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Posts tagged Pledge of Allegiance

Historical cheap shots

Here’s a photograph of a group of elementary school youth, practicing a patriotic ritual devised by a famous self-identified National Socialist, from May 1942. Can you guess where this photograph was taken, and what their country’s Office of War Information was having them swear an oath of loyalty to?

A crowd of white elementary school children with their right arms extended diagonally upwards.

If you somehow didn’t see through the obvious trick question, and if recent discussions here haven’t already tipped you off, well, then, maybe this will help:

Here's a photograph of a group of white elementary school chidren, of about the same age, with their arms also raised--towards an American flag in the far right of the photograph.

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all. At the words, to my Flag, the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

–Francis Bellamy, in The Youth's Companion, 65 (1892): 446–447.

Here’s the details. This was the standard gesture that students, in participating schools, were forced to make every day for just about exactly 50 years, as they recited the different versions of the Pledge of Allegiance. By 1942, current events made for some discomforting similarities, and the gesture was widely dropped in favor of the now-familiar hand-on-heart gesture (although certain traditionalist groups, such as the D.A.R., held out into 1943 before they finally gave up on the arm-out salute).

A cheap shot? Sure, I’ll cop to that. But I will say, by way of self-justification, that aesthetics and style and symbolism are all more important than we sometimes give them credit for being, in everyday life, and especially in trying to understand the parts of us and our neighbors, which certain political moods express, which certain political voices (or registers) try to speak to, and which certain political movements try to grab ahold of for their own purposes. A superficial similarity isn’t always an irrelevant one.

I’m just sayin’.

See also:

The Most Depressing Photograph in the World

…, or at least in the April 2005 issue of Reason. This is from the leading page of Homeschooling Alone by Greg Beato. Here we have three young children under Mother’s watchful eyes in Tempe, Arizona:

Photo: three home-schooled children and their mother hold their hands over their hearts and hold up a United States flag in their living room

This is a family of home-schoolers starting their day–by uttering the Pledge of Allegiance. When they don’t even have to.

You want an argument for thick libertarianism over thin libertarianism? There it is.

N.B.: this is not a diatribe against home-schooling, or even against the article. The article is mostly intended as an article about why private foundations and corporate donors seem resolutely determined to keep throwing their education reform money down the hole of proven failures–like mostly-useless charter schools and technology-in-schools fads–rather than, say, offering scholarship funds to homeschooling families or co-operative organizations of home-schoolers. It’s decent as far as it goes, but here as elsewhere the cadences of the hard Right–who are withdrawing their kids from school, by and large, so that they will be unconstrained in their ability to teach their children a bunch of lies in a resolutely authoritarian atmosphere–are lurking behind the voice of almost everyone who’s allowed to speak on behalf of homeschoolers.

That doesn’t mean that everyone who homeschools is like that of course, and it sure doesn’t mean that that’s what homeschooling as such means. It isn’t; that’s just what the most obnoxiously vocal part of the movement is about. A lot of people are doing amazing things with their kids. And, hell, it doesn’t even mean that the kids being homeschooled by hard Right fundamentalists ought to go back into government schools (let alone be pushed back into it by the heavy arm of the State). Everyone has the right to flee the institutionalized education system, and it’s hard to say how they’d be better off (on balance) if they were stuck back into one of those desks. Homeschooling means a step, even if it’s a small one, towards learning in freedom The less bullying that anyone gets from the government about getting out of the institutionalized school, the better–and that means that no bullying is best of all.

But what kind of a standard is Well, at least it’s not as bad as the government schools for an anarchist to uphold? Freedom is better than coercion, sure–being left alone is better than being stomped on, and leaving other people alone is better than stomping on them. But that’s not the end of the story; while I’ll go to the mat supporting the right of parents to keep their kids out of government schools, and the wisdom of doing so even if their views about education, history, science, politics, etc. strike me as abhorrent, it’s worth pointing out that those things are abhorrent. Besides being bad in their own right, some of those views are directly opposed to maintaining a free culture. Like taking your kids out of government schools to ensure that you can hold on to an obsessive theo-nationalism and chant out UNDER GOD! every morning, for instance. The hard Right wing of the homeschooling movement may be tactical coalition partners; they may be people that I’m obligated, by principle, to support against government aggression. But they are not my friends.

Nor should they be.

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