Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pledge of what now?

American schools have a pledge of allegiance? And teenagers -- rebellious, hormone-crazed teenagers -- stand for it without mass rebellion? WTF is wrong with you people???

One day during my high school years, I chose not to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance. A daily compulsion to demonstrate my patriotism seemed wrong on the face of it. My fidelity to the United States, the republic for which the flag stands, should be assumed. The next day, I made the same choice. And you can guess what happened next.

The school was very uncomfortable with my stance. In only a day or two, nearly all my classmates and teachers knew I was the guy who wouldn't stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Because they had to enforce pledge-making every morning, teachers had, by and large, a bigger problem with my stance than my fellow students.

As a child in primary school (years 1-6) we were expected to salute the flag every morning. As a Jehovah's Witness (don't worry, I got better) I wasn't supposed to give my allegiance to anyone but Uncle God in the sky, so on the (rare) occasions I wasn't late I just stood at attention respectfully and didn't salute. I never got any stick from either my fellow kiddies or the teachers over it. As near as I could tell, the entire school, from the Head Master to the youngest Grade 1, felt the whole thing was a tedious and pointless exercise, but one that had to be done lest the entire British Empire instantly collapse. (In the 1970s, Australia was sleeping around with the flash Yanks but hadn't quite got up the nerve to tell England we wanted a divorce. We still haven't, but at least we're more open about the trial separation and the whole "seeing other countries" thing.)

But once I got to High School (years 7-12) all that changed. At least when I was at school, public schools (for the benefit of any foreigners, that is government-run schools) didn't do any such thing. The thought of getting a couple of hundred fifteen year olds to salute the flag seems ludicrous to my experiences. Although I guess the private schools that run army cadet camps probably manage it, although how many of the kids playing at being soldiers actually treat it seriously and how many are doing it just so they get to play soldiers and get out of school work for a while I'm sure I don't know.

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