Tuesday, September 12, 2006

One Nation, Invisible 

In yesterday's entry, I suggested that my new crop of students have not yet felt national pain. But thinking about it afterwards, I realized that many of them don't even feel national anything.

I mean, every morning, first thing, we stand and turn, our hands over our hearts, and mumble our way through the pledge of allegiance. The principal says "please remain standing for a moment of silence," which lasts, like, seven seconds, since they are, after all middle school students. The kids fidget. I take a deep breath and try not to say "shhh".

And then they sit, and Mr. Hale goes on to read the mundane nuts and bolts of a morning's announcements, and the moment is shattered without ever really coming together in the first place.

So this morning, I wrote the pledge on the board before they came in.

And then, for the fifteen minutes we have between announcements and the rest of their school day, we parsed it.

And talked about symbols, and nations, and what it really means to pledge your allegiance to both.

And talked about a republic, and what it is, and how it cannot work without each of us taking the mantle of it upon ourselves.

And talked about how indivisible is in some ways the opposite of invisible -- that it requires a pledge, and a daily reminder.

And talked about liberty, and justice, and the values we commit ourselves to defending each day.

And mentioned silence, and how we might need that moment, some days, to square ourselves with the daily reality of socialpush and gradegrub.

And for once they were quiet, and asked questions, and wished they could stay longer at the bell.

Not bad for fifteen minutes.

Sure, maybe we'll learn to live with the way we are unified and then dropped again so quickly every day, the way the disembodied speaker voice moves us from the sacred to the profane in ten seconds flat. Maybe they'll forget, and fidget, more often than not. And maybe that's okay, for a bunch of twelve year olds.

But maybe, just maybe, tomorrow and this week and every once in a while from now on, they'll move through the day from there with a little more purpose.

And maybe, just maybe, they'll feel connected to the world of school and social structure just one tiny bit more deeply when they walk out of my classroom door, on their way to math or social studies. And, heck, maybe it'll even make them better humans, and more civic-minded.

It's nothing political, our nation's pledge. It doesn't say you have to stand by your president, or his policies. It doesn't say you have to vote one way or another, or that you can't protest.

But it is a serious thing, I think -- a real commitment, to take on the responsibility of citizenship in whatever way you see fit. And further, it is a great and awesome thing, to commit to seeing everyone else who stands under that banner and takes that pledge as inseparable from you, regardless of how they might feel about the government, or the people, or the land...and regardless of whether you agree with them.

It is what makes us us -- one classroom, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And I love that, and so, though surely it is insane to confess it, I love the whole crazy idea of pledging to it every day.

(And if teaching isn't about love, then what the hell am I doing in a stuffy classroom all day, anyway?)

posted by boyhowdy | 9:06 PM |

Indivisible has always meant something Lincolnesque to me--a nation that cannot be divided but nearly was and currently is in some serious ways. I don't understand the relationship to invisible you're suggesting. Not being seen and not being divided seem different.
one thing i always find fascinating about the american Pledge of Allegiance (and so much of what is now presented as "True American") is that it conflicts with the Founding Fathers' intent and goal of creating a nation beholden to and recognising formally no god.

sad to see such a fine hope trashed by others' inertia.
I agree with the Anonymous 'commenter' about the meaning of invisible.

What it would be like to once again learn in your classroom...

Cheers- Dylan
Sal: a common misperception. What the founding fathers said (Jefferson, specifically) was that they wanted to avoid promoting any one religion -- not the idea of God, which appears all over the early papers. Totally different, that.

As for the in/di/visible issue: I think I wasn't clear, but my intention was to say that I thought PLEDGING to something as "indivisible" requires thinking of the country as a huge thing, wide enough to contain the diversity which Mr Anonymous suggests is dividing us. Something so vast in scope and scale is anathema to something unseeable, in my mind, though it is often so big that we cannot easily grasp it.

As for the anonymous conceit that the nation is currently divided? I think on the scale we're talking about -- on the scale that says we all can vote, though we do so in parties often so distant as to seem irreconcilable, for example -- we are not divided at all. In other words, those are merely different symptoms, unique variations and groupings under the broad umbrella that protects that very debate. Not all countries offer such protection. Not all countries celebrate such difference as vital. Not all countries are republics. Our pledge reminds us that we share that republic-mindedness, and that it is what preserves exactly those other things - life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness; the internally tense freedoms enunciated in the bill of rights; the power to change, not just at the whim of the majority or the powerful, but within the boundaries set forth by those original premises. No matter which article you think trumps the others when they clash -- and they do clash, and are designed to -- one thing we all share is a call TO those articles, and to that larger source text and premises, when we enter the frey of hashing out incidence, both micro and macro.

And, of course, that the nation survived the civil war? Proof that we are indivisible. Discontent and debate, protest and even partisanship? Those are the very things we share, all of us.

The liberty and just treatment we afford such disparate viewers and viewpoints is exactly the point; our broad spectrum of belief (even in how we each define "god") keeps us keep us healthy, and the pledge reminds us that this IS healthy -- though the "love it or leave it" crowd is a bit thick on this point.
First, the Pledge has been an instrument of politics since the 1950's, when "under god" was added to the pledge in a fit of McCarthyist paranoia.

Second every public office holder in the Federal government, as well as military officers, judges, and others swear to protect and defend The Constitution, not a piece of cloth. Is this somehow too much to ask of the citizenry?
>Sal: a common misperception. What the founding fathers said (Jefferson, specifically) was that they wanted to avoid promoting any one religion -- not the idea of God, which appears all over the early papers. Totally different, that.

ah! thanks for that.
i'll try to dig into it in a bit more depth, then. i'd been taking secondary sources' statements rather than primary ("the"). always dodgy, that; but i'd thought with something so well inspected they'd be fairly likely to be accurate.
oh well.
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