Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Aspie Approach to an Unending Controversy

I think the flag of the United States is beautiful.

Upon returning to the US from foreign lands, I enjoy most hearing "Welcome home," when I go through the passport check, and the sight of Old Glory, bright and bold, gracing the skies of my homeland. There is a place in my heart that swells with love and pride when I see it, waving in the wind. It is the love of the ideals upon which this country was founded that moves me, as well as pride for the genius of the founders who crafted this intentionally oppositional system of government in order to safeguard my liberty.

And at the same time, I have never considered that flag to be more than a symbol of something else. "It's a flag," I think, "It's not a god, it's not the Constitution, and it's not the nation itself." I think about this every time a new flap about the flag or the pledge of allegiance to the flag in reported in the news.

It is not that I want this symbol of liberty to be treated with contempt. I get it when a fellow teacher who served in battle for the United States Army says, "I risked my life for what that flag symbolizes, and it angers me to see it treated with disdain."
But what I do not get is that disagreements about the flag and the pledge of allegiance can cause otherwise peaceful neighborhoods to go at each other's throats with an insane amount of venom. The Aspie in me wonders how in the world either "side" could be that important.

Today, I opened my Sunday Albuquerque Journal to the Dimension section to read about a Vermont school where this has happened. Neighbors are up in arms.
"Wouldn't it be more productive if you all spent your Tuesday evenings strategizing the remodel of your bathrooms and kitchens?" I want to ask.

Sometimes, I wonder if my study of the behavioral neuropsychology of ASD is really about psychopathology; this story seems more fraught with psychopathology than does the inability to lie effectively seen in AS.

In my years as a teacher in New Mexico, I had a wide variety of experiences concerning the use of "the Pledge" as we called it. Although it is part of the New Mexico Code (i.e. state law) that the pledge of allegiance will be given at the beginning of each school day, it was completely ignored in the state capital school district. The public address system did not work at the Santa Fe high school where I did my post-baccelaureate licensure internship, and I never saw any flag flying from the flagpole. On the other hand, at Rio Rancho High, the morning advisory came with "the pledge" to the flag, viewed by closed-caption TV in every classroom. At the private Catholic school where I was the only non-Christian teacher, I led my class in the pledge and then invited one of the students to come up and give the "Our Father" prayer. The kids tended to say it all in a perfunctory manner that fooled me into thinking that it was rote, until I asked them once what it all meant to them as part of a Socratic Discussion in their Advisory period. They were quite serious about the importance of both. But even though they said " . . . and to the republic for which it stands. . ." every day of their school careers, most of my students had no idea that they lived in a republic, not a democracy.

As a result of that discussion, we determined that in our class, we would not only give the prayer and "the pledge," but that we would recite the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, in order to remind ourselves of the mission statement of our government.
That was eye-opening for all of us, and led to some very interesting discussions about current events.

When I taught gifted education at an Albuquerque public school, I continued this tradition, sans the prayer, and again, that led to some very interesting discussions about the role of the federal government in our lives as Americans. It was particularly germane, given the content curriculum my 4th -5th grade gifted kids were studying with me, the William and Mary Curriculum about the founding of this nation.

Then I stopped teaching other people's children and began homeschooling the Boychick. We decided to hang the flag outdoors every morning that the weather allowed. We then had a discussion about "the pledge." Together, we decided that to us, pledging allegiance to a flag made no sense at all. It is not the flag that we owe allegiance to, nor the servant government that established the flag. Rather, it is the US Constitution that guarantees our liberty and is intended to secure our rights as human beings.

So we continued with the tradition begun by my class at the Catholic school of reciting the Preamble to the Constitution, sans the prayer and "the pledge." (We did have prayer in our homeschool--but we did the flag ceremony after the morning service). At first it felt a little ridiculous, the two of us, Boychick often still in PJ's, hanging the flag and standing at attention while reciting:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

But just as it did among my high school class, and my gifted class, this custom sparked conversations about the role of the Constitution, the role of the people, and the proper bounds of government.

So here is my solution to all those neighbors going at each other over "the pledge."
Stop it.
Replace "the pledge" with a daily recitation of the Preamble to the US Constitution.
Instead of fights over the words "under G-d" and "indivisible," you can begin having interesting discussions about the role of government in the lives of We the People. And as teachers of our children, it helps to listen more than we talk. It's amazing how well kids can consider these things.

And anyway, the flag is merely and ultimately a symbol of something much greater than a colorful, if beloved, piece of cloth. It is the symbol of an idea. The idea that governments are instituted among us to secure our rights at our consent.
What a concept!


Amie said...

I haven't taught my boys the pledge, and don't really plan to. I think the preamble is a good idea. I remember memorizing that in history class.

Luke said...

That's good stuff. Excellent points and ideas. Thought-provoking.


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Amie. Yes the pledge has problems. In my Aspie mind, the main problem is not the "under
G-d" part, it is the word "indivisible." I grew up in Illiniois, the Land of Lincoln, and I dragged my family to numerous Civil War battlefields. In the third grade I won the school district's Literary Contest by reciting the Gettysburg Address by heart. I think I know the country is divisible.

Luke: Welcome back. Since the Boychick went back to school, I have not seen a lot of my homeschooling friends around the blogosphere!

Crimson Wife said...

It's so funny that you bring this issue up as a month ago I was a bit embarrassed that my DD was the only child at her 4-H meeting who did not know the words to the pledge.

As part of our homeschool morning opening we sing "America the Beautiful", "My Country 'Tis of Thee", and "God Bless America" but I'd never bothered with the pledge. There are any number of patriotic recitations that would be higher on my list for things I'd want my DD to have memorized- the preamble, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's Gettysburg address and 2nd inaugural address, etc.

But I didn't want us to be perceived as "those weird, unpatriotic homeschoolers" so I taught her the pledge. When we have the next 4-H meeting tomorrow, she should be able to say it along with the rest of the kids.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Crimson Wife:

I know just what you mean!
The Boychick knows the pledge in English and Spanish because of his years in MLK Elementary before we moved into town. But they also say it every week at Boy Scouts.

And yet there are so many more important American words, so to speak, that I would rather he know by heart.

christinemm said...

Interesting post!

I liked hearing about the kids who were moved to discussion about the Constitution.

I reviwed a self-published book on the Pledge. It was eye opening for me. The Pledge was not created by our government.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

I like it. As a military wife, I often feel disloyal, because the pledge is not a priority for me. I remember to teach it to my kids whenever I have an experience like Crimson Wife's- when my kids learn they are the only ones in a group who do not know it.

Stephanie said...

I'm still here! I always read :)

Once again, you've nailed it perfectly. We taught our kids the pledge so that they wouldn't be embarrassed at Scouts. I say it with them at Scouts, because I don't want to cause a fuss that will impact them. But we don't say it at home, and over the years I have become increasingly uncomfortable with saying it at all.

I *love* the idea of saying the constitution, instead!