This afternoon when I picked Ethan up from school, his teacher turned from a conversation she was having with another mother, pulled me aside and asked a question. “Did you tell Ethan not to say the pledge?”
“I told him it was his choice,” I said. “Why?”
“Well, it doesn’t matter to me if he says the pledge or not, but he has to be respectful when the other kids do.”
“I spoke to him about that. How was he disrespectful?”
“He had his arms crossed.”
“Did he do anything else?” I asked. The other mom looked at me warily.
I hesitated for a moment. “Clearly our versions of ‘respect’ are different, but I’ll speak to Ethan about that.”
Last week when Ethan started kindergarten, I was concerned about a great number of things, one of which was him knowing that no matter what any authority or law says, his rights do not stop at the school doors. When a friend reminded me that all Indiana children in public schools have to stand and recite the pledge every day at school to an American flag whose presence is mandated in every classroom, I made a point of discussing this with Ethan, simply to let him know that he had a choice of whether or not to stand with his classmates and make a pledge he certainly doesn’t understand.
I explained it as simply as possible without even touching on the religious complaints against the pledge. Our country is at war overseas, I told him, and some people with a lot of power believe that saying the pledge will make us love our country more and support the war. But, I told him, I think it’s silly to think that a pledge will make us love our country when there are plenty of other things to be grateful for, and just so you know, Mama doesn’t support the war. You can say the pledge if you want to, but it is your choice. No one can make you say it and no one can make you not say it.
I don’t care about “under God.” I care that my child is being asked to conform to an ideal he knows nothing about.
Ethan asked further about the war and I explained as best as I could, reminding him of all the stories Mama watches on the news. It’s a huge concept for a child to wrap his mind around. I answered his questions as best as I could at his level and reassured him that he could decide at any point to say or not say the pledge, and then could change his mind if he wanted to. This is precisely the point about religion that I have pressed on him over time: his choice. In this case the Pledge of Allegiance feels too much like a prayer of political indoctrination “encouraged” by lawmakers for me to feel comfortable to let it go. And finally, I told him that if anyone gives him any crap to refer them to me. I’d handle it.
I was miffed by the teacher, who is by all accounts a wonderful educator (and Ph.D.), but had to take into account all sides. No matter her views, her views are disregarded and part of her state-mandated curriculum is to teach children how to say the pledge and to make time for it every morning. Further, my views and Ethan’s choice could concern other children and parents. On the way out of school I asked Ethan about it. What did she say?
“She said I have to be respectful.”
“She said I can’t cross my arms.”
“Well, next time why don’t you just put your hands in your pockets and stand with the rest of the kids if you don’t want to say the pledge.”
“I can’t. She said I have to stand like this.” Ethan put his arms stiffly at his sides and stood, to my dismay, like a little soldier. Perhaps I was reading into things. I reassured him that it was okay, it is his choice. My five-year-old son is no soldier, too young to be a patriot.