The morning sun streams through twelve-foot windows and spills across the desks of Room 204. The children stand and face the flag, hand over heart, “I pledge allegiance…” Early in the year, scraping chairs, shuffling feet, and muffled whispers make it clear that these words are more hollow than hallowed.
Are these words we can say with conviction? One of the true privileges of teaching eight year-olds is that I stand watch as they cross the threshold from literal-mindedness into critical and abstract thinking.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”
Children slowly learn that we don’t pledge our allegiance to the red, white, and blue fabric that hangs in the room. We pledge allegiance to the ideals that have been taught and fought for over time… ideals that the American flag has come to represent.
We explore those ideals through literature and connect them to the family stories of the children in our class. These stories make up the story of our country. Our ancestors are Russian Jews who came to this country to flee religious persecution; or Africans who were captured, enslaved, and brought here against their will and then risked their lives for freedom. Our ancestors fled famine and misfortune; dictatorships and disaster. Our ancestors sought opportunity and fought for equal rights. They refused to let their hearts be chained and worked hard until the hearts of others were changed. This is a story stitched with courage, conviction, and change in threads of red, white, and blue. And it hangs in my classroom.
“One nation under God…” reminds us that no one gets to use religion as a trump card in patriotism. Everybody is covered. Everybody has equal rights that are protected under the law: liberty and justice for all.
At William Fox School we have students who are Jewish, Muslim, and Christian — we are just a swatch of this flag that represents a nation.
As we read books like the The Other Side, Sister Anne’s Hands, The Sweet Smell of Roses, Molly’s Pilgrim and This is the Dream, we sand layers of varnish down to the patina of the words we say everyday at 9:05.
The morning sun streams through twelve-foot windows and spills across the desks of Room 204. Our story continues to be written by the lives we live. Lives and laws are changed when we are willing to be the change. We stand and face the flag together, hand over heart. We don’t have to; we have the right not to… but we do. And with spring around the corner, there is a stillness as we stand together and say the pledge. The words are refined by our story and can be, if we let them be, part of the lexicon of grace.