September 12, 2003

A Child's Take On The Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

There's been a lot coverage in the news lately about school children reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance." One court says it's unconstitutional, and that's followed by some folks in Congress raising a snit, and that's followed by CNN interviewing Pat Robertson, and that's followed by me clicking off the television.

I'm a product of a school system that started each day with the obligatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, starting, I think, in first grade and eventually being phased out by my fifth grade year. I never really questioned why we stopped reciting it. We just did. One day we were standing with our hands over our hearts, the next day we weren't. It didn't affect my life much. Pledge or no pledge, I was still getting beat up every noon hour by the class bully. I really hated that kid.

I won't immerse myself in a logistical argument for or against reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, because the lines have been drawn on this issue for some time, and it's not going to do any good to throw my two cents into the mix.

But, here's the deal about the Pledge of Allegiance, particularly as it applies to first graders: that is one COMPLEX pledge to learn verbatim, especially for a classroom full of youngsters who rarely use words exceeding three or four letters.

For one thing, the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance was never really explained to my class. Or, maybe it was, I don't remember. I spent most of my elementary school days staring out the window, so I may have missed the explanation. What I do remember is, every morning, forming a semicircle around the flag and, upon a cue from the teacher, reciting some of the biggest and most nonsensical words I had ever heard up to that point in my life.

And there was always a student or two struggling to remember and pronounce the words. We'd wrap up the pledge, and then we'd have to wait for the stragglers to finish. We recited the pledge, each and every day, and I never once understood what the heck I was even saying. And it's not hard to see why. Let's just look at the words that make up the Pledge of Allegiance and how I remember interpreting them.

Pledge -- I didn't know what it meant to pledge. I had no clue. The only Pledge I was even remotely familiar with was used to dust wood furniture. So, right off the bat, in my little mind, I was imagining myself dusting around the house. Now THAT'S patriotism.

Allegiance -- You know, some adults don't even know what that word means. Seriously, the way I learned to pronounce it was to pretend it was like a sneeze. "Ah...ah...ah...ALLEGIANCE!" Bless you. Still, even though I learned how to pronounce it, I didn't know what it meant until years later.

Republic -- Try explaining the concept of a republic to a first grader, and you could count on one hand the seconds it takes for their eyes to glaze over or they start looking over your shoulder at the toy box they'd rather be playing in.

Indivisible -- Okay, readers, see if you can guess what Ryan Rhodes, in first grade, thought this word meant? That's right: INVISIBLE. One nation, under God, invisible. . . My imagination ran absolutely wild with this one. An entire nation that's invisible? Why, that's amazing!

Liberty -- My mind always conjured an image of the statue of liberty, because that was the only "liberty" with which I was familiar. So, in my mind, the Pledge of Allegiance must have, in some way, been promising everyone a visit to the statue of liberty. I still haven't seen it in person, and frankly I'm feeling a little bit cheated on the deal.

Justice -- I spent the better part of two years reciting "justice" as "just as." Of course, grammatically, it made no sense, but no one ever corrected me because it sounded so similar, so I just assumed it must have been right.

So, now that you have the background, let's revisit the Pledge of Allegiance as I understood it all those many years ago.

I promise to dust after I sneeze, to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the toy box for which it stands. One nation, under God, a really cool invisible nation that no one can see, with a visit to the statue of liberty, and just as for all.

That just HAS to be unconstitutional.

UPDATE: *snort* My aunt just sent me this little bit of first grader thinking about the Pledge of Allegiance. "The republic for Richard Stands." For some reason, that really makes me laugh.

Posted by Ryan at September 12, 2003 04:52 PM
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