America and Me? We’re Old Friends.

I have a student who declines to stand for the Pledge of Allegience. She takes issue with the phrase “with liberty and justice for all,” because it is not “for all” in her view.

I asked her about it once. I said, “I take no issue with your choice not to stand during the Pledge. I just want to make sure it is because of your beliefs, not because you just don’t feel like standing up.” And she said, “No, Miss. Here’s the thing. It’s about liberty and justice and it’s not for all…”

“I’m going to stop you there,” I told her. “That’s all I need to know.”

And would you like to know why I did that? Because it is within the rights of a student not to stand for the Pledge because of his or her beliefs. And you do not get in the way of that. That is Law for Teaching for Dummies 101, that’s how remedial it is. It is the first thing they tell you in your education classes, and the last thing they tell you before handing you your diploma.

OK, maybe it isn’t that drastic. But it is made pretty clear. You don’t have to agree with students’ beliefs, but your job is to help them express those beliefs, not to impose your own on them. You don’t want to stand during the Pledge because you take issue with any part of it? Fine. I don’t have to agree with you, but I have to let you do it.

It wasn’t long after this episode that Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem and blew up news cycles everywhere. My attitude about this was the same: You take issue with any part of the National Anthem and what it stands for? Fine. Good for you, even. You have something to say, and you are saying it. What’s wrong with that?

I’ve stayed silent on this issue and let others talk for me. I’ve stayed silent on a lot of issues over the past year and let others talk for me. Some of this was because infants and toddlers suck all of the life out of you require all of your time and attention. But some of this was because I was a little bit afraid.

You see, I have never been one to have a million friends. I’m much more the person who guards friendship carefully and only lets a few select people in. And when I love, I love fiercely, and I want those I love fiercely to be the best human beings they can be. Sometimes, if they are not being the best human beings they can be, I even tell them about how I want them to be the best human beings they can be. Most of the time, as you might imagine, that blows up in my face.

But here’s the thing: A sure sign of loving something fiercely is wanting to help it be better. Spending time and effort, blood and sweat, tears and toil helping a caterpillar to become a butterfly is time well spent. Caterpillars are fine, don’t get me wrong, but butterflies are better. If I didn’t care about the caterpillar, I would accept it the way it was. But I do care about the caterpillar; I care so deeply, that I want it to become the butterfly it was always meant to be.

We are over the clichéd metaphors? OK.

America and me? We are old friends. And I love America deeply. Because I love America deeply, I want it to be better. It’s pretty great already, but it’s not the best it can be. And a sure sign that I love America deeply is my work to make it better. I can’t speak for them, but that is where, I think, my student and Colin Kaepernick and the hundreds of other Americans who take a knee during the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance are coming from.

And who can fault them for that?

Featured Image Credit: Robert Claypool


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