David Niose of the American Humanist Association has a report on the findings of their Don’t Say the Pledge campaign so far. Having invited students to tell their stories of what happens when they refuse to say the pledge, there are some pretty obvious — and predictable — trends so far.
What we’ve discovered is that attempts to opt out of the pledge are frequently met with great hostility from teachers who take offense to nonparticipation.
This would be bad enough, but it gets worse. Not only are kids too often berated for simply choosing to not pledge allegiance, but we are also finding that the badgering almost always follows the same script: In almost every disapproving exchange between teachers and students reported to us, the teacher accuses the nonparticipating student of insulting America’s troops. Thus, the student is suddenly cast, in front of classmates, as unsupportive of America’s fighting men and women.
Thankfully, not every child who opts out reports being confronted by his or her teacher, but far too many are, and it is revealing that almost every child who is harassed reports being accused of not supporting the troops. This is the go-to argument of teachers who admonish nonparticipants, and its ramifications are distressing. Although patriotism and militarism have long been close relatives, we find that today’s America has become a nation seemingly unable to distinguish the two. The simple choice of a child to sit out the pledge is now widely criticized with not-so-subtle allusions to military disloyalty–not just by ignorant folk, but by educated teachers. One could reasonably ask what this says about contemporary American society and where it is heading.
Bear in mind that America has also become a population convinced of its own exceptionalism at levels that border on overcharged nationalism. High-level politicians are now required to mention that we are “the greatest nation on earth,” and any suggestion of national humility is interpreted as weakness. Never mind that our rates of violence and rates of teen pregnancy are both embarrassingly high when compared to other developed countries, and never mind that our population rejects evolution and other scientific facts at rates far exceeding the rest of the developed world—we nevertheless see ourselves as vastly superior. This chasm between self-image and reality is stupefying.
But very predictable. This is hardly a new development, it’s been ingrained in our culture almost from the start (certainly since WWI). This doesn’t “border on overcharged nationalism,” it’s a full-blown national delusion. And being coupled with a messianic complex to be the world’s policeman and an insecure, macho belief in militant nationalism, it’s a particularly dangerous one.
And think about how this behavior by teachers affects those students. It’s bad enough that students will often attack anyone who separates themselves from others by not going along with the class, but it’s far worse when a teacher all but tells the other students that this kid who is refusing to say the pledge lacks patriotism. Any teacher who does this should be strongly disciplined. And every single teacher and school administrator in this country should be required to take a continuing education course that teaches them what students — and themselves — can and cannon do legally.