The Pledge of Allegiance

Flag of the United States of America on a flagpole, in front of a blue sky with white clouds.
Photo by Aaron Burden / Unsplash

My very bright moment of sun during an otherwise deeply demoralizing week:

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation
under God,
with liberty and justice for all."

This week, Wanda was curious about the pledge of allegiance. She remembered only “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” and that was it. She wanted to know what the words were, what it meant, and why it existed.

So, I wrote the whole thing on our whiteboard, and we talked about it, word-by-word. We talked about what it meant. We talked about the ethics of having very young kids make a promise they aren’t able to understand. (“Wait, a pledge is a PROMISE??? But kids don’t know what a bunch of these words even mean, how can they agree to this promise???” She was PISSED.) We talked about the history of the pledge, how it was shaped by the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Cold War. We talked about the versions that have existed over the years, with a timeline. We talked about the Supreme Court. We talked about consent. We talked about Latin word roots. Our discussion was able to reference a TON of learning we’ve done together over the past year, all of that history and civics and language arts and frank discussions about racial justice, months and months of work that had laid the foundation to be able to have this rich conversation with my kid.

We talked about what it means to be an American, about our country’s founding ideals, and how they are often assumed but not actually met. We talked about the promise the pledge seems to make—but doesn’t actually—to the ideals of freedom and fairness, and how those freedoms and that fairness are not actually felt by many people in our country, especially Black people.

Wanda wanted to make her own pledge, one she consents to, one she believes in, one that is to the people she shares this country with, and one where she promises to work toward that freedom and fairness for everyone.

I remember the first time I was with Wanda when they were having the kindergarteners say the pledge, at her elementary school, back in the fall of 2018. I had an “oh crap” panic moment, and whispered “you don’t have to say this if you don’t want to” into Wanda’s ear. I made a mental note to try to give her a better explanation of what the pledge was all about later… but those days were entirely consumed with dealing with the crisis of our disastrous schooling situation. Talking about the pledge was never going to make the priority list. I am so sad for our past selves, for the alternate universe version of ourselves still stuck there.

Being able to truly raise my daughter, to do this work alongside her, to have my efforts be about building a body of knowledge and understanding about the world with her, rather than desperately trying to undo the damage of the day… I am extraordinarily grateful that our lives are so different now. I'm especially grateful to Rich for thoroughly supporting the work. I love our incredible kid.

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