I Pledge A Fallegiance!

1 Aug

I Pledge A Fallegiance?

 It was the first day of Freshman English I, in fact it was the first day of school, and two students were working on a writing assignment that I had assigned about how they had spent their summer vacation, when one of the students nudged the other and said, “Hey, what month is this?”

The second student thought for a minute and said, “September.”

“So, said the first student, June was last month?”

The second student looked thoughtful again, “No, I think it was August.”

“Then June came before that, right?” said the first student hopefully.

“No, that was July”, said the friend.

Then the first student looked worried before exploding loud enough for the entire class to hear! “What happened to June?!”

One of the things that can make being a teacher so challenging is that no matter how old they are or what level they may be in, you can never assume what students may and may not know.

I Pledge!

             In schools across American, the day almost always begins with the students standing, placing their hand over their hearts, facing the American flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I estimate that in my lifetime I have recited the pledge over 9,000 times and the average student who graduates from public school after 12 years recites the pledge well over 2,000 times. You would think that after that much repetition anyone would have the words to a pledge or poem or whatever, completely memorized by heart. But sometimes extreme repetition can breed extreme boredom, and rote behavior can lead to the mindless droning of words and phrases that no longer have the meaning or instructive value that was once intended in the first place. (Think about all of the famous singers who have screwed up our National Anthem in front of thousands of people!)

Now, I am sure that first grade teachers explain the meaning of the pledge to their students and 2nd grade teachers most probably reinforce that teaching by reminding their students of the pledge’s significance and on and on through grammar school until eventually someone decides that the students don’t need reminding any more. After all it’s been years of reciting on a daily basis. How can a student forget the meaning, significance and the simple words to such a small pledge?

The mind however is a curious and complicated organ whose inner working still remains a mystery to much of science and mankind. When external stimuli and input become overly repetitious our brains have a habit of turning them off or condensing them into a more easily manageable memory byte that may or may not be an exact copy of the original input. This is why simple rote learning, repeating something over and over again so that we can commit it to permanent memory, often does not work. Educators have found that discussing meanings and examining processes with students lead to much better understandings of subject matter rather than just having students memorize long lists of facts.

As an illustration of what I mean, let me submit this lesson that I learned from my high school students about the most rote and repeated lesson in the history of the public schools: The Pledge of Allegiance.

After only a few years of teaching I began to notice that more often than not during the pledge each day, an indistinct hum or mumble would fill the classroom rather than distinct and clear cut words and phrases so I decided to listen very closely to what many of my students were actually saying and this, much to my surprise is what I was hearing from many of the students. What follows is the Pledge of Allegiance as I often heard it recited and my own investigation into what these “pledged out” students were thinking…and thought they had learned!

The “I must have said this 2,000 times already” Pledge

I pledge a faleegance…

To the flag

Of the United States of America

N to the republic

Of which it stands

1 nation

under God

in-da-visi-mabull

with liberty

N justice

frall!

I pledge a faleegance. The proper opening phrase is “I Pledge allegiance” and the pledge itself is called The Pledge of Allegiance, because our allegiance is what is being pledged, but the students had said it so many times and had become so bored in their recital over the years that they were now saying the title of the pledge instead of actually pledging so “I pledge of allegiance” became the opening line. Then over the years as they began to slur those words together more quickly the word “of”, attached itself to allegiance and morphed into the sound “uhf”, so what they were now saying was “I pledge afallegiance.  When I asked my students to analyze what they were saying and what they meant by it, most couldn’t recall the original wording. It had after all been years since the pledge had been explained to them and they were now also hearing themselves say I pledge afallegiance too and all they could come up with was, “I don’t know what a faleegace is but if you want me to pledge one every day it must be pretty important and since I’m not using mine anyway, it’s all yours if you want it.”

But why are you pledging these fallegiances …To the flag,  I asked?  They were then perplexed because well, they didn’t  know what a flag needed with all of those faleegances or why a flag needed anything since it was, well, you know, a thing! They were however certain that it must be a pretty important flag for them to have to pledge it one every day.

So why pledge fallegiances to the flag, Of the United States of America, I asked? “That’s where we live!” answered my students and many added “where everyone else wishes they lived!” and finally many offered this also: “It’s the best damn country in America!”

N to the republic? I queried? What does that mean? Many students who could not remember the exact words any more forgot that N was a mental shortening of the word “and” and so after thinking for a while they concluded that this was a statement of fact within the pledge reminding them that by adding N to republic we can get a Republican!

This sounded reasonable to them. They all knew what a republican was but a republic? That was a word that they no longer heard anywhere outside of history class if anywhere at all and since we are always being told by politicians and the media that we live in a democracy few of us even remember that we actually do live in a republic which is quite a different thing.

Of which it stands? The proper wording in the pledge is “for which it stands” meaning that the flag is a symbol that stands for the republic of the United States but by this time the students were completely confused by the words that I had shown them they had been reciting so they concluded: “We have to stand in order to say the pledge so this is what we or I just said while standing here.

1 nation? This was very easy: this pledge just goes for 1 nation, the United States of America and nobody else. Just us…get it? It’s our pledge dammit!

In-da-visi-mabull? This was a real brain stumper and my students were sure that it was an important vocabulary word but one whose meaning had long been lost to them after thousands of recitings. The actual word is “indivisible” meaning “cannot be divided” but this was not a word that any student heard or used in real life with any regularity. And I doubt if many people today use the word outside of the pledge. Over the years the student’s brains morphed this seldom heard word into a sound byte of syllables beginning with the remembered syllable IN and ending with the remembered syllable BULL. So when confronted with what they had been saying their responses were mostly: “I have no idea what this means or how to say it but it’s an important word (because it’s a big word) that starts with In and ends with bull.

With liberty, All of the students knew that liberty was very important to Americans and so this pledge had something to do with making sure that we always had our liberty but one very thoughtful and imaginative student offered this explanation: “It has something to do with a bell but I heard it’s cracked, maybe by the bull?”

N justice,  “the best kind, I guess.” Said many students, again having forgotten that N is brain short for “and” (who has time to pronounce all of those A and D sounds anyway?)

     Frall!  That last word, or rather I should say the last two words, “for all”, were always pronounced like this and always with a quickness and emphatic punctuation by the students so they could finally sit down and get on with the day. It’s like the ending to the Star Spangled Banner at a ball game when everyone starts cheering before the final words, “and the home of the brave”, are sung so the game can begin. In fact when I asked my students why they said “frall” and what that word meant they most often responded with, “You know Mr. P, Frall! kinda like playball! Now let’s sit down and start this mothafucka!” …please excuse my French but I kid you not!

Now…DID YOU KNOW…

Ironically, the Pledge began as part of an effort to sell flags to public schools. That’s why we pledge our allegiance to the flag of America instead of directly to America itself. (The flag’s a middleman!) That’s also probably why schools have more flags in them than any other buildings I can think of. Can you think of any buildings that have more?)

The pledge has been modified on four different occasions since its first appearance in a magazine in 1892 (it had 22 words then and has 31 now) and 118 years after it was written kids are still saying it every day. It’s a nice thing to do and I’m not trying to call for the end of a long standing American tradition but I’m not sure if anyone knows exactly how many pledges are necessary before one’s allegiance can be assured and relied upon or before we can get a card to hold up at the airport to prove our patriotism rather than getting body searched. I’m sure the answer is that there is no number. That would be silly and my question was a moot one but here’s the thing. The Children are trying and they pledge their allegiance to America every school day of their young, adolescent and teenage lives but repetition does not always translate into learning or knowledge or meaning. Learning needs to be reinforced on an everyday basis with actions and deeds and explanations if it is to ever gain permanence in our brain’s gray matter. So perhaps we could all at least show our support for these young American patriots by voting yes on the school budget every chance that we get? I mean really, every classroom we have in America is almost always guaranteed to also have a flag …but are our classrooms guaranteed to have books, paper, pencils, lights, ventilation, safety?

If you don’t like children you at least like America, right? So vote yes and let’s give the kids a reason to believe that the words they say every day are important and do have meaning and should not be forgotten. So repeat after me…I pledge allegiance to our flag and our republic and our American children, our now and future patriots, who we may someday send off to war in order to defend our freedoms…again…and I promise to vote yes whenever they need whatever they need because they cannot get liberty and justice without better and safer schools…so help me god!

One Response to “I Pledge A Fallegiance!”

  1. Kimberly January 3, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Well stated and kudos for the class discussion. The proof is in the proverbial pudding about the ineffectiveness of rote learning. Liberty is not always taken for granted. I have heard it phrased this way: “With liver and tea, and justice for all.” What liver or tea has to do with pledging a faleegance is beyond me, and didn’t we throw the tea into the harbor? Not being much of a liver fan, I’d say, “bring on the onions and keep them coming!”

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