My wife and I just returned from a parent-teacher conference at the middle school. My son occasionally (read – pretty much always) has motivational issues. He’d rather be skateboarding than doing homework. Duh. So would I. He’s actually been doing much better lately though, and for that, I’m very relieved and proud of him.
During the course of the conversation with his four teachers (they work as a team, one unit – great idea, by the way), his homeroom teacher (who is also his science teacher) mentioned that James has been declining to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I was startled, actually. I had no idea.
I asked the reason, and Mrs. R. told me that he’s protesting the “under god” phrase in the Pledge. Wow. Really?
(More after the jump, please keep reading.)
The teachers handled it fairly well, there was no hysteria or condemnation. Two of the teachers expressed what might be termed “mild disapproval” and one of those suggested he stand silently out of respect for those who have Marine family members in combat. The other two remained quiet during this part of the discussion. Read into that what you will.
I’m a little conflicted here. Not about the Pledge, I think coercing students to mindlessly recite an oath of allegiance, besides being counter to the very values of freedom to begin with, is just a dumb waste of students’ time. It’s a meaningless exercise for them, as I doubt that they give the meaning behind the pledge a moment’s thought unless it’s on an upcoming History exam. I’m also not conflicted about the “under god” part. It’s clearly a First Amendment violation, and should never have been inserted in the first place (in 1954, by the way), especially if it’s going to be compulsory in a public school.
No, what I’m conflicted about is James. On the one hand, I fully support his right to make such a statement and such a protest. He is not disruptive or anything, he just sits there. It’s peaceful civil disobedience to the fullest extent a thirteen year old middle school boy can engage in such things. I’m proud of him, fully apart from my own feelings on the pledge. I’m proud of his courage and his choice of method.
On the other hand, there is the issue of motivation. While James often displays his enlightenment to the silly notion of invisible zombies in the sky, he has never shown a propensity toward any sort of activism in this regard. Of course, at thirteen, he’s not had a great deal of opportunity to show such a propensity. Laughing at psychotic fundies on television is one thing, but remaining seated during the pledge in a military town that oozes with rabid nationalism is another entirely. Again, he’s thirteen. I would be remiss if I did not consider the possibility that this is a peacock’s display. He and I have discussed the pledge and my thoughts about it, but it’s been at least a year since then. What brought this about at this particular point in time? I guess I won’t know until we discuss it after school today.
There is also the question of his physical safety. Five minutes at the local discussion boards, or a quick glance through the archives of the “Letters to the Editor” section of the local paper is enough to know that there are more than a few brain-dead wingnuts who call themselves “patriots” around, wrapping themselves in the flag as they set fire to the ideals of this Republic. While I don’t think anyone would stoop so low as to assault a thirteen year old boy, I will certainly be keeping especially close tabs on him.
This afternoon will most assuredly be a teaching moment. Exactly what the lesson shall be remains to be seen.
UPDATE: After a long conversation with James, it turns out that while he had been speaking to several of the students about the “under god” portion of the pledge immediately prior to the beginning of their protest (several other students have joined him), that’s not the impetus of the sit-in, at least on his own part.
James is actually protesting the actions and policies of the American government, mainly our invasion of Iraq and the actions of the president which led us there.
I support both my son and his public expression of dissatisfaction. That said, we discussed the pledge at length, and though I made it perfectly clear that I will fully support his continuance if he chooses to do that, we are exploring more productive methods of expressing his discontent. In other words, he’s sending message A (which in itself is a worthwhile message to send) when he wants to be sending message B (a completely separate, though equally valid message).
I’m still immensely proud of him, though he may arguably have missed the mark just a little.
The floor is open for suggestions.