Every morning my students and I stand and face the American flag displayed at the front of the classroom. We each place our right hand over our heart and our left hand at our side. We stand erect, look at the banner before us and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Those who slump or talk or shuffle about are called out.
The Pledge is important to me, and I will not allow its meaning to be desecrated. Too many individuals have risked everything - some giving their lives - in defense of the ideas stated in this thirty-second affirmation. So many gifts that only the free may enjoy have been won. I will not allow for disrespect.
At the start of the school year, I help the kids to understand the immense meaning behind the thirty-one words they have repeated robotically since kindergarten. I want them to internalize the pledge, to bring it alive, to make it their own.
"I pledge..." A pledge is a promise. If you are making a pledge, I tell the kids, you are making a promise. When someone gives you a promise, you want them to keep it, right?" Every child agrees that there would be issues if someone went back on their word.
"...allegiance..." We are promising our devotion, our dedication, our loyalty, our love.
"...to the Flag..." Together, we stand before a mere piece of fabric, reciting our words. We pledge allegiance to what that piece of cloth represents.
"...of the United States of America..." The flag stands for fifty multifaceted entities that are joined together as a nation to support and to defend one another at home and abroad. We may be New Yorkers, Virginians or Californians, but when push comes to shove, we are all Americans.
"...and to the Republic for which it stands..." Our country is unique in that it is a republic - a nation governed by its people. These eight words - one fourth of the entire pledge - describe one of the most precious gifts we Americans often take for granted: We are free! The people create their laws, elect their leaders and make the decisions necessary for the continued success of the nation.
"...one Nation under God..." We are many, but we are united. We are a proud and powerful nation protected beneath the umbrella of God. Regardless of your religious beliefs, I tell the kids, our country is surrounded with love and supported with strength. We must remember that although we are indeed "one nation," there are many others in our world that seek the same love and support. As Americans, we must be there for our fellow citizens and our fellow inhabitants of the planet as well.
"...indivisible..." We disagree - with each other and with those in other lands - but, in the end, we stand together. Our nation will not be destroyed.
"...with liberty...." We are free! Most of what we do on a daily basis is outlawed in other countries. Count your blessings. We are free!
"...and justice..." We are promised fairness from our leaders - just treatment from those who make the laws, just treatment from those who enforce those laws.
"...for all." Freedom and fairness are promised to all Americans. Every. Single. One.
Without fail, after our mini-lesson, there is always someone who pipes up and says, "Not everyone is free, Mr. Ramsey!" The student goes on to describe a personal experience or a situation described by the media.
Other students jump in and add their comments of indignation and frustration. I allow the ensuing debate to continue for a few minutes and then hold up my hand. "Let's say the Pledge again," I suggest. "Everybody up!"
The kids grumble, "Again?"
"Yes. Again. Let's go. Everyone stand and face the flag. Hand over your heart." I direct.
In chorus with twenty-seven-part harmony:
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Once all are seated again, I ask, "So what were the first two words you said just now?"
In unison they respond, "I pledge!"
"And what is a pledge?" I ask.
Unified again, "A promise!"
"So," I begin slowly. "You are upset with freedom not being fairly distributed to everyone. Right?"
All heads nod in agreement.
"Then do something about it!" I exclaim. "You just made a promise to defend all the ideals that flag represents! You're all Americans! Do something! Nag the adults in your life who can vote, and when you become adults, get involved! Vote! Do something! Keep your promise!"
The kids look at me in disbelief. I'm sure that they think I am crazy. But I am also sure that some of my words have sunk in and that, in fact, many of them will indeed do something for the good of the country...
"...with liberty and justice for all."
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2016.