Toy Soldiers

Jose Vilson Education

franklinquote.jpgEvery morning, I’m usually in the class, setting my board up for my homeroom class, who also happens to be my first period class on Thursdays and Fridays, so it’s almost like having an extended homeroom. The whole school routinely says the US’ Pledge of Allegiance, and the responsibility to recite it over the loudspeaker lands on a lady I’ll call Lady Pledge for purposes of anonymity. She usually starts the pledge at exactly 0805 hrs., so within 5 minutes of the kids making it up the stairs, we start it.

On this particular morning (November 16th, on a Friday no less), she decided to say the allegiance lackadaisically. After her rendition of the pledge that day, I didn’t feel the need to admonish the class for not pledging. To the contrary, I actually just waited it out and gave my announcements like nothing happened. (Secretly, I don’t recite it outside of school in protest of the Iraq War, but that’s besides the point.)

When I decided not to pledge and show the kids we had no reason to pledge that day, it made me wonder in general if we’re training our kids to become drones and servants to a country that’s time and again proven it cares less about urban city children than it does anyone else. It’s general school policy to pledge every morning, and I usually adhere to said policy. After the unenthusiastic rendition, though, it only led me to anarchist thoughts.

Let’s take the pledge of allegiance, for example. It exalts the US as “one nation under God” and promises to stand for “liberty and justice for all.” Now, when I learned social studies, at the very least, I learned how to dissect statements like those, and I had a good understanding of the founders’ point of view. I also had a historical context so I could formulate my opinions. Even if I couldn’t describe my own experience in this country, I at least understood where that came from.

Nowadays, not even that part of American history gets explained clearly enough. Unfortunately, current urban education relegates social studies to the corner with a dunce cap. The school boards don’t care enough about social studies to make our students better informed citizens to this country. I’m not blaming this on history / social studies teachers (some of whom I wish taught me) as I blame the system we’re under. There’s more emphasis on getting kids to pass the ELA and Math tests, and not even well enough so they can read classic literature, dissect opinionated text, understand theorems or write proofs, but just enough to read a menu or punch in a receipt. We’re not even teaching enough to let the children come to their own, fact-based conclusions about the world they live in.

But someone might will argue:

“Mr. V, don’t you have oppressive laws in your class like no chewing gum, no standing up from your seats, no talking, or no talking out of turn? Isn’t that against everything you just said?”

Not unless you forget to explain your reasoning for the rules. The reason why we don’t let kids out of their seats is because it usually means they want to distract someone else like their friends. The reason why they can’t chew gum is because they often leave it in the textbooks or in the desks. That’s not oppression; that’s teaching discipline. But if we don’t make it clear to the kids that we’re showing them discipline, most of them will relegate us to “just another person that really wants nothing to do with us” status. Plus, discipline is the backbone of any movement.

And the suppressive mentality remains rampant amongst too many of us educators. We’re good for extolling the virtues of free thinking, success, and uplifting our children’s intelligence (or so the test scores say). People constantly laud teachers for their valiant efforts, and justifiably so. Yet, we often don’t think of the social ramifications of the messages we send to our children. We also don’t help impart that idealism we entered in with onto our children, and we imply this through our actions and curriculum. Some of us ask them to conform to a certain ideal of success but stripping them of their individual needs, wants, and cultures without even knowing it.

I’m not sure, but I find it somewhat hypocritical of one of the most progressive collectives in the world (teachers) would allow for this kind of indoctrination to happen. Yet, I also see a group of us that can definitely make true change happen. I’m not so much interested in whether my students become conservative or liberal (or insurrectionists for that matter), but they should have choices based on their past experience as well as learning how the systems work.

Then again, I guess liberty and justice aren’t really for all, right? Right.

jose, who wonders whether lady pledge really thinks about the founding forefathers when she recites it …

You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world …