I can remember my high school geometry teacher, Mr. Glandon, leading the class in the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. He ordered us to stand at attention, hands over our hearts. Anyone who was less than enthusiastic was branded an “opposition maker”—one of his favorite terms—and awarded demerits. This was in Northern California in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, growing militancy of groups like the Black Panthers, and not long after the San Francisco counterculture’s “Summer of Love.” For Mr. Glandon, forcing us to recite the Pledge was his small contribution in the war to preserve one version of America.
The Pledge has always been political. It was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, and published in the national magazine The Youth’s Companion to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage.
President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed October 21 — the original Columbus Day — a national holiday, and designated schools to be the main sites of celebration. Why Columbus? Because he symbolized America’s supposed pioneer spirit and his voyage had made possible 400 years of “progress and freedom.” [Select “Download Lesson” below to continue reading.]
This reading was published by Rethinking Schools in an edition of Rethinking Schools magazine, (Summer 1996.) For more articles and lessons like “One Country! One Language! One Flag!,” subscribe to the Rethinking Schools magazine.