What is the status of Civics subjects in schools these days?
September 23, 2001 10:45 AM   Subscribe

What is the status of Civics subjects in schools these days? I found this rather old data on the ACLU website, but I'm having trouble finding out the current status of what I call "national pride" activities in schools these days. When I was a kid in the 70's, we always said the Pledge of Allegience every morning as well as had a prayer. I remember when the prayer was turned into a "moment of silence" (early 80's?) but I don't remember when/if the Pledge was discontinued due to ACLU activities like the one above. I've not thought much about this until now, but realizing that many, many kids don't know the Pledge or our anthem disturbs me greatly.
Could anyone enlighten me, please?
posted by misangela (33 comments total)

 
I'm sure most kids know the pledge. And if they don't, so what? The Pledge of Allegience is just about the least important thing a kid can learn converning american government and civics. Overall, it's pretty silly.
posted by Doug at 10:54 AM on September 23, 2001


You gotta see some of these so-called kids have been citizens here for only 7 or 8 years. They don't pay taxes and are generally annoying. They must take some kind of allegiance pledge in case they decide to mobilize their incredible numbers and take over Washington. Toss in a prayer too, they're less dangerous with their eyes closed. Make sure we can get into their lockers, I don't want to hear any of this 4th amendment crap.

Very silly.
posted by skallas at 11:02 AM on September 23, 2001


i graduated from high school in 1989. we drowsilly stumbled through the pledge every morning in homeroom. meagerly inspiring, i must admit. not being involved with public education these days and not being one to frequent high schools as an adult, can anyone confirm or deny that kids no longer mumble the pledge daily?
posted by grabbingsand at 11:12 AM on September 23, 2001


many kids don't know the Pledge or our anthem disturbs me greatly

Let's take a look at it, and I'll tell you what disturbs me greatly about it.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
You know that the pledge came from a magazine article, written in 1892, but it wasn't until 1942 that Congress adopted the Pledge? And the words "under God" were added thanks to a resolution that was passed in 1954. This was done during the beginning of the cold war, most likely to prove how much this country wasn't a bunch of "atheist communists" that were so hated back in the day.

President Eisenhower started off an address, after they tacked on the "under God" part:

"From this day forward, the millions of school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty"

That's what disturbs me. Being forced to proclaim your allegance to a nation and the nations supposedly one true God when you're a child and you have no rights to object. This is America? It certainly smacks of blind nationalism and all its trappings.

(source for the under god crap)
posted by mathowie at 11:13 AM on September 23, 2001


Why do you guys feel that it doesn't mean anything?
I'm interested, not because I want to shove anything down throats, skallas, but because I am interested in how people feel about the symbolic signs of patriotism in general.
If it's silly to know the Pledge, etc., then do you also think it's silly to display the flag or attend civic events?
Do these views differ by age group, I wonder?
Again, I stress, I am not trying to argue with anyone's views, I just think this is an interesting subject.
And Matt, I did know that, and I do question using the blanket term "God" in the national pledge.
posted by misangela at 11:19 AM on September 23, 2001


If you read the ACLU Washington page that misångela originally linked to, you'll see that the issue wasn't whether or not the school should lead students in something like the Pledge of Allegiance, but whether students must be compelled to recite it even if they don't want to do so.

To me, this indicates that our republic is strong -- even children may not be forced to swear loyalty if they do not want to do so, as long as they don't interfere with others who want to make the pledge. Three cheers for a country where the true test of freedom has always been the freedom to take unpopular stands. No one needs the protection of the law to go along with the crowd.
posted by mdeatherage at 11:25 AM on September 23, 2001


misangela, there's a muddy line between patriotism and nationalism. On the one hand, you have people that feel proud of their country. That's certainly harmless isn't it? But on the other end, you have people that think anyone not from their country should die, and killing in the name of the country you hold so dear is perfectly fine.

There's no perfect barrier between patriotism and nationalism, and some people slide a bit too far to one side, or consider elements of nationalism perfectly ok under the guises of patriotism.

The pledge doesn't mean anything because I was forced to recite it as a child. The words held no meaning for me, because I didn't actually understand them at the age I was forced to begin reciting them. If you want it to mean something, don't force it on children. If people really like a country, they'll figure that out on their own at some later date, when they're an adult.

Compulsory love of anything isn't really love is it?
posted by mathowie at 11:28 AM on September 23, 2001


My brother got sent to the principal's office once for not saying the pledge. He pointed out that there was no flag in the classroom to even say it to. The principal asked him if he knew what "decorum" was. My brother was not an idiot (this was in high school) and informed her that he did. My brother then proceeded to find a law stating that the school should be fined $5 per day for every classroom without a flag. Silly school...

Personally, I just made up words as I went along. Well, I was often too tired to think up much, and so just mumbled along with everyone else, but I usually made sure I at least omitted "under God" and said "liberty and justice for some."

misangela, like mathowie said, it means nothing if you're forced to say it. Actually, worse, it's basically brainwashing if you're forced to say it. It's the same with all of the other patriotic things one can do. They're fine, and I generally have no problem with people who do them because they believe in them. But if there's coercion involved, by either rules (as in school) or social pressure (as with people not wanting to upset their neighbors), it's meaningless.
posted by whatnotever at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2001


True, true, Matt.
Actually, that's the way it's been for me, now that I think about it.

Thanks to everyone who has (and will) post to this thread. I really appreciate your input!
mdeatherage, well said!
posted by misangela at 11:42 AM on September 23, 2001


To me, this indicates that our republic is strong -- even children may not be forced to swear loyalty if they do not want to do so, as long as they don't interfere with others who want to make the pledge.

These are children, people generally not so well versed as to their rights as citizens. Considering we're talking about the 18 and under crowd they have to deal with curfews, locker searches, etc. School life is characterized by peer pressure and liberal gains such as moments of silence and voluntary pledging looks like a great way to find the "unpatriotic" and the irreligious in the classroom. What about one's right to privacy about one's beliefs both political and religious? Those take a back seat to schoolyard beatings and social rejection.

You want to pray and pledge and do meaningful gestures? Do it afterschool. I can't stress this enough. There are afterschool clubs for everything. I know you're all shaking your collective heads at my suggestion. Why? Because no one is going to start a club for patriotic kids. The pledge is said because of the authority figure and the peer pressure. To kids they are meaningless words. At least they were/are to me.
posted by skallas at 11:52 AM on September 23, 2001


I think that's the funny/awesome thing about the flag (and by a slight extension, the pledge) is that it represents the freedom to disagree with it. The flag itself represents the freedom to burn it.

I used to stand for the pledge, but not say it (mostly because of the "under god" bit, I buy the rest of it).
posted by owillis at 11:57 AM on September 23, 2001


All this stuff about pledges and prayers and moments of silence has always been the purview of individual states, and they're constantly changing as someone files a lawsuit and something gets overturned and then the legistlature turns around and tries a whole new tactic and lather rinse repeat. Nobody's going to know what it's like for anyone outside their own home state, nor are they going to know what it's like for anyone more than a year or two after they graduated from those cesspools.

Besides, mdeatherage is right. The only important thing is whether they have to force you to participate. And that battle's largely been won. I never had to participate, and I went to high school in West Virginia. In the 1980s. The worst they can do is force you not to jump around and make farting noises during any "moment of silent reflection," and that's only because they can stop you from jumping around and making farting noises any time. Unless you're in gym class, of course.
posted by aaron at 12:19 PM on September 23, 2001


Personally, I do say the pledge, and leave out the phrase "under God." Usually people don't hear me do this as usually there are many people speaking. It's not that I have no spiritual beliefs, it's just that my beliefs in a higher power and in my country are not linked.

I can add the perspective of a teacher to the discussion. I worked in a building that because of bureaucratic silliness has two schools in the same building. My school is quite liberal (my friends call it the liberal pinko commie school), and the other school in the building is quite conservative. Every morning, the other school recites the pledge over the loudspeakers. Every morning, we pause while they do that, but don't recite the pledge.

Do the children in my school have the pledge memorized? I'm not sure - they might because of constant exposure, but it's not something they've been taught, per se.

But what we do have, that the other school does not have, is a three year sequence (sixth through eighth grades) on the history of rights in America, starting with the Revolution, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, continuing up through the states' rights and abolitionist movments, and ending with universal suffrage and the civil rights era.

We are constantly linking current events to the historical stuff - and the kinds of debates and polls and discussions and arguments that erupt among the kids continually renew my faith in America.

I wouldn't mind too much if we started saying the Pledge, though I know some of my fellow teachers would oppose it. But I'll take the knowledge of rights and civic responsibilities that our kids master over a paint-by-the-numbers recitation any day.
posted by Chanther at 12:30 PM on September 23, 2001


For myself, since junior high school, I have always recited the pledge alongside others while dropping the under God phrase (as much out of a render to Caesar what is Caesar's, render to God what is God's point of view as of any anti-establishmentarianism principles). Only one person ever noticed.

But the ACLU is right. No citizen should ever be forced to recite the pledge, otherwise freedom has no meaning.
posted by dhartung at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2001


Growing up in the late eighties, we recited in elementary school the pledge, but had no moment of silence. Later, in high school, we had a schedule without homeroom at the start of the day, so such rituals were dropped entirely. Anyway, since public school isn't even compulsory in the US, and because many citizens are skeptical of using the schools to indoctrinate any beliefs (many people feel that public schools promote statism/big government), it's better for kids to learn about the US in required US history classes.

Plus, haven't Jehovah's witnesses and other religious groups objected and been exempted? It's not just atheists who object to the "under God" stuff.
posted by Charmian at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2001


But what we do have, that the other school does not have, is a three year sequence (sixth through eighth grades) on the history of rights in America, starting with the Revolution, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, continuing up through the states' rights and abolitionist movments, and ending with universal suffrage and the civil rights era.

Bravo!
posted by rushmc at 2:09 PM on September 23, 2001


My school is quite liberal (my friends call it the liberal pinko commie school), and the other school in the building is quite conservative.

Are these public or private schools? If they're public, I'm curious as to how they managed to evolve such different personalities.
posted by aaron at 3:14 PM on September 23, 2001



Are these public or private schools? If they're public, I'm curious as to how they managed to evolve such different personalities.

They're both public. My school was founded in the early 70's (long, long before my time) as a special program within another school, created by a group of parents and teachers who were frustrated with the existing educational options. The school was founded on ideals of "social justice" and "multiculturalism," and the school continues to attract very liberal people - both teachers and parents (there is within-district school choice here). In the early 90's the special program had grown so large and was in enough demand that the district made it its own school.

It was moved to be in a different building, a building that is huge and thus has room for two separate schools with some shared facilities (library, etc.).

Within the school-choice system here, people are given priority if they live within a certain distance of the school. People who were uncomfortable with the philosophy of our school chose the other school in the same building.

So they grew to be ideologically very different - an interesting by-product of school choice. The working relationship between the two schools is positive, though, despite the occasional strain.
posted by Chanther at 3:37 PM on September 23, 2001


Wow! I am old. I started school in the late 50's. We had prayer and said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at first assembly, then off to our class rooms. Prayer got axed while I was in high school, but our school continued until well I after I left. But then what did you expect in Texas. Nobody I know ever objected. We were little blind mice who went off to college and started thinking there were other ways to do things. I miss the big protest rallies and great rock and roll of those years. Oh, well.
posted by bjgeiger at 5:53 PM on September 23, 2001


Wow! Thank you! I'm so grateful for your terrific views and differing perspectives.

Chanther, your comments are well thought out and you answered a couple of my other questions for the thread. Families in your area are very fortunate to have such choice in their educations.


And bjgeiger, I'm happy to hear from someone who was in school in the 50's/60's. I really do think that age has a lot to do with how we think about things like reciting the Pledge and other social mores that are taught (instilled?) in schools. It never occurred to me to question any part of the Pledge or having a prayer while I was in school - but maybe being in Tennessee had something to do with that!

I've exhausted my questions for the thread!
You guys rock.
posted by misangela at 7:24 PM on September 23, 2001


Misangela, I am also disturbed that large numbers of children are growing up not knowing the Pledge or the National Anthem. To see you post your enthusiasm for the answers given surprises me, since I am not satisfied.

Brainwashing? Unimportant? Even offensive? I'm surprised nobody has objected to these views, so I'll do my best:

1) You don't have to say the Pledge! You can do whatever you want when it's taking a minute out of your life.

2) Nobody's trying to brainwash children with the Pledge. The words gain meaning with age. It does not represent xenophobia, or southern bible-thumping. It means exactly what it says: freedom and justice for all, the very principles upon which this country was established. I'm glad that I was gently reminded each day that I had the freedom to burn the flag if I felt like it. What's wrong with blind nationalism? What this country needs is unity, not discontent.

3) If you feel like omitting under God, be my guest. Last I heard just about everyone in this country associated themselves with some kind of monotheistic religion. If that statement is offensive to you then prepare to be offended hundreds of times daily. Or you could just sit back and think about the poor Afghans who are forced to practice Islam or face physical punishment. Don't they still hold American missionaries hostages for preaching Christianity?

I'm scared that when I get older I'll see a country in which American pride and nationalism are rooted out of our culture. How sad would that be? Then we'd have no common ground to come together with, and an even greater feeling of indifference. Ugh, watch those turnout levels go down to 20%.

Okay that's my thoughts, probably not peiced together in the way I had hoped. But I'm glad that I was able to get that out, since this discussion was taking a disturbing, unpatriotic turn.

God bless America...
posted by MarkO at 9:20 PM on September 23, 2001


My kid has been in school just a few weeks and already knows the pledge. He even has a teacher who tries to discuss the words and what they mean. Ok, he doesn't know the Star Spangled Banner yet. Let's face it, that is a kinda tough song to sing.

So where are these hordes of deprived children who don't even know the pledge?
posted by ilsa at 10:14 PM on September 23, 2001


When I was a kid in high school...way, way back in the late 60's...a lot of us decided we didn't want to recite a pledge to a piece of fabric or a "republic". We were more interested in the ideals the flag supposedly represented. I believe it was the kids in the Black Student Union (which I was a member of) that were the first at my school that decided not to say the Pledge. Some would stand with arms folded and heads bowed, some did the Black Power salute, some remained seated.
Then the pacifist kids followed.
Eventually, the teachers got sick of sending us to The Office and the white principal got fed up with not being able to answer groups of young black kids when they asked:"Why should I?"
We were eventually told that it was no longer manditory that we do the pledge or even stand. As long as we didn't bother the kids that wanted to do it, and they didn't bother us if we didn't.
When I think about the pledge of allegiance, it reminds me of something that kids are taught to parrot at a young age. You can tell by the same sing-song intonation that everyone has when they say it.
No one is really taught what they're saying means, or why they're doing it. They were also never taught that it wasn't mandated by law that we do it.
To this day I still don't do it and I don't plan to start doing it now.
But I do do something that I believe counts more than parroting some "pledge": I vote.
And if I were a parent, I'd be more concerned that my kid was being taught math, how to read & spell. And also where to find countries (and states) on a map, basic facts about those countries and how they relate to each other.
As far as the Star Spangled Banner is concerned, sure they should know it...for cultural reasons...but they should also know where the melody originally came from and the history of the song, and they should know the national anthems of at least one other country in the world *and* their state song. (Yes, I do.)
posted by NeferTiti at 11:32 PM on September 23, 2001


As a Brit, I find the whole idea of a Pledge of Allegience completely bizarre, and not a little scary. That sort of nationalism is just plain silly.
posted by salmacis at 12:55 AM on September 24, 2001


markO, at least 100,000 people [and probably twice that] in the US are pantheistic. it would take quite a while for a Pagan to go through the whole thing.
"...one nation, under Diana, Astarte, Isis, Inanna...wait, give me a second...Gaia, Hecate, Kwan-Yin..."

and I don't know how long it's been since you were last a child, but if 29 other kids are doing something, you'd better damn well do the same thing.
posted by Nyx at 12:59 AM on September 24, 2001


This is kind of a cheerleader comment, but I agree with every single thing NeferTiti had to say there, except that I was one of the "pacifist kids" (I wouldn't have out it that way, actually, but I know what she's talking about). People who take the whole pledge-and-flag apparatus seriously, in my mind, are confusing symbolic action with real action.
posted by rodii at 5:50 AM on September 24, 2001


What's wrong with blind nationalism?

Is this a trick question? It's blind.

What this country needs is unity, not discontent.

What this country needs is reason, and compassion, and the courage to speak out, not Nuremberg rally-style expressions of patriotism.
posted by rodii at 5:55 AM on September 24, 2001


What this country needs is reason, and compassion, and the courage to speak out, not Nuremberg rally-style expressions of patriotism.

Hear, hear. :::cheers the cheerleader:::
posted by rushmc at 6:08 AM on September 24, 2001


MarkO: What's wrong with blind nationalism?

As rodii replied, it's *blind*. Would you be blindly nationalist if you were Chinese and the government was killing your comrades?

No, you'd go stand in front of a tank.

Right? :-)
posted by baylink at 7:50 AM on September 24, 2001


3) If you feel like omitting under God, be my guest. Last I heard just about everyone in this country associated themselves with some kind of monotheistic religion. If that statement is offensive to you then prepare to be offended hundreds of times daily. Or you could just sit back and think about the poor Afghans who are forced to practice Islam or face physical punishment. Don't they still hold American missionaries hostages for preaching Christianity?

People are starving in India so eat your beef right now!

One of the things I like about being non-religious in America is that I don't currently risk being stoned for not saying the pledge.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:54 AM on September 24, 2001


the elementary school i attended required us recite the Pledge of Allegience and the Lords Prayer. i was often sent to the office and paddled for not doing it. and if you really want to understand how scary and screwed this school was, after the Pledge and the Prayer, they forced us to do an aerobic workout to Olivia Newton-John's "Physical."
posted by tolkhan at 10:50 AM on September 24, 2001


Nyx, over 100,000 people came to Michigan stadium last Saturday, and we all sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "American the Beautiful" together before the game and during halftime. Possibly the most pride in America I have ever had--you should have seen it, it was quite a surreal experience.

Why can't we all have an American culture we can share that goes beyond trips to McDonalds and Disney World? Especially in this age of mass-media and connectedness, there is already so little that can tie us together. National pride can go a long way--I wonder what you'd hear if you asked an Israeli about their country. Pride and nationalism is probably the only thing that has held them together all these years.

I'm not saying that the 40's and 50's were "the good old days"--my parents weren't even alive back then--but even in this age in which our freedoms and liberties are stronger than ever, I can see people going beyond taking this country for granted. We're taking each other for granted.
posted by MarkO at 11:46 AM on September 24, 2001


MarkO, please don't confuse my enthusiasm for the responses to my thread as my endorsement of said responses! I'm just pleased that I got such a wide range of input to my initial question. That's what MeFi is best at: getting a wide range of opinions!


If you'll notice, I've not really enumerated my personal beliefs about any of this, I'm more interested in what others think.


I noticed that nyx interjected a bit about the long list of gods/goddesses that pagans (there are millions of us, BTW) would end up reciting if we attempted to change the Pledge to fit our beliefs and I think that is a valid point. I also think it's a valid point that we, as Americans, can do whatever the hell we want in reference to the flag, the pledge and anything else. That is what America is all about: personal freedom. In Mexico, for instance, you'd be arrested (perhaps shot) if you displayed the flag anywhere other than a flagpole -- that includes clothing, banners, cars, bookbags, ANYWHERE.


And MarkO, I do think that we've taken our country for granted. ALL of us. I, personally, plan to change that perception in my self and I hope that others do as well.

As they say, it all starts in your own mirror!
posted by misangela at 9:04 AM on September 25, 2001


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