If You Make Students Say the Pledge… It’s Not Really a Pledge

By Parks, Deborah, Photographer (NARA record: 8467939) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Parks, Deborah, Photographer (NARA record: 8467939) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andrew Pillow

As this post hits the web, millions of children around the country will be standing up and turning towards a flag to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. A few thousand will choose not to. Which has always been the case.

However recently abstaining from the pledge has become a subject of controversy. Maybe that is due to controversy surrounding players not standing for the anthem in the NFL, or the general politicization of everything these days. Whatever the reason, the saying of the pledge in school has become a topic of discussion again.

The discussion centers around the question: Can schools require students to say the pledge of allegiance?

Well let me answer that question for you very quickly. The answer is no. The supreme court has long since affirmed that “the First Amendment prohibits public schools from forcing students to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.”  This supreme court holding doesn’t stop some schools from attempting to force students to say the pledge. It also doesn’t stop people from feeling very strongly that they should.

But the real question is a philosophical one: Does saying the pledge still achieve the desired effect if it’s compulsory? A pledge is defined as “a solemn promise or undertaking.” Breaking it down even further, the key word in that sentence is “solemn” which means “characterized by deep sincerity.”

The implications of this are simple: If you require students to say the pledge of allegiance, then it technically no longer becomes a pledge.

This is the conundrum patriots and traditionalists must wrestle with themselves. Is it better to have a bunch of students mindlessly reciting words from muscle memory after the morning announcements? Or have the students who really feel an oath of loyalty, recite those words from their heart?

Either way the two main take-aways here are:

  1. You can’t legally make students say the pledge.
  2. If you make them say the pledge it defeats the purpose and undermines the very idea of a pledge in the first place.

The sheer number of students that have the option of pledging allegiance to the flag makes this a fundamentally different issue than the anthem protests in the NFL. You may be able to get all 1,696 NFL players to stand for the anthem but, you will never get all 50 million plus public-school students to stand and recite the pledge.

Given that fact, our time is probably better spent worrying about what happens when school actually starts as opposed to the 45 seconds before the morning announcements.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.