I’m just about finished reading THE BOOK THIEF, which provides a very interesting view of Nazi Germany from the perspective of a child. Among other things, the book portrays a country that is fanatic in assuring its citizens support the German ideals and purpose at all times. Children are indoctrinated into these beliefs through rituals and customs, an active re-packaging of a shared history, and through organizations like The Hitler Youth. From all accounts, it was a highly effective means of assuring that the citizenry supported the Third Reich and all that it represented.
It’s got me thinking about a subject in this country that I have always felt uncertain about: The Pledge of Allegiance.
Specifically, I’ve grown more and more uncomfortable over the years with the process of asking school children to recite the pledge, for a number of reasons.
The first and most obvious problem with our pledge is the reference to God. Since the Constitution clearly establishes a divide between church and state and the government under Washington and Adams clearly asserted that the United States is not a Christian nation, the inclusion of the words under God, which were added in 1954 after a campaign by the Knight’s of Columbus (the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization) brings religion into the public schools in such a way that I consider unconstitutional.
In 2002, a federal court agreed with me, only to have their decision overturned by the Supreme Court two years later. Regardless of the Court’s decision, I think that asking children to recite these words in a public school is unconscionable, and I cannot imagine why it is permitted to continue.
In addition, asking elementary-aged children to pledge their allegiance to a nation, when their understanding of a pledge, the nation to which they are pledging their allegiance, and the implications of such a pledge, is limited at best, strikes me as a form of nationalistic indoctrination that is akin to the activities that took place in Nazi Germany.
THE BOOK THIEF depicts a nation in which German children are required to raise their right hand and offer a Nazi salute whenever asked. They are compelled to join Nazi Youth Brigades and memorize such pertinent information as Hitler’s birthday and important dates in German history. They are eventually required to read MEIN KAMPF and are encouraged to be seen with the book in their hands. Long before they have any understanding of the country in which they live, these children were indoctrinated into its ideals and purpose.
Is the teaching of a pledge of allegiance to children much different?
Before these students are asked to pledge their allegiance to anything, shouldn’t they possess a solid understanding of it? Why not wait until students have a couple years of US history and a class on US government under their belts before asking them to make this pledge?
Some may claim that the pledge is voluntary, and as a result, no student is ever forced to pledge his or her allegiance. But how many elementary school teachers are explaining the voluntary nature of the pledge or creating an environment in which seven-year olds feel comfortable remaining silent while their friends and teacher pledge their allegiance to their country?
And besides, the pledge is factually incorrect. It states that the United States is indivisible. But I seem to remember four years during the 1860’s when this nation was clearly divided, complete with separate capitols, currency, and Constitutions.
Yet we have our children pledging their allegiance to this factually incorrect, religiously-loaded form of nationalistic indoctrination in schools everyday, and everyday I grow more and more uncomfortable with it.
What is an elementary school teacher to do?