Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Devil's Advocate and the Pledge of Allegiance

America is an airport. Watch what you say. Behave yourself. Don't crack wise, buster, not about God's exceptional country or the efficacy of military might in changing hearts and minds.

I taught social studies for 17 years in a public school located on an Indian reservation. I did not begin each day with the Pledge of Allegiance unless it was part of morning announcements. I would have done so had it been a policy although I am against the required citing of a national creed especially in public peer-pressure situations. When I think of flag worship and the worship of military might as an end in itself, I think of WWII Germany and Japan. My students never would have guessed how radical I am because I did not teach my beliefs; I taught history and government spiced with economics and racial justice.
The incident that preceded my receiving of a letter of intent to fire me was not mentioned in the letter. Since my son died the year before I had crossed the line of legitimate muckraking in the school district and become an angry curmudgeon. Before I was funny and right-in-the-facts and the administration might have wanted me gone, but they didn't make the moves against me efficiently. After the Pledge controversy they became a well-oiled machine.

The school year began with the Pledge of Allegiance - in the Dine language. I stood and recited it in English. My students were rather quiet, but most of them stood up that first day. The next day, having noticed some of the "too-cool-for-school" types remained seated, more kids stayed silent and more stayed seated.

I said, "I am not going to have the new principal walk by and see that my class is the only one not saying the Pledge. Is it because you don't know it in Navajo?" A couple of kids nodded yes. "Say it in English like I do." No go. This was a sullen group they had put in my first hour class. Okay, I said. Here is your homework. Tomorrow I want an essay from each of you. I want the first line to be, "For the rest of the school year I will say the Pledge of Allegiance because ..." OR "For the rest of the school year I will not say the Pledge of Allegiance because ..."

As for me, I told them, I would stand, face the flag, and put my hand over my heart as a tribute to our troops, but I would not say the Pledge. I told them I believed the lives of our military were being wasted in needless wars. I was not against the troops. I opposed the top leaders' usage of the troops - right up to the president (G. W. Bush).

Next day all but one student promised to stand and say the Pledge. The one girl wrote that the flag was a piece of cloth and she wouldn't salute it. She sat at her desk. I stood. The rest of the class mumbled their way through the Pledge.

Within a week or so the harassment began. Within a month I packed my stuff so that I could walk out with a moment's notice. Then I was sent home with pay. An ex-marine was placed in my room to substitute and he made short work of yelling that girl into acceptable behavior. She Pledged to that cloth by God. Then I got a long letter describing me as angry and dangerous; the staff feared me. I could have fought, but I was tied up in knots. I quit. It took another year to get over the death of my son and in the meantime I was just a wreck. The loss of my career was nothing in comparison.

My ex-school district had made Navajo language classes mandatory for all students years before this incident, but my eighth graders had not been taught the pledge of allegiance in Navajo. No doubt they had some kind of education about patriotism, but it had not sunk in enough for them to stand and face the flag for the Pledge. I was not expected to teach them these things; I was expected to yell at them until they complied. That ex-Marine was sure a good teacher. He scared the s*** out of them.

Once, a few years before when I was a popular teacher I told the principal a funny story about how I had played "devil's advocate" in a discussion with students. I explained the meaning of devils advocate to the eighth graders as part of the lesson. He said, "Mr. Dunn, those kids will remember mostly that you said the word devil and if grandma asks them tonight what they did in social studies that day, they'll say, "Mr. Dunn talked about the devil."

No comments:

Post a Comment