Friday, November 28, 2008

Death by shopping and the Pledge

Black Friday took on a new meaning today when a Walmart employee was crushed to death by a crowd of people who valued bargains more than life itself. Two others were killed in a shoot-out in a Toys 'R' Us store in California.

That a few of us manage to kill a few others of us in a country with over 300 million people, most of us shoppers, should not surprise us. What surprises me is that these deaths will get more play than the death of Master Sgt. Anthony Davis who was killed in Iraq this week during a humanitarian operation, or Captain Warren A. Frank who was killed in a military operation the same week the Iraqi government made it clear we are not wanted.

Once or twice a week, I gently remind my students just before the pledge that soldiers are dying "over there."

I do not require that my students recite the Pledge of Allegiance--doing so is unconstitutional and counterproductive. Pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth manufactured in Asia has all kinds of implications I'd rather not discuss with rational adults, never mind bouncy human larvae, so I simply recite the pledge (occasionally substituting the word "atomos" for "indivisible"), and ask that the kids be respectful during this time given that our soldiers are dying overseas.

On Monday I will (again, Lord, again) ask the class to be respectful, that we lost more soldiers, but I do wonder what makes a bigger impression on the world--Master Sgt. Anthony Davis being shot to death by an Iraqi Security Force soldier, or Americans trampling a temporary Walmart employee to bolster our economy.

What does this have to do with teaching?

It's my job to to oversee about twenty kids when the Pledge is recited over the intercom. This happens just about every day (except, ironically, when we are administering the state exams).

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a Christian socialist, and used to require an arm salute that would have made Hitler proud. The words "under God" were added in the 1950's after a vigorous campaign by the Knights of Columbus.

While a lot of folks have a problem with the God part, my difficulty stems more from the word "under"--if we are going to insist in school that God exists (and I'm not arguing the contrary), it pushes the empirical envelope to place Him (Her? It?) over us when I'm just as likely to find God on a microscope slide as I am in a cloud.

I worry (reasonably, I think) about discussing how artificial selection has made Tom Turkey impotent. The courts have ruled (reasonably, I think) that I cannot require students to recite the pledge. The courts, however, have also ruled that a school district can require me to lead the pledge to the same children not required to recite it.

Who said idolatry was dead in science class?


Anonymous said...

Maybe the Walmart news is so shocking because the shoppers were out of control and didn't act like humans. It is sad that so few people remember our soldiers and all they do for us every day. Your post really made me think.

doyle said...

Dear Betty,

I am hoping they didn't act like humans, but I cannot imagine another species having just enough imagination and desire to trample another for a bargain. (Well, maybe bluefish, if they shopped.)

Our soldiers are, alas, easy to forget when war becomes just another parade of photons on our monitors.

I rarely get mad at my students, and I am not a big fan of the Pledge of Allegiance (not because I am anti-American, but because I believe the U.S. Constitution is one of the finest documents ever crafted by man). Still, I come down (too) hard on the sophomores when they babble through the pledge, because our soldiers are dying, because (it seems) few people care.