In the early 1960s, when I was attending Penn State, one could not graduate from that university without taking a one-credit course in etiquette. Today, that requirement would be probably be considered quaint.
Some years later, upon returning to that same college town to teach seniors in the local high school, I noted that university students who had no interest in learning the words of the alma mater would instead sing, “We don’t know the GD words” repeatedly until the song was over. I guess they thought that was clever or cute. Many of us alumni didn’t think so.
I think of those things because of a story just told to me by an out-of-state friend. He works at a middle school, and every morning the students there are given an opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Not all of the students participate, and since we have not enforced compulsory speech ever since the case of West Virginia School Board v. Barnette in 1943, the students who elect not to take the Pledge are within their rights.
However, there are a number of other students who, in what is probably an attempt to be rebellious or daring, have chosen to modify the Pledge by inserting F-bombs in the text: “I pledge allegiance to the (F-bomb) flag of the (F-bomb) United States of America…”). I wonder if they insert it between “under” and “God”, if they say those words at all in our secular age.
These are middle school children, and this behavior occurs without consequence.
Am I the only one who finds this to be appalling? Is this protecting the freedom of speech, or is it an abdication of responsibility by the adults in the room? Are the parents supportive of this?
I happened to stop into a neighborhood restaurant for a mug of beer a few months ago. I had not been there before. As I sat down at the bar, the other patrons, clearly a bunch of locals, welcomed me warmly and wanted to know all about me. I was almost finished with my beer when the bartender appeared with a trayful of shot glasses, each one brimming with some special concoction of his, and he gave one to every person there at no charge, and someone said, “It’s 4 o’clock.”
At that, everyone stood up, turned around and faced a large American Flag on the wall that I had not noticed, and with those shot glasses in their left hands and with their right hands over their hearts, they solemnly repeated in unison the Pledge of Allegiance. Then we all tossed down our shots, sat down and resumed our normal conversations.
To employ an overused phrase, I was blown away.
I think of that incident when I learn of that bunch of disrespectful students dropping F-bombs into the Pledge of Allegiance.
Part of me would like to introduce them to a bar of soap.
But I think it would far better to take them up to Arlington.
Filko lives in Williamsburg and has taught Economics and American Government.