Thanks to Edgar Allen Beem for his excellent column on the Pledge of Allegiance (“Socialism and the Pledge of Allegiance”). His calm description of the history of the pledge shows that it is no sacred text, but a statement drafted by a man with personal intentions for influencing young people.
As a retired teacher, I can attest that “forcing” children to repeat the pledge every morning is counterproductive. When prescribed words are repeated endlessly, they become meaningless. The children’s attention is elsewhere, and the end of the pledge is eagerly awaited. Such practices do not teach children to be honest nor to think about what they are saying.
Understandably, some veterans were upset at the choice given students at South Portland High School. Even they, I suggest, would resist being forced to say something they disagreed with. Much better practice is to teach American history so that students know of the many sacrifices made for this country, but also the fights to preserve freedom of speech and religion.
Another productive practice would be to invite veterans to come to classrooms and tell their stories. Engaging with the veterans would be inspiring for the students, and, I should think, reassuring to the veterans. For younger children, a classroom teacher might ask one student each day to tell why he or she is glad to be American. Some of the answers might be trivial, but they would be more honest. The task would set the students thinking, which is what we want them do, isn’t it?