Commentary

The Pledge: Liberty and justice for a few

A pledge of allegiance requirement for Minnesota's schools readily passed for a third consecutive year in a House committee on Feb. 13, but, later the same day, hit a roadblock when the Senate Education Committee rejected a DFL… A pledge of allegiance requirement for Minnesota's schools readily passed for a third consecutive year in a House committee on Feb. 13, but, later the same day, hit a roadblock when the Senate Education Committee rejected a DFL version of the bill by a 5 to 4 vote, then promptly tabled action on the Republican initiative.

That's the good news as regards minority communities. It is, after all, an insufferably arrogant act for little children to be made to stand up in class, put their hands over the hearts and pledge unwavering loyalty to the symbol of society that has pledged no such loyalty to them. The bad news is Committee chairman, Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins) contends that the issue still is very much alive. "We obviously are going to be revisiting this at some point," he said. Regrettably, at no time during the past three years have the prospects appeared better for a pledge requirement to become law. Supporters of legislation requiring at least weekly recitation of the pledge in the state's public and charter schools now have, in Tim Pawlenty, a governor who, before he took office, was right there in their corner. As House majority leader, Pawlenty was among members voting 116 to 11 in 2002 for a pledge bill later vetoed by Gov. Jesse Ventura — with no opportunity for a legislative override. So, this tool of propaganda may yet prevail.

That would be an unconscionable injustice. Consider the reality of, for instance, African American students. The very schools in which they would be mandated to say the pledge have long made a concerted practice of hiding from these children all evidence of their own forbears' contributions to the history of America. Only in the past decades have public schools made any effort to go beyond slavery and George Washington Carver's ingenuity with the peanut plant, broaden the scope to include prominent figures (i.e. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King) whom it would be too obvious a misgiving to overlook. There still is a less than thorough attempt to provide an appreciably accurate education. Point in case: how many school children are informed that the shoes they wear are the result of a Black man who patented the process of manufacturing leather soles; how many are taught that the woman who designed the Roosevelt dime, that they may have in their pockets, was Black; that Benjamin Banneker, when construction of the nation's capitol faltered, supplied, from memory, the blueprint plans for what now is Washington, D.C.?
As long as American remains committed to keeping Black children as ignorant of their inherent standing among the very architects of this country, how dare lawmakers presume to further insult them with the order to mouth an oath purporting to be about "liberty and justice for all"? A paramount liberty being denied these young minds is the right to self-knowledge. Certainly, there is no justice in that. Until this sustained transgression is rectified, politicians should be ashamed to compound the wrong by forcing little kids to swallow, digest and internalize just so much hogwash as, "I pledge allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands."

If this attitude rubs you the wrong way, try a more stately perspective offered by noted scholar Mahmoud El-Kati. To the question of whether children — including those in the mainstream — should be compelled to start their day with the pledge, he responds. "No. That's a last grasp, archaic expression of nationalism. Owing your allegiance to a government is like owing allegiance to God. Nations are not run by angels. People who run nations have faults. They have a propensity for lying [due to] institutional reasons and so forth. This thing about trying to revive the pledge of allegiance won't fly [despite] some primitive, unthinking nationalists. The q

March 3, 2003
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