The other day my teenage daughter and I attended the inauguration of our city’s school committee, city council, and new mayor Stephanie Muccini Burke. It was a festive occasion, and an exciting one for many reasons, including the presence of our attorney general, Maura Healey, and the surprise appearance of our senator, Elizabeth Warren.
At the beginning of the event, we all stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I looked at my daughter, who smiled at me as she stood in silence, and I realized that after all these years, I’d failed to teach her the pledge, or expose her to it regularly enough that she’d memorized it in its entirety.
It’s not as though this is a problem. A young woman who has entire Shakespeare plays etched into her brain wrinkles can learn the Pledge of Allegiance in about thirty seconds. This minor educational omission did get me thinking about patriotism and civics, though.
Simply defined, patriotism is love of country, something we can embrace without knowing the Pledge of Allegiance by heart. For those of us that learned it as children and said it every day in school, did we ever think about the meaning of the words (providing we learned them accurately, which many didn’t). I certainly didn’t know, for instance, that Francis Bellamy, the author of the pledge, was a socialist.
As homeschooling parents, we didn’t implement the daily ritual of standing before the flag and reciting the pledge. We focused on civics, the duties of being a citizen, rather than patriotism. We volunteered at soup kitchens, attended community meetings, researched issues and candidates, voted, and contributed where we could.
Our kids’ lives may not have been steeped in American flags and the Pledge of Allegiance, but they did learn the value of being involved in their community and participating in their democracy.
So, while it’s true that my daughter couldn’t recite the Pledge along with most of the rest of the room, she was present as someone who has volunteered at the local library, for LGBTQ support organizations, and arts groups. She was present as someone who volunteered for the campaign of the new mayor, the first woman ever elected to the office in our city. She was present as someone who attended debates, meetings, and other campaign events, and someone who looks forward with excitement to being able to finally vote.
This kind of civic involvement is, I think, close enough to the spirit of the pledge and its calls for liberty and justice for all, so I’ll let myself off the hook for omitting its memorization from our curriculum.