Is the meaning of the Pledge understood?

My turn

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2001

I wish to share a concern with the community over the observance of the Pledge of Allegiance in the schools. I often substitute in Juneau schools and have had many opportunities to observe student participation in the Pledge, which happens first thing in the morning on a daily basis. From what I've seen, the higher up the grade, the less students bother participating, or even standing. By high school, in some classes, it seems more the exception that students stand to observe the Pledge of Allegiance, much less recite it.

A couple of weeks ago I substituted in a high school class at JDHS where very few students stood. Most completely ignored the Pledge and kept right on conversing with friends. I must admit to getting more than annoyed. I asked them how many had seen the film "Saving Private Ryan"? Several raised their hands. I then suggested that if they ever needed a reason to observe the Pledge all they had to do was recall the first 20 minutes of the film showing the Normandy invasion and Omaha Beach in June of 1944. I told them that the realistic portrayal of just what those men went through, and the ones that died, should give ample reason why all students ought to observe the Pledge. That standing before the flag was to honor those men who had died on that beach, and others, not only in World War II, but in Korea, Vietnam and other wars. I said that while they may disagree with governmental policies about war, it was to honor the memories of those men and women who have died that we say the Pledge. The students listened respectfully.

A few days later I returned to that class and talked to the teacher, offering to bring in the film "Saving Private Ryan" to show the first battle scene and talk about it. While sympathetic, the teacher said that she thought it was rated R, and therefore couldn't be shown in the school.

That's too bad, because I think it might take a shock effect to help students realize just what is being honored when we say the Pledge of Allegiance. However, I wonder how much shock effect is left in a generation raised on computer game, TV, movie and school violence. Perhaps it's just wishful thinking on my part. Or perhaps there is another way to get across to our students the importance of honoring those men and women who, in Lincoln's terms, gave the last full measure of devotion. I would hate to think that it can take only the direct experience of war to build that sense of honoring the fallen.

With Memorial Day coming up, perhaps it would be fitting if students were given an opportunity to hear from veterans, those willing to speak about their war experiences. I'm not suggesting a school-wide assembly, but a class-by-class basis may be more intimate and offer full opportunity for discussion.

Finally, I wonder what we are teaching our youth when we offer the Pledge of Allegiance without helping students to understand its importance, when we let students sit idly by and visit with friends. In my view, it would be better not to require it at all.

Steve Wolf is a former (retired) teacher in the Juneau School system who hopes to continue being a substitute teacher.

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