March 1st, 2014
There are a variety of outstanding oaths taken by adults in the course of our lifetimes. Elected officials, from the President of the United States to the newest member of your local library board, asserts their intention of protecting and defending the Constitution. Witnesses before Congress or the judiciary pledge to stand before God or upon their honor, to tell the truth.
On the other hand, there are oaths left standing outside of any known context. People casually swear to reverse an evil without taking action (e.g. I swear I’m gonna ____!). Some of us signed contracts we were unable to keep such as a car or house payment after the loss of a job. In our classrooms, we have children agreeing to become followers of a rectangle of cloth known as our flag through the Pledge of Allegiance. Who benefits from that pledge? If it holds meaning for adults, why don’t we begin each workday for federal or state employees with it? Oklahoma has plans to make that recitation mandatory for schools to lead according to this news report. Allowances would be made for those children who do not wish to do so or whose parents forbid it.
Objections to the ‘Pledge’ generally refer to the mention of a deity as objectionable to secular nationalists. Some hold that an oath taken before God is of too solemn a nature than befits a morning classroom rite for seven year old children. A Supreme Court ruling of 1943 allowed parents the right to assert their beliefs by prohibiting their children to recite that pledge. Interestingly, I’ve never heard the simplest of all objections: children are too young to be responsible for the taking of an oath. Are we to hold children legally responsible for violating allegiance to that political/economic entity known as ‘Mother Country’? A pledge is a questionable undertaking for a minor who recites it while running some of the words together, as we did the letters, ‘LMNOP’ in the alphabet song.
Taking an oath in vain is assuredly a violation of religious sensibilities within the Judeo-Christian and Moslem faiths. The reference to religion in the pledge was inserted during the Eisenhower administration to assist our religiously oriented majority to have an additional layer of separation from communist sympathizers inside our borders. It allowed them to retain the primacy of religious scruples, should we ever mistakenly elect an individual willing to oversee our descent into a fascist dictatorship (e.g. as Germans did for Adolph Hitler). The US flag code even altered the original form of saluting the flag. The right hand used to be extended towards the flag in a gesture similar of a Nazi saluting the Fuhrer. The gesture was truncated to leave the little right hands of primary school attendees at the level of each child’s heart.
Every morning, children’s voices join together in the rote recital of words expressing a commitment they are incapable of grasping. It would be a far greater use of a teacher’s time to dispense with this one minute long recital and spend the first fifteen minutes of each day teaching their classes something about our governmental structure and functions. A review of the historical ideals expressed in the Constitution, and the events that gave birth to them, would have far greater impact in their lives, not to mention posing a challenge to the creativity of a teacher attempting to explain government to a first grader.
The exercise of our vocal folds is best reserved for speaking truths understood by all. As Robert Frost reminded us, we all have “… promises to keep”. Do we really want the rote and highly ambiguous pledge made to an inanimate object to become a minor’s introduction to the government of the United States of America?
That’s for the grown-ups.