Here’s something: my kids don’t know the Pledge of Allegiance. They also don’t know the national anthem.
I have a son, 3, and two daughters, 7 and 11. They’re all full-blooded, full-cultured, except-for-trips-abroad-they’ve-lived-their-whole- lives-in-the-U.S. Americans. Obviously, my son is off the hook for now, but the older ones maybe not. They attend public schools. They’re neuro-typical, studious types. They sometimes memorize poems, TV show theme songs. They enjoy a good sing-along. And yet they can’t (and don’t) participate in these two common rituals of American civic life.
And I don’t really care.
I didn’t realize these two things were missing from their lives until a trip to Sea World a couple of years ago. My oldest was 8 and, before the Shamu show, we had to rise for the national anthem. “What’s going on,” my oldest asked. “It’s the national anthem,” I said, still seated. “I’ll explain it later” but I don’t think I ever got to the explanation, though I’m sure at some point my husband and I spoke less-than-enthusiastically about whale shows and sports games kicking off with such rituals.
It’s not that I’m opposed to America or being American. Or that I’m worried that pledges to a flag are akin to worshiping false idols (incidentally, my kids don’t know the Lord’s Prayer either. In fact, I recently had to explain to them what praying is.). But I do think working in national identity to large entertainment events is ridiculous and a subtle but sure effort at being divisive.
For that latter reason, I also think it’s not the best way to kick off the school day or governmental meetings.
My kids’ school day does not start off with a pledge to the flag and I am glad about that. Sure, it’s cute hearing Kindergarteners fudge the words for these things, but I’m also creeped out by mindless ritual and the recitation of — and making pledges to — ideas one cannot yet comprehend. And what about classmates who aren’t American?
I, myself, do not participate in these group events and I don’t expect (or necessarily want) my kids to either. When I attend civic meetings that start with the Pledge of Allegiance, I stand, but I don’t put my hand over my heart and I don’t say anything. My friend, who is not an American, stays seated and texts, which I also think is fine. What’s funny is I think I stand because I’m somehow trying to not attract attention (or controversy) while also sticking to my values. I’m trying to get through it. When I’m asked to rise for the national anthem, typically, I stay seated because usually that’s at an event that’s so large and among people I’ll never see again.
I haven’t thought about the Pledge and the national anthem for awhile, but this post by NPR reporter Ari Shapiro, who doesn’t stand or recite the Pledge either, got me thinking about it. But he’s ambivalent about his non-action and at the GOP convention, while sitting through the Pledge and the national anthem, he tweeted about it.
This is always an uncomfortable moment for me. While I sat at my laptop, most of the reporters around me stood and put their hands over their hearts. This time instead of just sitting and working, I tweeted what I was feeling:
@Ari_Shapiro: As a reporter I’m torn about joining in the pledge of allegiance/national anthem at rallies. I’m a rally observer, not a participant.
“Yet most reporters around me stand for the anthem & pledge. I’m one of the few that doesn’t. Setting myself up for accusations I guess.”
He expected a big pile on but what he got were the different ways reporters and others handle it. Some said they participate; others argued that contained in the spirit of those two works are the idea that he’s free to decide. He speaks of his non-participation in the ritual as a journalist, but I wonder what he does when he’s not wearing his reporter’s hat. What happens when he doesn’t have this pledge to neutrality to use as a cover for not saying a pledge to the American flag.
For kids, opting out is not always so easy. Sometimes, participation is a requirement or at least non-participation is suspect.
If my kids are ever in this kind of nation-identity building actions, they are, of course!, free to participate or not to. If they ever go to a school where standing for the pledge is required of them, my advice will be to stand but hand-over-heart and recitation will be completely up to them.
Meantime, I think my kids should at least know the national anthem and the Pledge; we’ve talked about both at dinner and I’ve recited both at various times to them. We’ve talked about the history of the Pledge, the insertion of “under God,” and about how some of the ideals expressed in that pledge have fallen short. (Yep! We’re THAT family.)
So I’m wondering about how other families view the Pledge and the national anthem, whether you gladly participate and push your kids to as well. Or whether you push hard in the other direction, signing waivers and such so they don’t have to participate. Any readers out there who are not Americans but who send their kids to American schools that say the Pledge? I mean, that right there is one of the biggest reasons I think mandatory participation kind of waters down any meaning behind morning recitations.
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