The students in Vincent Pulciani's seventh-grade class were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance this week when they heard the voice over the intercom say something they'd never heard before, at least not during the Pledge.It wasn't a classroom teacher, it was an intercom voice that was changing the words.
Instead of "one nation, under God," the voice said, "one nation, under your belief system."
If a teacher in class had changed the words as a classroom exercise, it would be very different, and better, really than leading the class in a rote incantation. But then I'd want to have a debate in which the students could participate. Here's what I'm picturing:
TEACHER: Not everyone believes in God, so when we say the Pledge today, let's change "one nation, under God" to "one nation, under your belief system."
STUDENT #1: That sounds kind of awkward and ugly, and anyway, why are we standing and saying a pledge together if the words aren't about a shared belief? Why don't we just stand and say "I pledge allegiance to my personal individuality as a human being in the world"?
STUDENT #2: Also "under your belief system"? Is that even good English? Why am I pledging to your belief system and not my belief system?
STUDENT #3: Well, what if my belief system is Communism? The United States isn't under that!
TEACHER: You all raise very good points. My idea was to be more inclusive, but I can see I've introduced some new problems. Actually, I'm pretty impressed by the way you figured out those problems.
STUDENT #1: Yes, maybe we could spend more time in school figuring out problems instead of saying pledges.
STUDENT #2: If we didn't try to do these individuality-crushing mass exercises, the whole problem of "inclusiveness" wouldn't even come up.
STUDENT #3: Why don't we spend more time studying what the flag actually stands for? It would be a better use of your time too.
TEACHER: Of course, that would be best for all of us... Why don't we have a little discussion about why you think government officials want us to use class time to say this pledge every day?
Oh, that's just what I dream school could be like! But really why are we talking about whether a teacher has a "right" to change the Pledge, and not whether a teacher has a right not to have a disembodied intercom voice intrude on the class with a rote exercise?
UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has some good wisecracks.