Why do we stand?
An exploration of The Pledge of Allegiance during politically charged times.
October 13, 2017
What does it really mean to pledge allegiance to the national flag? To some, it means showing your pride in your country, and for others it does not mean anything. Considering recent events with the NFL, students at Riverside Brookfield High School have been questioning why they stand for the pledge.
Junior Joseph Vitek is extremely proud to show off his patriotism. Vitek was even willing to risk his extra credit points in a class just so he could stand for the national anthem.
“Our national anthem stands for everything that America is for: freedom, liberty and justice. [The flag] represents everything that we stand for as a country,” said Vitek.
Sophomore Evelyn Buck stands for the pledge because she believes it is respectful to do so.
“The flag is a symbol of unity, a symbol for the people who serve for America. I think kids who sit for the pledge are disrespectful but they have the right to do so,” said Buck.
Other students do not feel the same way. Some students, like junior Jasmine Munoz, sit for The Pledge of Allegiance for reasons of their own.
“I have respect for everyone who has fought for our country but I don’t think I should have to pledge if I don’t believe what I’m saying,” said Munoz.
Senior Emmett Brundage explained that he has been standing for the pledge for so long that he does not really understand what he is pledging to, so he has been sitting.
“We’re taught from a really young age that we have to stand for it. It seems kind of like brainwashing. I’m not really against standing for it but the fact [is] you don’t even have a choice. I don’t do it to take a stand against it, I just care about making choices for yourself,” said Brundage.
American schools and The Pledge of Allegiance
At RBHS it is very common for the average classroom to have a few kids who are on their phones during the Pledge of Allegiance while the teachers mind their own business. Around the United States, some places are very similar to RBHS, but for others it’s far different story.
McKayla Caso is a freshman at Indian Hills High School in Oakland, New Jersey, just 33 miles from Central Manhattan. Her school is very similar to RB when it comes to the Pledge of Allegiance,
“Everyone usually stands, but it really isn’t a rule that you have to,” Caso said. “Sometimes I sit and sometimes I stand”.
In some places the rules based around the Pledge of Allegiance are more strict. Carissa DaCosta is a junior at Valley Central High School in Montgomery, New York. The school has rules surrounding the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance.
“We are required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. We get in trouble if we don’t stand,” DaCosta said.
Closer to home, at Round Lake High School in Round Lake, Illinois, senior Mary Stefanski describes the lenient tolerance that teachers take during the Pledge of Allegiance,
“The majority [of students] stand. Although from what I’ve seen, not many place a hand over their heart. Some just stand there; others will just sit there and do classwork,” said Stefanski. “Students could be sitting because of laziness, out of a political standpoint, or just because they don’t care. They’re entitled to their opinion.”
The band shouts The Pledge
Riverside Brookfield High School’s band can already be considered a loud and lively place, but first period students make it even more so while reciting the pledge every single day.
While saying The Pledge of Allegiance in the band room, the students scream the words as loud as they can. This is definitely different from normal classrooms. James Baum, the school’s band director, explains the reason behind this and how it all started in the first place.
“The first time they [the students] did it, they wanted everyone to know that the pledge was being said, so they said it really really loud. It got everyone to do the pledge,” said Baum.
The students who started it truly wanted to pay attention to morning announcements and listen for the moment of silence as well.
“Since then, everyday they’ve been saying it loudly, sort of continuing that first time,” said Baum. “At one point, there was a day where they were especially spirited and for some reason, they broke into a spontaneous playing of the national anthem.”
Although this ritual only started to get people’s attention, Baum suggests that students now do it as a form of patriotism.
“I think it stems from patriotism because the first time it happened, it was because we were missing it. That first time, they were like ‘Let’s not miss the pledge,’ and then it just sort of stuck out of the patriotism perhaps,” said Baum.
The loud pledge recital also acts as a fun way to wake up in the morning during first period.
Baum often joins the students in their yelling and says that the pledge has its own meaning to him.
“I think it is just a daily reminder to keep in mind that what we’re doing here everyday is part of something bigger. Yes, we’re here at a school to try to better ourselves as individuals, but that’s part of a country-wide effort to produce a generation that’s better,” said Baum.
I pledge allegiance to the what?
I have said The Pledge of Allegiance every morning for the past 11 years, and until the events following the NFL movement to kneel during the anthem, I had never considered what I was saying.
When reciting the pledge each morning I mechanically speak the words without knowing what I am agreeing to, and recently I have been thinking to myself, ‘Why have I never realized what I was saying?’
There is a type of learning used by many teachers for young students called Rote learning. It is a memorization technique based on repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it.
This learning technique can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. When learning something like the alphabet or times tables, it can help students learn skills that they will use in some way for the rest of their life. But what about when learning something like The Pledge of Allegiance? Is it really beneficial to only know it based off repeating the words and not learning the meaning and why we say it everyday?
My question is, after a certain point of repeating something for so long, say 11 years, does what you are repeating lose its meaning and become something mechanical? Is it just a part of the morning routine? This is the case as far as I can say. I have never sat down and learned what The Pledge of Allegiance says or means. I have only stood up each morning and recited the same three lines over and over again.
Now that I have taken the time to think about what the Pledge says, I am questioning its accuracy. As someone who tries to consistently go to church, it still bothers me that the Pledge starts with “one nation under God.” This does not fit with the separation of church and state that is written in our constitution.
Then “indivisible with liberty and justice for all” does not seem particularly true these days. The reason The Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem have come to attention lately is because of the NFL taking a stand due to feeling that some people are not being treated equally. This is obviously causing separation, aside from all the protests happening elsewhere. But this was nothing I never considered until last week.
When something is repeated over and over everyday from the time you are little, you do not think about it. The pledge is such a mechanical part of my day that I do not even think about standing up in the morning to recite it.
There are many cases where students will choose to remain sitting during the pledge because they have thought about what it represents and either do not agree with it, or do not support it to the extent of standing and facing the flag everyday.
I respect that they have thought about the meaning of The Pledge of Allegiance and whether or not they agree, and support it. I have more thinking and analyzing to do before I can make my own decision, but I am glad that this was brought to my attention as it would not have been something I would have thought about on my own.
Liberty and justice for all…
…or not. America is contradicting itself by condemning NFL protesters and their supporters. I am confounded. It seems that the only reason we even still do the pledge and the national anthem is out of habit. We have been brainwashed by history to aggressively defend our country, disregarding our inevitable faults. The deaths of people of colour did not have to be inevitable. Those who are protesting during the anthem are clearly right and we should be kneeling with them.
This is not a cry for attention. Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players are still people of colour, no matter how much money they make. Despite their celebrity status, they still face the discrimination and have the same fears as other minorities. Although an unlikely platform, it is within their right to protest and express their feelings.
Contrary to popular belief, this has nothing to with disrespecting our country, our flag, or our military. The flag and our country have forever been a symbol of freedom, especially the freedom to assemble. Colin Kaepernick and the other NFL players have explicitly said that they are kneeling because of the indisputable racial inequality and police brutality in America. They are respecting the flag because they are kneeling, representing a flag at half mast for the numerous unjust and unpunished deaths of black Americans. This is not an act of hatred or disrespect. This is their right as American citizens, a right that the military has fought to protect. Protest is the best form of patriotism because they are trying to better our country.
Yet again, America is on the wrong side of history. Civil rights activists have consistently been vehemently hated until years later, when we realize that our criticism was founded on prejudice and not based on the well-being of American citizens as a whole. Colin Kaepernick has sacrificed his reputation, privacy, and career for his community and we should support him before we repeat history.
I don’t understand why, in this day and age, a peaceful protest is somehow more provocative than actual hate crimes. We need to recognize that the top priority of our pride needs to shift behind the value of actual lives of American citizens. The fear of recognizing your overwhelming privilege does not compare to the constant terror that people of colour face while being persecuted in all areas of their lives. Although we as white people cannot ever understand what this feels like, we can fight for the victims of this senseless crime in such a simple act, like kneeling for the pledge.