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.”
. . . The original “Pledge to the Flag” was included in “The Official Programme for the National Columbian Public School Celebration of October 21, 1892.” On that 1892 day, with increasing numbers of eastern and southern European immigrants entering the United States, an estimated 10 million children first recited the Pledge.
Who Built America? includes the instructions from “The Official Programme”:
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.
Students were then to declare: “One Country! One Language! One Flag!” Presumably, the “One Language!” was English. Note that the words “under God” do not appear in the original Pledge. They were added during the Eisenhower administration in 1954 at the height of anti-communist hysteria.
According to the editors of Who Built America?, this arm extended flag salute was the norm in American schools until 1942, when the similarity with the fascist salute became a bit uncomfortable.[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.
See related resources below and read The Scourge of Nationalism by Howard Zinn.