddess slash s or lack thereof" in place of the regular "under god". This meant I finished the pledge a second after everyone, and the acknowledgment I got was usually weird looks. I had one teacher at Madison make me stand for the thing.

It's weird and jingoistic and creepy, and it bothered me enough to look up the whole "Knights of Columbus" and "under god" bit. frustrating even in context, I hate the damn ritual, and think that, at the very least, we have far better ways to be jingoistic.

Anonymous said...

On a visit back home (Chicago) with my German wife, we were invited to visit the classroom of my sister, who is a teacher, to talk about life in Germany. We were there early, just in time for the ritual Pledge. During the uncomfortable experience, my wife whispered to me, "My god, it's just like the Hitler Youth!" Taking off my red, white and blue-colored glasses, I began to see the Pledge as a indoctrination ritual, designed to brainwash our children into nice little jingoistic Americans. All that was missing were the brown shirts.