Two questions about American culture: Pledge of Allegiance and Medicare
March 27, 2004 6:04 AM   Subscribe

Explaining American culture to the world:

a) Is the pledge of allegiance a compulsory thing each schoolday?

b) If funding for medicare is pro-social security, why did a Republican president push for it so hard?

Genuine enquiry: please no flames, just the facts, ma'am, just the facts.

a) What if a child of say 15 years old refused to recite it ever? Is there a sanction against it? Could he be excluded from class? Is it a crime? What if the student was 18, or 11 - would that make any difference?

b) This one really only makes sense to me in a partisan sense [The president wanted to enrich the drug manufacturers, at the expense of the taxpayer] - but surely there's something more to it, right?
posted by dash_slot- to Law & Government (26 answers total)
a) IANAL, though I speak from experience. As far as I know, there is no law stating you must say it. The school administrators might contact the parents about it, but if the kid doesn't want to say it, regardless of age, the kid doesn't have to say it. While the majority of my high school says the pledge every morning, I don't, and I haven't received much trouble for it over the years (except for a few teachers who "despised" my refusal to say it). If a student really wanted to, I'm sure he could be especially excused from class for the time the rest of the students say the pledge, but most people I know either just remain seated or stand up and stay quiet while the rest of the class does their 30 second pledge.
posted by thebabelfish at 6:26 AM on March 27, 2004

(a) I was one of those kids that didn't say the pledge in school. I caught a fair amount of hell from coaches but most teachers could've cared less. I can only think of one instance where I was punished for it and it was in middle school (I was required to write 25 sentences).

a much younger friend of mine who graduated from high school just last year told me of an instance where he was called to the principal's office on some random charge and was accused of being anti-american for not saying the pledge in the morning. when asked how he knew, the principal said that teachers are supposed to keep track of things like that. although mind you, my subversive friends and I live in a very backwards rural-type community so it's probably not a nationwide thing.

(b) no clue.
posted by mcsweetie at 6:51 AM on March 27, 2004

(a) In my high school, no one said the pledge of allegiance except for a few kids. The teachers seemed a bit dismayed at the lack of enthusiasm, but mostly we just slouched in our desks and snickered at the conformist non-conformists.

(b) This is probably way off, but here goes:
It's no secret that Republicans favor smaller government and the privatization of services. If this could be executed flawlessly, it's a great idea. If private companies can make a buck by providing high-quality services and responding quickly to customer needs, it's probably good for the economy, lower taxes, etc. If it's executed flawlessly.

I've read that No Child Left Behind and the Medicare act are all about short-changing public education and Medicare so that these services will eventually be impractical for the government to run, therefore private companies will have to fill the void. For example, if you steal money from Social Security to balance the budget, eventually SS becomes insolvent. And the obvious replacement is private investment companies, which will profit from the increase in business. And higher profits are good, because that's more tax revenue, etc.

I could be totally wrong, but that's my take.
posted by rocketman at 7:03 AM on March 27, 2004

By funding medicare drug benefits, Bush manages to throw a favor to the drug companies (who are key campaign contributors) and defuse a key Democratic campaign issue at the same time.

It's very common now for politicians to co-opt the issues of their opponents in practice, despite maintaining the meat-eating fire-breathing rhetoric for their idological base. Clinton was a master of this technique. When faced with several possible explanations for Bush's behavior, I generally find the most useful to be the one based on his desire to be reelected, rather than the ones based on ideology, stupidity, or malice. This pragmatic move towards the political center helps explain why elections and polls are so close to a 50-50 split.
posted by fuzz at 7:12 AM on March 27, 2004

The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) is a fairly powerful lobbing group in American politics. They vote, and their pills cost a lot of money. Any presidential hopefull will take some steps to address their concerns.
posted by willnot at 7:42 AM on March 27, 2004

A) We only had to say the pledge every day in elementary school--after that never. (No one even asked us to say it from Junior High on.) Maybe it goes by local school district?
B) What rocketman said--it's apparently a poison pill (and fuzz has a point too, about coopting.)
posted by amberglow at 8:11 AM on March 27, 2004

a) Is the pledge of allegiance a compulsory thing each schoolday?

As I current Maryland MCPS high school student I feel very qualified to answer this question. According to our "A Student's Guide to Rights and Responsbilities in MCPS":
Patriotic Exercises
You will have the opportunity to participate in and/or watch patriotic exercises in school.

You cannot be required to say a pledge, sing an anthem, or take part in patriotic exercises. No one will be permitted to intentionally embaress you if you choose not to participate.

You may not interrupt others who are participating in patriotic exercises.
So to some extent, no, it's not required. I haven't said the pledge in the past two years, but on the other hand I've never got any crap from my first period teachers about not standing up or saying it.

However when my friend one day stopped standing up and saying it in her math class, her teacher flipped out and made such a big fuss that she was pretty much coerced into doing it. So it's kind of a weird situation -- it really depends on what one's teacher will tolerate. Because some of them, in their twisted way, choose to interpret not participating as interruting others or otherwise take personal offense.
posted by puffin at 8:15 AM on March 27, 2004

a) The pledge of allegiance seems to be up to individual schools or even teachers. Out of three families with children in different elementary schools I interact with regularly (all upstate NY schools), two of the schools do not do it all and in the third, it seems to be done in about half the classrooms whenever someone remembers.

b)Demographics. Older people vote and there are a lot of them. Doing anything that even hints at reducing benefits to the aged is the kiss of death in American politics.
posted by cedar at 8:55 AM on March 27, 2004

Regarding a), this is relatively new as my grandparents never said it at all.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:12 AM on March 27, 2004

Coming from a country (the UK) where the idea of a pledge of allegiance makes adults splutter and giggle, the fact that the Supremes are even considering one portion of it as being unconstitutional is kinda mind-boggling. But hey, each to their own,eh?

As to the medicare bill, i'm somewhat more illuminated, and my suspicions that this is about bankrupting the state in a VRWC stylee are a little more underpinned now. Cedar & willnot notwithstanding, as - for now - their explanations don't exclude the other explanations.

Thank you, all!
posted by dash_slot- at 9:41 AM on March 27, 2004

a) at least in my school district, you never were required to do anything for the pledge except not impede others' recital of it. so, you couldn't jump up and down and squawk like a chicken so as to distract those who wanted to say it. you might be ostracized by your homeroom teacher or other kids, though in my case that didn't happen either. but you were never forced to say it. this is just my experience, ianal, yadda yadda yadda.
posted by ifjuly at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2004

First of all, according to a 1943 SCOTUS decision, children cannot be compelled to recite the pledge.

In terms of my personal experience: in my senior year of high school, months after 9/11, the administrators decided to reintroduce the morning pledge (which we generaly hadn't done since 3rd grade). At least in my class, though, literally no one even bothered to stand, and not even the teacher recited the pledge. I lived in a lefty-leaning area, though. I imagine that, in some more conservative areas, the pledge might be taken far more seriously.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:15 AM on March 27, 2004

A compulsory pledge is unconstitutional:
Neither our domestic tranquillity in peace nor our martial effort in war depend on compelling little children to participate in a ceremony which ends in nothing for them but a fear of spiritual condemnation. If, as we think, their fears are groundless, time and reason are the proper antidotes for their errors. The ceremonial, when enforced against conscientious objectors, more likely to defeat than to serve its high purpose, is a handy implement for disguised religious persecution. As such, it is inconsistent with our Constitution's plan and purpose.
Everyone should read Justice Jackson's opinion; it's very good.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:20 AM on March 27, 2004

a). For what it's worth, I went to Catholic schools my whole life and I remember in middle school wondering if public schools had to say "under God". Even back then, without being political, I saw it as wrong.

But more to your question, once again in a Catholic high school, 80% of the kids just stood there with their hand to the ir heart. I knew a kid who refused to do it based on the war or something and his first hour gym coach (real hard ass, from a rural area) chewed him out and gave him a detention. Other teachers didn't care if a kid tried to be political about it. I think for most people in urban areas, the pledge of allegiance isn't what people outside the US think of it. Most kids who say it are just going along with the group and only a small few do it with passion. Since you mentioned it dash_slot, it does seem Orwellian kind of, but the way it's presented nowadays makes it just a reason to stand up in the morning. Of course right after 9/11 everyone said it loudly and proud... but that was certainly an anomally.
posted by geoff. at 10:21 AM on March 27, 2004

re: a) what mcsweetie said (I'm canadian raised since age 5 in the US) Everyone seemed to recite it mindlessly as a ritual, with no thought as to its meaning. In fact, when in jr high, the practice was discontinued, no one noticed for a year or so, and then it was "what ever happenned to starting the day with the pledge...

as for b) I subscribe to the view that by increasing benefits, they raise costs until the system collapses.
Its been postulated that the huge budget surplus at the beginning of the Bush term was a huge threat to the medical industry in that it was likely to be utilized to social some aspects of the very costly and profitable medical industry. And any socialized medicine plan would necessarilly be at the expense of pree market pricing that gives insurance and medical providers the mountain of lucre...
it is of course, just speculation and at best only one of the reasons for the huge disbursement of funds Bush put the gov't through as job 1 when he was "elected".
posted by BentPenguin at 10:39 AM on March 27, 2004

I knew a kid who refused to do it based on the war or something and his first hour gym coach (real hard ass, from a rural area) chewed him out and gave him a detention.

But that's in Catholic school. Catholic schools, being private, have a lot more leeway to do stuff to you than public schools do.

The law is that you can't force a student to say the PoA. Actual practice will vary quite a bit. I'm sure there's at least one school or district in the country where, sometime in the 1990's, a student was browbeaten, detained, suspended, spanked, or otherwise punished for refusing to recite the PoA. It would be hugely illegal for that to happen, but illegal stuff happens all the time, especially (with stuff like this) in small, homogenous districts where nobody really objects.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:43 AM on March 27, 2004

As for Medicare drug coverage, I think the more realistic fear / worry / possibility had to do with who was providing the insurance. The Medicare drug plan largely operates through private insurance firms, and some have seen this as a toe into the door of privatizing Medicare and Social Security more broadly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:47 AM on March 27, 2004

b) Make no mistake that our president (R) actually implemented a comprehensive, sustainable plan. And don't forget that every dime it does pay out before it goes under will wind up in the pockets of Big Pharmacopia.
posted by scarabic at 11:28 AM on March 27, 2004

The Pledge of Allegiance is not limited to school, but also shows up at various board and city council meetings. I stand up as a courtesy to the flag, but refuse to say it because I don't believe the flag stands for liberty and justice to all. If you were on the dais and refused to say it, somebody would probably make a political issue out of it. In the peanut gallery, though, no one cares, although many people say it because they've always said it.
posted by calwatch at 12:50 AM on March 28, 2004

I went to private schools from Kindergarten on up through my senior year in high school (I graduated in 1993) and I only have vague memories of having to recite the pledge either first thing in the morning when I was in my first few years of school, and occasionally at school-wide assemblies and such. I have no recollection of reciting the pledge beyond elementary school, though.

I wish I could find the original NYT article, but in it there was some banter between that man Newdow and one of the SCOTUS justices that was pretty candid.
posted by emelenjr at 2:24 AM on March 28, 2004

I think this may be what you were looking for, emelenjr.

I'm a school psychology student and I had to take a school law class and we talked about this particular case a little before it was heard at the Supreme Court. Here is our collective take on it:

The phrase "Under God" was added later than the original pledge. Therefore, in this particular situation, Newdow may have a point. It's not like money or any other item that has carried the word "God" (ie. "In God we Trust") that has had it for more than a century.

The professor believed that the justices wouldn't fall for it, saying that it's not divisive enough, but I think that they may. Newdow was *very* well spoken, IMHO. I can't believe that he represented himself at the Supreme Court level, but I'm glad he did. He came off very... professional. Not silly-goofy, but he at least had some banter and some wit. He had a powerful argument, I believe, but then I'm on his side in the debate.
posted by ajpresto at 3:17 AM on March 28, 2004

While schools in Texas are allowed to excuse students from saying the pledge(s) at a parent's request, unless the parents bother to request that their child be excused (and agree that they shouldn't have to), everyone at all grade levels have to observe a minute of silence to "reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity", and say the US pledge and the Texas pledge daily. This was just passed into law last year. I've heard though that even kids who are excused get a lot of harassment about not saying them.

Another side effect of this law was that schools then were required to purchase Texas flags for every classroom (and US flags for each as well, if they didn't already have them). I'd much rather school districts had been able to spend that money on something more education related rather than a collection of fabric symbols. One school that my friend's kids go to spent $50k on flags.

As a Texan, I was and am opposed to this (pretty much) forced indoctrination. An oath said under duress is worthless and meaningless.
posted by Orb at 10:15 AM on March 28, 2004

Re: a, I never attended a school that had us say the pledge of allegiance. I didn't realize until I was much older that schools still did it (I thought it was something that people had done in the '50s or something). I went to public school in NYC through 7th grade; then private school in Mass. through high school. I've never had a conversation with someone where they talked about ever having said the pledge of allegiance, and would not be surprised if other NYers never said it either...

It's true I have a slightly unusual viewpoint. As a child of liberal nyers, I didn't meet a single christian or republican until 8th grade. But even with the religious and conservative folks at those schools in MA, we didn't say the pledge, unless I've just forgotten... I think we had moments of silence or maybe even said grace before meals for the school I was at for 8 & 9th grade, though.
posted by mdn at 10:58 AM on March 28, 2004

I have faraway memories of having to sing "Maryland, My Maryland" before class each day in the 1960s, as well as recite the Pledge. And that the Maryland flag was really tough for a 1st-grader to draw with crayons.
posted by gimonca at 11:34 AM on March 28, 2004

The "American" color of the Pledge debate might have more to do with local control. U.S. government-run schools are typically managed by a local School Board, a very small unit of government. Policies can vary from one School District to another. For that matter, housing values can be elevated or deflated based on the perceived quality of the school district that a home sits in. Broader policy issues, curricula, standards and funding are usually decided by a State Dept. of Education in each state and voted on by that state's legislature. Normally, not a lot is decided in Washington D.C. When a branch of the central Federal government tries to make nationwide decisions on education, there will always be someone who is unhappy.
posted by gimonca at 11:44 AM on March 28, 2004

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