What does the flag really stand for, anyway?
April 3, 2002 12:06 PM   Subscribe

What does the flag really stand for, anyway? A 6th-grader's perspective.
posted by zztzed (55 comments total)
 
What a little sledgehammer. She has a bright future ahead of her.
posted by rcade at 12:08 PM on April 3, 2002


Show of hands: who in the class believes this was actually written by a twelve year old?
posted by ook at 12:21 PM on April 3, 2002


stupid girl. i was in 8th grade when i was twelve.
posted by tolkhan at 12:33 PM on April 3, 2002


I can see Katha Pollitt guiding the little girl's crayon hand over the grey 'Educator' tablet right now.

Sigh. Well said, rcade.

Charlotte Aldebron, 12, wrote this essay for a competition in her 6th grade English class. She attends Cunningham Middle School in Presque Isle, Maine. Comments may be sent to her mom, Jillian Aldebron: aldebron@ainop.com

Could Jillian Aldebron be the leftist version of Debbie Swenson?
posted by evanizer at 12:45 PM on April 3, 2002


I want Charlotte Aldebron in any sixth grade class I teach. As the kids say, she's hecka cool.
posted by neuroshred at 12:50 PM on April 3, 2002


stupid girl. i was in 8th grade when i was twelve.

All people who are not in 8th grade by the time they are twelve are stupid.
I was not in 8th grade by the time I was twelve.
Therefore I am stupid.

See? I've fallen into the fallacy of soundness.
posted by iceberg273 at 12:50 PM on April 3, 2002


Well, I was 12 in the 8th grade, and I'm profanely stupid.
posted by saladin at 12:55 PM on April 3, 2002


I'm 19 in college and still stupid.
posted by jmd82 at 12:57 PM on April 3, 2002


Maybe she'll start doing "Perspectives" for KQED [NPR affiliate] next. Oh wait, she's not a writer from Marin County...yet.
posted by sbgrove at 12:58 PM on April 3, 2002


Damn, give the girl some credit for going out on a limb and putting forth unpopular thoughts, in days when it is much more acceptable to slather your SUV in American flags and go aggressively cruising around the highways, letting nothing get in your way.
posted by adampsyche at 1:05 PM on April 3, 2002


I thought the essay was really cool. You can tell her parents, or someone, anyways, is educating her in ways that schools aren't, unless she goes to a random progressive school. Obivously she's heard a lot of ranting (see :"No one has to promise that people will get a fair wage, or enough food to eat, or affordable medicine, or clean water, or air free of harmful chemicals." Makes me wish I'd had that kind of upbringing.
posted by Ufez Jones at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2002


Yes, pledging alliegance to the flag is the earliest form of brainwashing every little american undergoes. How many school children actually know what 'pledge' and 'allegiance' mean?

more acceptable to slather your SUV in American flags and go aggressively cruising around the highways, letting nothing get in your way.

Fortunately, the homeless don't live on the highways. It's not like the SUV drivers are running them off the road. But yeah, I guess SUV's must be bad because they are big. How many MeFi threads does it take to bash SUV's before people get tired of it? (rhetorical question, since they will never tire)

The whole criticism of patriotism as hollow hypocrisy is pretty good though.
posted by insomnyuk at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2002


You bitches is so predictable.

Why does 'progressive' automatically mean cynical about everything? And why is dissent of any kind valorized whether thoughtful or not?

When I was 12, I was busy with my Voltron and playing with a Spaldeen on the big concrete wall by our house, or trying to get my Apple IIgs to boot a floppy that had been dropped in the municipal swimming pool. I'm glad I wasn't busy deconstructing patriotism or worrying about fair wages or harmful chemicals. I wouldn't trade my 'regressive' education and woefully undeconstructed happiness and faith for this little comrades' 'progressive thinking' for anything.
posted by evanizer at 1:32 PM on April 3, 2002


Therefore I am stupid

ok.
posted by tolkhan at 1:41 PM on April 3, 2002


~chuckle~

Ms. Aldebron succinctly lampoons the worship of a ridiculous symbol at the expense of issues that actually matter. And a number of panties immediately wad into tight little bunches here.

Let's see...she's automatically "stupid" or a plagiarizer or "a comrade" or the victim of her mother's political leanings. All that invective as a result of simnply reading her ideas.

What many of you'd rather see, of course, from a 12 year old, is "Daddy, please plaster yet another flag on our zero-percent financed gas guzzler."

Now that's independent, valorous thought. Right up there with "God Bless America" and "Let's roll" and "we must stop the evil-doors".

~ahem~

But as usual among a certain element, many comments here attempt to disparage the author's ideas by disparaging the author. I have to assume, as usual, that there is an inability to come up with a cogent criticism of her ideas.

Not much discussion of Aldebron's ideas. Now why is that?

Why are Aldebron's ideas oh so frightening to some of you? I guess I'd just have to say many of you nice folks "is so predictable."
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:46 PM on April 3, 2002


You guys are pathetic. You take anything echoing your views back to you and praise it to death. This little piece was written in a purposely childish manner as a platform to echo the same regurgitated topics we're told are important every day without ever anyone suggesting real solutions. If this was even turned in as a school assignment, it was probably something Mommy and Daddy thought would be amusing to have their kid act as a little stooge for.

It's just like my church, we had this like "kid's sunday" or something where we had children and teenagers doing all the prayers, sermon, etc. What this turned out to be, and everyone knew, was certain parents speaking out deliberately on whatever issues they had, generally internal or external politics, through the mouths of their children.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:49 PM on April 3, 2002


I'm not skeered. For the record, Ms. Aldebron is pledging allegiance to the flag, but also "to the republic for which it stands;" she's pledging allegiance to "liberty and justice for all." She would know that if she'd listened past the first the first six words.

And the founding words of that Republic itself? They state the goals of "establish[ing] Justice, insur[ing] domestic Tranquility, provid[ing] for the common defense, promot[ing] the general Welfare, and secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

The words are only meaningless if the people who say them aren't paying attention.
posted by coelecanth at 1:56 PM on April 3, 2002


Fortunately, the homeless don't live on the highways. It's not like the SUV drivers are running them off the road. But yeah, I guess SUV's must be bad because they are big. How many MeFi threads does it take to bash SUV's before people get tired of it? (rhetorical question, since they will never tire)

My mistake. I was not criticizing SUVs per se, but the attitude. The "me me me, get out of the way of me and my huge truck with the flag draped over it, crushing those who stand in my path" kind of thing I see everywhere I go these days. I have no problem with SUVs by themselves, it is the whole package I was describing.
posted by adampsyche at 2:02 PM on April 3, 2002


The words are only meaningless if the people who say them aren't paying attention.

Or if the nation's policies don't bear any actual relationship to those words.
posted by daveadams at 2:17 PM on April 3, 2002


For those of you looking for follow-up pantloads, I have a email written by George Carlin I can send you.
posted by UncleFes at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2002


I can't believe that a 6th-grader has such an incompletely developed politics and sense of rhetoric! This is shocking! Let's all fight.

Whatever. It's sweet, it's not incredibly well-articulated, and she's an ELEMENTARY school student, not a columnist for the Washington Post. I say good for her and may she learn about fallacious arguments in high school and go forth and join the forensics team and kick some ass.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:40 PM on April 3, 2002


I wouldn't trade my 'regressive' education and woefully undeconstructed happiness and faith for this little comrades' 'progressive thinking' for anything.

Why do you assume she's unhappy because she cares about the betterment of the world? It's possible to have a fun, well-rounded childhood and still care strongly about politics, the environment, social justice, and the like.

Calling her a comrade makes me think your reaction to her is entirely political. Would you still be insulting her if her essay was anti-gun control or anti-abortion?
posted by rcade at 2:44 PM on April 3, 2002


RJ Reynolds: True enough! And now she has a Metafilter topic devoted to her work. I still don't have that. Good for her.
posted by coelecanth at 2:48 PM on April 3, 2002


While Ms. Aldebron does bring up a good point in her essay, regardless of whether or not it was actually she who wrote it or whether her parents influenced her to whatever degree it its composition, I did feel that it was worth pointing out that the Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette of 1943 caused forcing school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance under any circumstance to be illegal. Thus, children do not 'have to pledge loyalty to this piece of cloth every morning.'

(Of course, if one wanted to argue that she did not mean 'are required to' by stating 'have to,' one certainly could. Or if one was to claim that the potential ridicule one would have to contend with by not reciting the Allegiance is enough to make it a 'requirement' in its own right, one could do that as well.)
posted by tepidmonkey at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2002


I was prepared to read some right-wing pap about the flag, and instead got left-wing pap. What an exciting day this has been.
posted by cell divide at 2:58 PM on April 3, 2002


What Do You Love Most About America? (part 2 here)

* America is beautiful and free. We have schools, nice houses and schools for kids who can't see, talk or hear. We don't have slavery. We have hospitals open 24/7. It's clean, we have good food and we help the poor.

--Jesse, Grant Elementary, Santa Monica

* I love America for its freedom. It's lucky for us that we have food to eat every night. We also have civil rights. We can go to any church or be any religion. It doesn't matter if you are black or white. We can also go wherever we want any time. No one can tell us where to go. This makes me feel free, glad and safe to live in America.

--Sofia, 8, Glenoaks Elementary, Glendale

* I love American pizza. I have been to another country and it tasted terrible.

--Chris, 10, Roland Elementary, Rowland Heights
posted by owillis at 3:07 PM on April 3, 2002


Thank you daveadams. Good point.
posted by kahboom at 3:07 PM on April 3, 2002


Whatchoo mean we, Lone Ranger?
posted by adampsyche at 3:31 PM on April 3, 2002


Of course we can discuss the ideas in this piece. Keeping in mind it was written by a child, of course.

No one has to pledge loyalty to justice and equality and human decency. No one has to promise that people will get a fair wage, or enough food to eat, or affordable medicine, or clean water, or air free of harmful chemicals. But we all have to promise to love a rectangle of red, white, and blue cloth.

As coelacanth pointed out, we pledge our fidelity and loyalty to the flag and to the republic for which it stands; and in the very next phrase the outlines of that republic are given as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. [I'll note here that although I am religious, I have always omitted the under God phrase on principle -- adding it in 1954 was an egregious mistake by Congress, who make many.] The special irony here is that the pledge was written by a self-professed 'Christian Socialist', and his writing of the pledge was intimately wrapped up in his vision of an America bending toward Socialist principles -- in many ways, the America we got in the 20th century.

Still, the pledge is necessarily simple and universal. There are no daring political goals or brazenly extreme philosophies in this pledge. Its goal is unity of purpose and rests on the political princples of liberty and justice.

Now we may ask whether the things that our precocious author listed as failings of the pledge are truly omitted. Do we promise that people get a fair wage? No, because 'fair' is a judgement and a result of complex factors not the least of which is a contract between two parties. We have pledged justice which means that the interests of those needing what they deem a fair (higher) wage will be balanced against the interests of those needing what they deem a fair (lower) wage, i.e. employees and employers. (We won't delve into the use in these circles of the phrase fair wage as code for a larger platform of issues.)

Do we promise that people will get enough food to eat? No, because again, welfare is a policy choice that is not dictated by liberty, equality, or in particular justice. Certainly we can only have welfare if we have enough people working in the first place. The role of government in making sure people do not starve, even of their own deliberate and disastrous choice, is not up to the constitution or the structure of the republic, but to politics.

The same goes for the code-phrase affordable medicine (we can legislate their cost, but will we then make it economic to develop new ones); and clean water and air are in particular odd choices since both are more prevalent now than when I was this kid's age. But again these are aspects of justice which is, indeed, in the pledge.

I did ultimately find it odd that there was so little attention to the liberty side of the equation. Freedom of speech, of religious expression? One would think if we were devising laundry-list pledges they'd find their due place.

Or perhaps laundry list pledges are a bad idea. If the air and water are cleaner now than in 1970, shouldn't the laundry list change? Or do the principles of our government, a commitment to the ever-present principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as well as rock-solid commitment to an accountable system of democratic government, serve the higher, and more enduring, purpose of keeping our allegiance to the nation itself rather than to today's (or worse, yesterday's) political platform?
posted by dhartung at 3:47 PM on April 3, 2002


vision of an America bending toward Socialist principles -- in many ways, the America we got in the 20th century.

The United States: the only industrialized nation in the world without universal health care, a nation in which the richest 10% own 80% of the wealth, where 7,000 people file for bankruptcy every hour, where the top executive earns 419 times the average wage of a blue-collar worker and where Bill Gates has more wealtth than the bottom 45% of Americna households combined.

Yup, sounds pretty socialist to me.
posted by ed at 4:09 PM on April 3, 2002


I sent a note to the author's mom complimenting her daughter's "writing skills and her passion for justice and equality." Charlotte (the daughter) wrote me back:
I just want to comment about you reading The Nation. That is a very wise
choice because it tells all the things that the other newspapers are too
afraid to say. I don't read The Nation myself because it's a little hard to
understand. My mom does, though. But I definitely will read it too when I
get older.
:-). Fun kid.
posted by rcade at 4:29 PM on April 3, 2002


Bravo, dhartung. Bravo
posted by gnz2001 at 4:53 PM on April 3, 2002


Well, To those of you saying the girl couldn't have written this herself, whatever. I'm sure that there are some 12 year olds who could have written this, maybe not the majority or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 5:05 PM on April 3, 2002


I don't think the question is what 12-year-olds are capable of; actually, a simple reading shows it to be incredibly self-consciously simplistic. It's written by someone who understands college-level rules of composition and yet chooses, for stylistic or other purposes, to write in an over-simplistic manner. It's a stereotype of elementary school writing with various new, PC ideals tacked on, and I don't think a 12-year-old would be out to satirize her age group in that wy.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:47 PM on April 3, 2002


The Pledge of Allegiance has an interesting history. It was written by a socialist in 1892 and published in a family magazine. He intended to include "equality" with liberty and justice but took it out because his fellow school superintendents opposed equal rights for women and African Americans. The words "under god" were added by Congress in 1954 at the peak of the McCarthy hysteria under pressure from the Catholic Knights of Columbus. Recent lobbying efforts are to add: justice for all "born and unborn."

So there you have it: written by a socialist, censored by racists, and fine tuned by a religious sect. Makes you wonder what all the fighting is about.
posted by JackFlash at 6:26 PM on April 3, 2002


Hrm. Her remarking that she dosn't "understand" The Nation casts a little doubt on her crediblity, IMO.
posted by delmoi at 7:06 PM on April 3, 2002


It's written by someone who understands college-level rules of composition and yet chooses, for stylistic or other purposes, to write in an over-simplistic manner.

You've just described 90 percent of the content in the op-ed sections of U.S. newspapers.
posted by rcade at 7:07 PM on April 3, 2002


Now that's independent, valorous thought. Right up there with "God Bless America" and "Let's roll" and "we must stop the evil-doors".

My goodness, spouting the left-wing words your parents have fed you is no better than spouting right-wing words. There's no "independent thought" here. 6th graders do not go out, hunt evidence from multiple countries about various models of health care systems, examine the complex economics and trade-offs involved, and then come to an "independent" conclusion leading to the value judgement that America should impose a universal health care system on the population. 6th graders, on the whole, simply write things they think will please parents or other authority figures. She's just regurgitating words that have been fed to her in exactly the same way it is implied that the "God Bless America" crowd does.

I did find it interesting that it never occured to her that the freedom to write an essay critical of her country in a classroom is also one of the things that flag stands for - and is by no means a freedom shared by her fellow students in a good number of other nations. But apparently the fact that the United States is not a socialist country looms too big in her eyes (or her parents' eyes anyway - since that's likely where the words came from) to notice anything else.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:26 PM on April 3, 2002


This whole thing just smells fishy, or at least creepy. Even assuming it's not a Kaylee-like escapade, it's not like this little essay won an award or anything. It appears that Ms. Left-Wing Parent was simply ecstatic to see that her daughter is completely and blindly swallowing every bit of political indoctrination that she feeds her, instead of doing any of that independent critical thinking stuff that is so often praised on MeFi as long as the thinking results is the rejection of conservative concepts. The mother saw the essay her kid wrote and sent it into a left-wing web site, which published it as if with the rationalization that it's some sort of "win for our side." Big deal.

And yes, the whole thing - the true source of the essay itself, the reasons behind the mother's desire to have it published when it was obviously treated as just another day's homework by the schoolteacher, and the website's strange desire to run it as if the girl were some sort of prodigy, brilliant beyond her years merely because she's learned to parrot the proper party line - would have been just as questionable if it had been an anti-gun control or anti-abortion rant instead.
posted by aaron at 9:26 PM on April 3, 2002


None of which is to say that the original assignment wasn't pathetically stupid. "What the American Flag Means To Me?" That's a pretty damn lame essay topic for 6th grade. Maybe the girl doesn't really buy into any of it and just wanted to stir some shit in class. That I could definitely respect.
posted by aaron at 9:30 PM on April 3, 2002


And who knows what she's been seeing the past week or so. If she happened to end up in some slummy part of town with drunks and homeless and prostitutes and pushers in the alleyways and on the street corners, it could very well have rocked her world. A few discussions with her parents about "why" and "but" and "that's not fair!", and she could very well have been in just the right mood to be cheezed off about a silly-ass patriotism essay when there are real issues at hand.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:02 PM on April 3, 2002


I just saw these superb USPS stamps over on Boing Boing and was reminded of this thread. An American flag all of its own. As a foreigner, a lot of symbols had me stumped. I wish I could find the license plate equivalent. Can anybody help?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:44 AM on April 4, 2002


I'm not sure what you're talking about, Miguel. Those stamps are takeoffs on a specific style of postcard long bought and mailed by tourists all over America. I don't know of any state that issues license plates that look anything like them. (Where would they put the plate number?)
posted by aaron at 5:02 AM on April 4, 2002


It appears that Ms. Left-Wing Parent was simply ecstatic to see that her daughter is completely and blindly swallowing every bit of political indoctrination that she feeds her, instead of doing any of that independent critical thinking stuff that is so often praised on MeFi as long as the thinking results is the rejection of conservative concepts.

Well, you would say that, wouldn't you, given that you're such a shining example of independent thinking, especially when Dubya pisses all over his own conservative credentials? Not that it's even a problem if her mother reads her bedtime stories from The Nation: I'd rather a kid was force-fed such dangerous concepts as social responsibility than have to see the poor kids imbued with hate, given banners and marched around town by their twisted parents. Gimme some of that sweet, old time bigot indoctrination, wouldya?

Oh, and I was writing essays on nuclear disarmament when I was 10. Which is probably why I ended up a left-wing hack.
posted by riviera at 5:22 AM on April 4, 2002


i've been away for a while. i'd forgotten that this works by immediately arguing about anything and insulting each other at every opportunity. thanks for the reminder.

incidently: find it interesting that it never occured to her that the freedom to write an essay critical of her country in a classroom is also one of the things that flag stands for

it sounds to me like she's talking about how we treat each other, not about rights or freedoms.
posted by tolkhan at 6:52 AM on April 4, 2002


Riviera, you're edging dangerously close to alleging that conservatives in general, and/or I personally, support Fred Phelps. That's rather pathetic and disgusting of you, as well as a total logical fallacy. Are all liberals represented by those who enjoy attacking McDonald's resturants?
posted by aaron at 7:11 AM on April 4, 2002


Regardless of who wrote it, I have a few comments on the essay itself:

1. "School children have to pledge loyalty to this piece of cloth every morning." Students--at least in public schools--cannot be forced to say the pledge of allegiance. See West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

2. "No one has to promise that people will get a fair wage, or enough food to eat, or affordable medicine, or clean water, or air free of harmful chemicals.... But Thomas Jefferson would be disappointed to see how little of the flag's real meaning remains" I'd be interested to see where in Thomas Jefferson's writings the author gets the idea that providing a fair wage, food, medicine, or clean water or air is the responsibility of the government.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:41 AM on April 4, 2002


Sorry to interrupt. Thanks for the explanation, Aaron. What I wanted to know about were the license plates which have a little sentence for each state - "The Garden State", etc. I always found these self-descriptions fascinating.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:02 AM on April 4, 2002


Googling license plate mottos brings up a few references you can chase. This one is a kid's game, but it does have images of all 50 plus Canada.
posted by nikzhowz at 8:30 AM on April 4, 2002


I could care less who was actually the brains (or lack thereof) behind this little essay. I liked it. I happen to help the homeless in DC regularly and the first paragraph kinda hits home for me the more I think about it.
posted by prototype_octavius at 8:50 AM on April 4, 2002


(Aside: I was somewhat shocked that a site entitled God Hates Fags wasn't some kind of parody.)
posted by guy_parsons at 12:25 PM on April 4, 2002


If it is true, it's nice that some kids see through the phenomenon of "bumper sticker patriotism". That gives me hope for the future.
posted by mark13 at 5:34 PM on April 4, 2002


i think that having an over-simple understanding of politics, economics, law and history is a totally standard characteristic of being a truly intelligent 12 year old.

not that i am a genius by any standard, but i certainly had a much stronger belief-system established when i was just starting to think about social and political issues than i have now -- mostly i think because i was still not totally alienated from a world view which recognized ideas as simple as 'good' and 'bad' and even 'evil' (in a secular way).

and i definitely had developed my own sense of discomfort over the whole pledge of allegience thing. no i did not understand the complexities of the issue, but i did have an instinctive feeling that there was something creepy about it being compulsary, especially while i was learning rudamentary ideas about free speech and seperation of church and state in my social studies class.

looking back at stuff i wrote around that age, i think it's clear that i had already had whatever essential exposure that made me into a bleeding heart pinko socialist -- and it was just my style to try to find a way to make EVERY assignment into an excuse to show off my newly cultivated platform. precoscious kids who have been told they are precoscious are often very eager to show everyone just how smart they are all the time.

thesis: i think it's totally possible that a 12 year old wrote this. having a prematurely developed sense of language and written structure is almost as common among adolescents as having a simple worldview and a lack of experience. how else do you explain all the bad poetry?
posted by milkman at 9:50 PM on April 4, 2002


of course they also told me that poor spelling was a sign of PRECOCIOUS creative language skills.
posted by milkman at 9:55 PM on April 4, 2002


Thanks, nikzhowz! Kids means foreigners means just what I was looking for. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:42 PM on April 4, 2002


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