Should children be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance?

On May 20, 2021, the state of Iowa passed a law "that requires all Iowa schools to lead the Pledge of Allegiance once a day in grades 1–12."  Governor Nordman said:

We don't pledge our allegiance to a government or a leader. We pledge our loyalty to an idea — the American idea. We pledge our loyalty to the greatest social experiment to ever happen on this planet. This is why I believe the Pledge of Allegiance is so important.

However, the law also states: "A student shall not be compelled against the student's objection or those of a student's parent or guardian to recite the pledge."  Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in schools has been a topic of controversy for a long time, and it recently became contentious at a public meeting in Silverton, Colorado when the mayor banned the Pledge.

Should the Pledge be recited?  And should children be taught the Pledge of Allegiance?  Here is what I wrote to a group of teachers who were discussing whether or not a child should learn the Pledge of Allegiance:

There are a lot of lies being told about the United States and its history right now.  The goal is to get people to hate our country, divide us, and make our country and Western civilization fall.  (I have literally heard people say this.)  Our country was the first country on Earth that was created that recognized individual rights — that each individual had a right to pursue his/her own happiness as long as the rights of others were respected.  Before the creation of this country, people had to live their lives for a king or some other authority.  Slavery was common at that time in history, and while it took time for change to happen (as it always does), it was the idea in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal that led to the Civil War and ended slavery in this country.

I understand that some people think that teaching children the Pledge is a form of indoctrination.  Indoctrination is repeating an idea or belief to someone until they believe it.  As this idea or belief is repeated, no proof is given for it, and no questions or discussions are allowed.  The Pledge is not indoctrination if children are taught the accurate history of our country and understand the meaning of the pledge to our flag.  The United States flag is a symbol for freedom, and freedom is essential to life.  It stands for individual rights, and individual rights are essential in order to pursue happiness.  When I pledge to the flag, in my mind I know that I am pledging to the original ideals put forth by the founding fathers: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Therefore, it is logical to say that you're teaching children about the fidelity that the Pledge represents — the fidelity of the concept of individual rights.

By reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Americans promise to be true to these ideals, not to take freedom for granted, and to remember the countless men, women, and children who have given their lives through the centuries so Americans can live peacefully today.  When children recite the Pledge, they are given the opportunity to think about their roles as citizens, the founding principles of their country, and may be incentivized to think more about the meaning and significance of the Pledge.  The Pledge can stir up curiosity regarding their country and the desire to learn more about early American history.

Only when a person understands the significance and profound meaning of freedom that America has provided can one feel a stab of pride and patriotism.  However, patriotism cannot be forced upon anyone.  Therefore, the recitation should not be compulsory, which means no punitive action should be taken against children who do not recite the Pledge.  When I was teaching, my children recited the Pledge once a week, and its meaning was explained to them.  Anyone who didn't believe in God could leave that phrase out.  I had a Jehovah's Witness child who did not participate, but would sit and watch. 

The Pledge is a part of our history, and teachers should consider teaching it.  Once a child grows up, he is still not required to recite the Pledge, so it does no harm to learn it and to learn about our country, as no child should be denied knowledge of his own country.

Charlotte Cushman is a Montessori educator and authored Montessori: Why It Matters for Your Child's Success and HappinessEffective Discipline the Montessori Way, and Your Life Belongs to You.  She has been involved in the study of Ayn Rand's philosophy since 1970.

Photo credit: Travis AFB, CC-BY-NC 2.0 license.

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