In school we stood up each morning and said the Pledge of Allegiance. It was a long time before I knew what the words meant, or why we said them. I don’t recall anyone in my Kindergarten class ever explaining it. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention that day.
There are at least six words that I think I would have had trouble understanding:
- Pledge. This one isn’t too bad. I knew what a promise was. A pledge is different than a promise. A pledge requires some kind of bailment beyond just your word. Allegiance, for instance.
- Allegiance. I don’t think I would have understood this as youngster. The closest I came was my allegiance to the New York Yankees.
- Republic. When I was a kid, everyone talked about America being a democracy. But our form of government is actually a Republic. As a five or six year old, I don’t think I would have understood the difference.
- Indivisible. This a big word for a youngster. Five syllables. It means something that can’t be broken. As a child, you have to break down the word just to say it. It was years before I stopped saying, “…one nation, under God, invisible, with liberty and justice…”
- Liberty. I might have understood liberty to mean “freedom” if someone explained it to me.
- Justice. It sounds like anyone should understand it, but even the dictionary has trouble defining it. My dictionary says, “The maintenance or administration of what is just esp. by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” You need a lawyer just to parse the definition.
As I don’t remember anyone ever explaining why we say the Pledge of Allegiance, or what it means, I spent several years reciting it because that’s what we did at the beginning of the day. Once memorized, my mind wandered onto other things. To this day, when we stand to say the Pledge at my kids’ school events, I recite it mechanically and think about my to-do list for the weekend, or mull over the idea for a blog post, or a dozen other different random thoughts.
I don’t know if this makes me a bad citizen, but it seems silly to me to make kids recite a Pledge for which they can have no possible comprehension. On the other hand, maybe kids are much smarter than I was at their age. I have no particular objection to the Pledge, it just leaves me cold. Poetry it is not.
If it were up to me, I’d replace the Pledge of Allegiance with the National Anthem. My mind wanders when it plays, but in the case of the National Anthem, I always imagine the battle taking place, the smoke from the cannons blanketing the harbor, and then the explosion of a rocket lighting up the darkness to show the flag still standing.
And while I’m at it, I’d extend our morning singing to include all four verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Francis Scott Key wrote four versus about the battle at Fort McHenry. How come only the first one ever gets sung? Where’s the justice in that?