talking about the Pledge of Allegiance on So Tell Me More

At 2 pm Eastern, I’ll be on NPR’s “So Tell Me More,” talking about the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t know where the conversation will go, but this is my usual line on the Pledge. Because it’s traditional, stopping it (or letting it lapse) is interpreted as a lack of concern for patriotism, for the flag, or for the God who is mentioned in the third clause. But imagine we had never had a Pledge in schools, and people wanted to do something to boost patriotism. Would they really invent a daily ritual that involved these characteristics?

1. Asking people who are too young to make a legal commitment to say something that sounds like a vow.
2. Asking people who have already “pledged allegiance” to re-pledge allegiance every day for 13 years? (I thought promises were for keeps.)
3. Asking children to say words like “indivisible” without studying their meaning.
4. Repeating the same activity every day from kindergarten to 12th grade without raising the difficulty or adding new ideas.
5. Asking students to say “liberty” and “justice” every day without making sure that they understand the live debates about what those terms mean.
6. In a 30-word statement that is meant to summarize the core, shared values of the republic, courting controversy by making it a pledge to a flag (considered idolatrous by some), citing a singular God (not recognized by many, and considered profane to name by others), and emphasizing indivisibility (which, I assume, is a rebuke to successionists).

Even if your fundamental goal is to inculcate patriotism, I can think of better means to that end.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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