By Emma Bailey, Clarion Staff Reporter
Students have recited the Pledge of Allegiance in schools across the country since it was first written by Francis Bellamy in 1892, and it has had multiple revisions since. At Kennedy High School in recent years, fewer numbers of students have been standing for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Kelsey Riley, a Molecular Biology and AP Biology teacher at Kennedy, says, “I think different people attach different significance to [the Pledge] and I don’t judge, however you attach your significance to it. Whether or not students stand doesn’t affect me – I just try to give the opportunity for students to stand . . . rather than ignoring it or pretending like it’s not happening.”
Traditionally, when the Pledge is recited, people stand, say the pledge out loud, and put their right hand over their heart. In recent years, the National Anthem has become an opportunity for protest. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, knelt during the National anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequity. He said at the time, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
That action has inspired athletes to kneel during the National Anthem and inspired students across the country to remain seated during the Pledge as well. This action and the actions of many other athletes prompted conversation surrounding the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, with opinions rising about what the Pledge meant to themselves as Americans.
Out of 15 students interviewed, all but one said that almost everyone sits during the Pledge in their second period class.
Jadyn Burbano, Kennedy sophomore, said “I haven’t seen anyone in my 2nd period class stand.”
Kennedy junior Katie Leung explained, “I don’t really stand for the Pledge because a lot of people in my class don’t stand.”
Other students feel that it doesn’t mean a lot to them and it was just something they had to do when they were younger.
A group of Kennedy students who wished to remain anonymous shared many thoughts on the matter.
One said, “We’ve always been forced to stand in elementary, so I never grew up knowing why we stood up for it or what was the whole point of it – so I feel like I never had that foundation of patriotism for the country or anything, so it really just doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Burbano explained, “The Pledge doesn’t really mean anything to me. I guess it did when I was little.”
Some students feel that what the Pledge represents, liberty and justice for all, is not reflected in the country, so they remain seated as a form of protest.
Another Kennedy student stated, “I’m pulling a ‘Colin Kaepernick’ – I just don’t feel the need to stand. The Pledge of Allegiance is supposed to represent and enforce so many ideologies in our country, and I feel like it’s just not what’s actually happening in our country so why am I standing up for this? So many of the things that are said in the pledge aren’t really represented in our country the way that they should be.”
Many students feel that it doesn’t represent anything to them and it does not matter whether they sit or stand.
Said one student, “I sit during the Pledge because I just don’t really see what standing for it is going to do and I don’t really see how that’s helping our country in any way.”
Burbano also said, “I don’t stand for the Pledge usually just because I don’t feel like it’s necessary”
Another student who sits during the Pledge, but understands students who choose to stand out of respect: “I also sit because I don’t think it’s going to [make] any difference, but if you are standing for respect then it is a different thing.”
Some students stand for the Pledge because they feel that it is important to them, they want to show respect, or their teacher encourages it.
Kennedy teachers expressed varying opinions.
Martha Coffin, a Math 1 and Math 3 teacher at Kennedy explained to her students that “while I don’t really think that the Pledge is appropriate anymore for us to be saying in a classroom, I want them to stand to get their energy up, and I want something that we are doing first thing in the morning that’s unified.”
“I want [students] to respect those who do want to do the Pledge. But do I think that the pledge itself should be in each classroom? No, I do not.”
Riley explained, “I have a friend with a wife who immigrated here from Mexico. It took a long time to get her American citizenship and she worked really hard for it. When she got her citizenship, she felt very proud of that. So for her it feels like a big deal to be an American, and it’s almost like a personal thing for her to stand for the Pledge or the National Anthem.”
“I think for some students it’s important for them to stand, so I try to give them the opportunity, but I don’t want it to feel like it’s mandatory.“
Kennedy Math 1 teacher Michael Jones had a father in the Air Force, “so I was part of a culture where every night when the flag came down . . . every car would stop, everybody would stop, either salute [or put] hand over their heart. To me the Pledge of Allegiance and the flag is a symbol for those who risked their lives for us, so I find it important that when I’m walking if they are doing the pledge I stop dead in my tracks and do what I used to do in the Air Force base.”
Javier Esparza, MCJROTC teacher, said “I do think [standing for the Pledge] is important as far as collectivism – one thing we all have in common is our nation. It’s not necessarily mandated, which I understand. You’re not forced to pledge your devotion, but when we all do it without being forced because we want to, we are all saying we are all on the same side. If we have this in common we can go anywhere from there.”
One thing all the teachers agreed on was the decrease, over the years, in the number of students who stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Riley stated, “When I first started teaching, it was more universal that everyone stood for the Pledge. Now I feel like the NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem – that form of protest – has resulted in more and more students not standing during the Pledge.”
Jones and Esparza agreed that when they were in school everyone stood and it has changed a lot since then.
Coffin described, “When I was in elementary school in Nevada, it wasn’t even a question: Every single person stood up, every single person said it, and it was a much more homogeneous community. Saying the pledge wasn’t even an issue. When I came [to California], people were a little bit less respectful during the Pledge; they weren’t all just perfectly quiet and perfectly doing it. But nobody opted out. There were just no discussions about it. Just the attitude doing it is completely different now”
The number of students who stand for the Pledge of Allegiance has decreased. This could be due to the changing political and social climate, and that some students don’t feel that the pledge represents anything to them. But others still choose to stand out of respect or because they believe in the symbol that reciting the Pledge represents.
Esparza concluded by saying, “When I was a little kid, [the Pledge] was something I had to do because every classroom did it. Now that I have actually learned about civics and experienced the sacrifice made for our country, we do have this imperfect union that we can all work together towards improving. To me it means every day, we may not be devoting ourselves to the flag, but we are devoting ourselves to what it represents – that you and I do have something in common, and if we have that in common we can find common ground on almost anything. Your favorite sports teams, your favorite hobbies… we might not agree, but we will understand why we came to that conclusion and respect each other.“
Despite differing opinions, teachers and students agree that it should be a student’s choice whether to sit or participate during the Pledge of Allegiance. This viewpoint is encapsulated in a statement by Tsahiagiyn-Elbegdorj, former President of Mongolia and leader of a democratic revolution, “The essence of freedom rests precisely here – in the freedom of expression of the people.”