There is even more to this pledge of allegiance thing. I have some special experience with pledging that most Americans do not have.
I have never been to a public school, my first experience with school was in a Baptist Christian School, called Accelerated Christian Education, or ACE. It’s now known as School of Tomorrow.
Anyway, the designer of this curriculum, Dr. Howard, was nothing if not patriotic. His prescription for model ACE schools was uniforms. Of course, his recommendation was red white and blue uniforms. Girl wore skirts and boys wore ties. The ties were a lovely blue background, with a repeating pattern on them.
The emblem of this pattern was extremely symbolic. There was an open Bible, with the American flag and the Christian flag making an X over it. Then, an American Eagle stood above these crossed flags, in the middle.
Being a girl, I did not have to wear this tie.
BUT! Pledging to the American flag was a required part of our daily routine. But in this highly regimented, quasi-militaristic environment, one pledge was not enough.
Did you forget that Christian flag?
There was a pledge to IT, to. Here it is:
I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.
Pretty neat, huh? We got to say that one, too.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! There was another pledge, to the Bible. Here it is:
I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word, I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.
I don’t remember that my school ever said that one. But I was aware of it. The REALLY radical schools would say it. When we went to events that included all the Christian schools in the area, sometimes that pledge would come up. Even at the time, I thought it was silly. Perhaps because the bible is not a flag, and what were they trying to prove, anyway? Who among us DIDN”T think the Bible was important?
Well, the ACE curriculum fell from popular favor. That is, it fell in favor among the small slice of Americans who might have found it favorable. We moved on to other, less rigid curricula. Dr. Howard had to start selling his School of Tomorrow door to door. He translated it badly into Spanish, and sold it to Mexico.
But then, it 1990, the Iron Curtain Fell! Long Live the Christian Flag! The Russian were buying into ACE! He managed to sell his program in Russia.
And then, as a 19-year-old, I was in the outer reaches of nowhere, so nowhere it wasn’t even as accessible as Siberia, teaching the little no-longer-communist children about the pledge of allegiance.
They had a new flag. The old sickle and hammer had been taken down for a more abstract tri-color beastie. In fact, we saw it fly for the first time, the day we entered the capital of the region, Yakutsk: January 1st, 1992.
Well, we were there to instruct this school in the proper implementation of the program. And the first thing they were supposed to do every morning was pledge.
They didn’t have a pledge to the new flag. I think they may have had something similar for the old flag, but these poor people were not really into sloganeering and patriotism. Communism had fallen apart and people were wondering how much longer they would have food.
At the point in time we arrived, all of the government workers (and that was pretty much everybody) had not been paid for 5 months.
People were not feeling patriotic. Perhaps that is why my father insisted on creating a new pledge of allegiance for the new flag. More likely, he was oblivious to their state of mind; we were all extremely disoriented. Remember, which of us in America knew anything about life in Russia? For all we knew, this was just how they did things.
So dad wrote a new pledge of allegiance stealing broadly from the American pledge. Well, that’s what the pledge to the Christian flag and the pledge to the bible did, so he was working in an established literary tradition.
It wasn’t until he gave it to the Russian teacher to be translated that I thought about it. Poor Olga was befuddled by the word “allegiance.” What does it mean?
We all laughed. “The kids in America don’t know what it means either! It’s a standing joke, how kids misunderstand the pledge…I led the pigeons to the flag…Stuff like that.”
Think about that. Is that okay? Kids don’t even know what they are saying!
We explained that it meant loyalty, etc. She managed to come up with a decent translation.
So that’s how the little darlings began their days, standing straight, with their right hands pressed to their left breast, reciting to a tri-color poster, which was the best we could do for a flag.
It occurred to me then, that Russians were familiar with these kinds of things. Wouldn’t the Young Pioneers, with their red kerchiefs, have had a whole slew of these kinds of patriotic rituals?
At that point in time, the Young Pioneers had no money to do anything, so kids were roaming the streets, getting drunk and beating each other up. But I didn’t know that until later.
But I thought, Is this the American way that we are supposed to be bringing to the Russians? This rigidity and conformity? Haven’t they had enough of being told what to think and how to act? It made me very uncomfortable.
I joked about finding ties that had the Russian flag on it instead of the American flag, and having the kids wear those. I’m not sure that my family thought it was funny.
Eventually, I had to leave the schools. I just didn’t feel right about teaching that curriculum. I had been there for a year and a half, and my family was staying on. But I could not in good conscience continue to teach rhetoric and rote memorization. I thought America meant something else.
That’s most of my memory-experience I bring to this Pledge of Allegiance issue.