Each school day during my 5th-period class, I stand with my students, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
This simple moment of national patriotism is a requirement in Nebraska, a rule passed by the Nebraska Board of Education in 2012 stating that all public schools must provide time each day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in order to receive accreditation or state funding. Already common practice in elementary schools and many districts, it was new for most high school students.
When the rule passed ten years ago, I remember teachers taking inventory of classrooms that needed flags—many were old and torn, more had been discarded over the years, and with tight budgets, new ones hadn’t been purchased. The first several weeks, hand over heart, we stood facing an 8½ x 11 colored photocopy of the flag until generous alumni donated enough American flags for every classroom.
This school year, likely in response to a Tik-Tok challenge to steal things from schools, my American flag went missing. As my students stood to recite the pledge one morning, we shared shocked expressions, realizing there was NO flag where there had been the day before. We continued reciting the pledge and then a creative student quickly drew an image of the flag to post where the flag should have been. The kind gesture soothed my anger at having the flag stolen (along with every electric pencil sharpener in the room.) It still hangs beside a replacement flag.
Reciting the pledge is voluntary for students and teachers. We can recite the pledge either standing or sitting or remain quiet showing respect for those who do participate. It can vary from class to class, but over the years, fewer students are standing. Five years ago, I wondered why a student would not stand. Today, I am more sympathetic to different political views and opinions, and that the flag represents an America that holds unique meaning for each of us, often times not a favorable one. (I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag…despite my disappointment, a blog post I wrote in 2017.)
Despite my mixed feelings about what the flag and America have come to represent for me, and especially for those who are marginalized, I try to slow down and consider the words I’m saying. I hope and pray that my country will live up to the words that we profess.
The Pledge of Allegiance of My Heart:
I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE, promising to speak my truth while remaining committed, TO THE FLAG as a symbol OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. I pray, even when we seem so divided, that we are united in, and take seriously, our responsibility to all people within and beyond our borders, especially those who flee their own country seeking a place of peace and promise. I hope we are not so proud of our country that we forget about others, and that our desire for unity does not become exclusion.
AND TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS, a country that is a worthy and wonderful place to live, grow and be, representing a land of opportunity and a chance to always begin again.
ONE NATION that represents a diversity of opinions, beliefs, ethnicities, lifestyles, socioeconomic and educational groups, yet a nation that comes together and is unified in times of tragedy and trial;
UNDER GOD, through our faith, hope, and prayer, in the spirit of our founding fathers and mothers, guided by a morality that resides within;
INDIVISIBLE, without division, united with wholeheartedness of spirit;
WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE, in gratitude for our freedom, with a duty to be fair and honest, and respectful of all we encounter.
FOR ALL. In God’s eyes, there are no borders—we breathe the same air as the refugee, immigrant, gay, straight or transgendered, Muslim, Hindu or Christian, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic. We breathe the same air as those we disagree with and those we live with. We are one world. Oceans cannot be divided, this part belonging to Europe and that part belonging to America. The air cannot be split—Mexico breathing this air and America breathing that. We are connected to all people, all countries. All means all.
This I pledge. This I stand up for. This I place hand over heart for and recite every day of the school year. This I pray.
Our words matter, so how can we live what we profess and believe, as individuals and as a country? Each of us must reflect on what it is that we place hand over heart and stand up for and we must ACT, and VOTE, to make it a reality for ALL.