April 23, 2005

The "right" to change the Pledge?

Tyler Cowen asks if a teacher has "the right to change the Pledge of Allegiance." As The Washington Times reports:
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.

Instead of "one nation, under God," the voice said, "one nation, under your belief system."
It wasn't a classroom teacher, it was an intercom voice that was changing the words.

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.


HaloJonesFan said...

I like your idea about the debate, but you're assuming too much of the average grade-school student. In my experience, it would be:

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." What do you think about that?

STUDENTS: (dull silence)

TEACHER: Okay. Open your books to page 1 and let's begin.

Stephen said...

You know, I need to pay more attention to who's doing the posting at The Volokh Conspiracy. That, it appears, was Tyler Cowen's first post there. Usually I read his stuff over at Marginal Revolution.

lindsey said...

Wasn't there a SC decision that said the 'under god' part was optional? In other words, no one's obligated to say it?

Donna B. said...

STUDENTS: (dull silence)

Obviously you haven't been in a middle or elementary classroom lately...

Cabbage said...

Here's another hypothetical these adminstrators could try. It was developed in Russia right after the revolution and is still practiced in Cuba:

"He told me that in the public schools in Cuba, the teachers were drumming religion and God out of the schools and they did this simply, on a level the little ones could understand. The teacher would tell the children to put their little heads down on the desk, close their eyes and hold out their hands and ask God for candy. Nothing would happen; nothing would be in their hands when they opened their eyes. Then the teachers would instruct the children to repeat the process, but this time ask Fidel for candy and they would place some in each child’s hand. Simple, direct, propaganda."

It's a little more direct than having teachers subtly undermine the faith of elementary school children as was attempted here, but on the plus side, the children would get some candy!

To the extent religion is even brought up in this way in a public elementary school (whether by a teacher or the voice-of-god administrator speaking over the public PA system), I doubt any but the most precocious 2nd graders would register anything more than a vague cognitive dissonance between what their parents are teaching them about the universality of their faith and the message comming from the second locus of authority in their lives countering that message.

Ron said...

Here in Michigan I received a call from some lobbying group asking if I would be in favor of making the reciting of the pledge mandatory in school. While my mind was balking at the idea, trying to see what the subtext was, I was told that, under this proposed law, other documents could be substitued for the saying of the pledge like,

Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech

The preamble to the Constitution

or (my favorite) The Federalist Papers!

I thought "The Federalist Papers?!?" Who would recite that? Who could? How many teachers would know?

Big Wacky!

richard mcenroe said...

How exactly does changing the Pledge of Allegiance "commemorate Columbine?"

Knemon said...

Back in high school, I was a moderate A/V geek. For this, one of my perqs (such as the were) was to lead the entire school in the pledge, via a mic in the principal's office, once a week.

I remember there was supposedly a policy (this was in a liberal college town) of leaving out those two little words.

I was, or thought I was, a committed atheist back then, but I enjoyed putting the words back in, just to irritate the school administration.

I got away with it for a while, and then they gave someone else the job.

Just more stifling of dissent in Janet Reno's amerikkka ... sigh ...

Ann Althouse said...

Lindsey: You're right that there's a Supreme Court opinion (Barnette) saying that the students have a right to refuse to say the pledge. The question whether a teacher could refuse to offer the Pledge or could reword it if the school board required the Pledge to be part of the school day is different however. Consider that teachers are required to teach about evolution and all sorts of other things they might not want to teach. Students are compelled to attend school, and the teacher has voluntarily taken on a job with a particular description.

DeniseUMLaw said...

Pitiful. I don't think we should have amended the pledge to say "under god" in the first damn place. But given that we did, it seems ridiculous that a spur of the moment change should be introduced over the loud speaker! It seems much more reasonable to educate the kids about their rights to NOT say the pledge (or to omit the offensive, later added phrase altogether).

Terrence Berres said...

Michigan could subsitute Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, presumably changed to say "...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under your belief system, shall have a new birth of freedom..."