The Pledge of Allegiance in light of child development

I'm sorry that Rep. Dave Hunt had to defend himself, as he wrote in a recent guest opinion, against "a shot at my patriotism." But not to worry, everyone knows that attacking someone's patriotism is a cheap shot. Nevertheless I thank him for setting the record straight and for his work in the Legislature.

Regarding HB 3604, he wrote that he does not oppose the bill requiring school districts to display the American flag in every classroom and to provide time daily for children to salute the flag. As an educator, I do oppose the bill.

First of all, it is important to take the question of the pros and cons of saluting or pledging allegiance to the flag out of a political context and view it in light of child development and educational pedagogy, where it belongs.

The monumental work of Jean Piaget in investigating the growth of intelligence in children has established that children are not diminutive adults. Children's thinking capacities are qualitatively different than an adults and evolve in stages.

It is not until adolescence that children have the mental equipment that enables them to think for themselves, to form judgments and to think independently of the adult authority represented by their parents and teachers.

Prior to adolescence it is developmentally inappropriate to have children "recite" a pledge because they do not have the capacity — in freedom — to pledge themselves to any particular school of thought, philosophy or creed. We sing songs and we recite poems, verses and prose but we make a pledge. A pledge should be made voluntarily and with full, conscious intent. A pledge is a solemn promise: in this case, a promise of loyalty to the principles of liberty and justice for all.

In the United States we do not allow minors to vote, to drink, to marry, etc., before the age of majority. I wonder why we do not take a pledge of loyalty as seriously.

It seems to me that the common practice of reciting the pledge in elementary classrooms is actually unpatriotic, because the pledge is diminished and trivialized by mindless, rote, daily recitation. Worse, it is indoctrination in matters that are truly adult decisions. It is a travesty of the very principles of liberty and freedom for which the promise of the pledge is made.

As far as I've been able to research, the United States appears to be the only developed country with the common practice of having school children recite a pledge of allegiance or loyalty. Other countries of which I'm aware certainly have oaths of loyalty and patriotism, but they are reserved for public meetings of adults, oaths of public service and military oaths. In this, these other countries are appropriately reserving to adults the judgment of determining oaths and pledges of loyalty.

In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools violated the First Amendment. Even the attempt to get around this by not "requiring" but "giving children the opportunity" to recite the pledge will not avoid challenges to this legislation by educators who are opposed to it.

This will especially be the case because this bill changes the present law from requiring schools to give students the opportunity to recite the pledge only once a week to daily recitation. So legislation that on the face of it appears to be a simple enough matter is not so simple after all.

Fortunately, HB 3604 did not pass in this session and hopefully it will not be reintroduced.

Gesine Abraham is a Waldorf educator and a founding member of Madrone Trail Public Charter School.

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