Father’s Day breakfast in my daughter’s third grade classroom was delightful. She made me a great book complete with pictures, we had bagels, fruit and (for the dads) coffee. But there was a bit of a “Big Brother” moment when the principal came on the P.A. system and lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance. The class and their fathers obediently placed right hands over hearts and faced the colors of our nation. The entire class and their guests recited the monotone rendition of that familiar oath of loyalty.
(and to the Republic for Richard Stands)
That evening on the way to meet a friend’s newborn baby (incidently, one that she delivered in a van, in a driveway and essentially directed her husband in her own delivery process), I recalled the moment from that morning. I asked my first and third grade children what “pledge” meant. Uh oh. How about allegiance? Still no. Republic? Hmmm. How about United? These are smart, well-read kids. Indivisible? Justice?
My kids have been saying “The Pledge” every school day for a collective 6 years, and probably did it at preschool, maybe summer camp, and certainly scout meetings too. They don’t know what the hell it means. Nobody ever told them. Every day they spew out the drivel they are forced to endure without anyone actually teaching them. In all that time!
(One nation in a dirigible)
I pressed further. Did they think they ‘had’ to say the pledge? Well of course. Everyone said it. You had to. They’d get in trouble if they didn’t….wouldn’t they?
(With liver tea, and justice for all)
I couldn’t have been much older then my daughter when I realized that forcing me to say the same thing as a group of other people in my declaration of freedom was actually sadly ironic. It was at that age I began standing respectfully with those around me, removing a cap or placing my hand on my chest appropriately…but I never again recited the pledge.
It had, and still has, nothing to to with my patriotism. And I have yet to “get in trouble” for my actions.
I recall a famous Supreme Court case which provided me that right. One of the judges wisely stated, “Words uttered under coercion are proof of loyalty to nothing but self-interest. Love of country must spring from willing hearts and free minds…”
If my children learn nothing besides the three R’s in all of their pre-collegiate education, I want them to be critical thinkers. I want them to question, ponder, deduce and think for themselves.
My kids, my wife and I had a long chat about what the oath means. We broke it down to its’ simplest parts and discussed it for a while. We talked about what one “has to do” and how one can quietly protest without being disrespectful.
Then we further solidified our decision to homeschool in the Fall – with a strong bent toward critical thinking.
(José, can you see?)
Dr. Brett Kinsler is a Rochester chiropractor, self-proclaimed proponent of critical thinking and soon to be homeschooling parent.