Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pledging Allegiance

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pledging Allegiance

Article excerpt

Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance may be the core civic ritual in the United States and the most common--core because it extracts a personal promise of some sort and most common because it is widely required in schools and concludes the naturalization ceremony for new citizens.

While many people have recited and memorized the pledge, few have interpreted it with others. I've come to this conclusion after leading nearly 50 interpretive discussions or seminars on the pledge. Some have been with high school students, some with elementary students, and many with their teachers and parents. Participants typically say they've not done this before; they have been putting their hands to their hearts and promising something they have not thought much about.

To clarify, a seminar is a discussion of a text for the purpose of plumbing its depths. Discussion accomplishes this better than working alone because one's own understanding is fertilized by the views of others. If the seminar proceeds in a diverse group with a skilled facilitator, so much the better: one's own interpretation is more likely to be challenged in interesting ways.

Leading seminars on the pledge, I'm struck by three arguments that often unfold. First, and most important to many participants, is the phrase "under God" and what it does to the text when it is present or (as before 1954) absent. The mix of nationalism and theism in the pledge can evoke a torrent of opinion.

Second, to what or whom are we pledging allegiance when we recite it? …

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